Tuesday, February 20, 2018
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It’s Data Centers All the Way Down

One day, this conversation might be overheard between a mother and daughter:

“Mommy, how do my text messages and emails end up on all my devices even though I only sent them from one?”

“It’s stored in the Cloud, my dear.”

“Do Siri and Cortana live together on that cloud?”

“Why can I have 500 GB of songs and pictures and movies on a device that has only 16 GB?”

“That is because it is all on the big data center in the sky where Siri and Cortana live.”

“What happens when the data center gets full?”

“My darling girl, it’s data centers all the way down.”

While the above conversation may be a complete fiction (or is it), the idea is based on the harsh reality that almost everything about your smartphone that makes it interesting is wholly dependent on a data center. But what do you really know about data centers, in particular, the ones you rely on for just about everything?

Here are a few questions you might want to ask the next time you get to a search engine:

How Secure Is Your Data
There was a time when the only people interested in data security were corporate moguls with secrets to keep and billions of dollars to protect. Arguably, that is still true today. There is a better than excellent chance that you are simply not a high enough value target for anyone to care about your secrets, or your hundreds of dollars. But thanks to the revelations from Edward Snowden, we all feel like corporate high-rollers whose secrets have ben stolen, and our underwear drawers rifled through. We are not a part of any drug cartels or crime syndications. But all of a sudden, we care deeply about the security and level of encryption for text messages about which brand of cat food we are supposed to be picking up at the store.

Not to worry. More data centers are using enterprise-class security than ever. No service wants to be the one that leaks confidential information. Once a service becomes known for leaking secret information, it is done as a business. Apple, just as an example, uses such a high level of security, even the Feds can’t crack it.

When it comes to matters even more consequential such as the credit card data stored on these services, tech companies have an amazing track record. Apple, Amazon, and Google, all keep credit cards on file. These companies provide one step access to using those credit cards online. Besides individual phishing exploits, those data security measures have been rock solid. That is not to say that all data security is created equally. But the major players seem to have things locked down pretty well, at least for now.

How Recoverable is Your Data
Have you ever lost hours worth of work to a system crash? For a while, it was the new, “My dog ate my homework”. Except, more often than not, it was true. Once lost, it was gone forever. Both Microsoft and Apple started building recovery services into the respective operating systems. But those were only good for information that was locally stored. While desktops gave us more storage than we could use, notebook storage was headed in the opposite direction. iPads offered even less storage. Today, it is common to see expensive notebooks offering on 128 GB of local storage, making us almost entirely dependent on cloud storage and recovery services.

If you are living entirely in the Apple universe, you are almost completely dependent on cloud storage and recovery. You are using iCloud for your documents, the App Store for purchases, iTunes for movies and music, Photo Stream for your pictures, and Game Center for your gaming data. In the Apple universe more so than others, it really is data centers all the way down. This article from ECMweb goes into detail about how redundancy is the key to data center reliability. In general, your information is always recoverable because of the extreme redundancy measures taken by cloud providers. Make sure your cloud provider takes it just as serious.

How Green is Your Data
If you are the kind of person who turns green with fury over corporate environmental irresponsibility, you should look into how your provider’s data center treats the earth. What you may not realize is that those silly cat photos are environmentally expensive. Those billions of massages, photos, and FaceTime chats add up. The good news is that major tech companies like Facebook, Yahoo, and Google use some green technologies. To date, Apple is the only one that has gone 100% green. It is a technological and environmental feat worth noting.

Send a message, data center. Type up a memo, data center. Ask Siri the weather, data center. Log that high score, data center. If it is not true already, it soon really will be data centers all the way down.

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