Internet machine is a multi-screen film about the invisible infrastructures of the internet. The film reveals the hidden materiality of our data by exploring some of the machines through which ‘the cloud’ is transmitted and transformed.
Internet machine (showing now at Big Bang Data or watch the trailer) documents one of the largest, most secure and ‘fault-tolerant’ data-centres in the world, run by Telefonica in Alcalá, Spain. The film explores these hidden architectures with a wide, slowly moving camera. The subtle changes in perspective encourage contemplative reflection on the spaces where internet data and connectivity are being managed.
In this film I wanted to look beyond the childish myth of ‘the cloud’, to investigate what the infrastructures of the internet actually look like. It felt important to be able to see and hear the energy that goes into powering these machines, and the associated systems for securing, cooling and maintaining them.
What we find, after being led through layers of identification and security far higher than any airport, are deafeningly noisy rooms cocooning racks of servers and routers. In these spaces you are buffeted by hot and cold air that blusters through everything.
Server rooms are kept cool through quiet, airy ‘plenary’ corridors that divide the overall space. There are fibre optic connections routed through multiple, redundant, paths across the building. In the labyrinthine corridors of the basement, these cables connect to the wider internet through holes in rough concrete walls.
Power is supplied not only through the mains, but backed up with warm caverns of lead batteries, managed by gently buzzing cabinets of relays and switches.
These are backed up in turn by rows of yellow generators, supplied by diesel storage tanks and contracts with fuel supply companies so that the data centre can run indefinitely until power returns.
The outside of the building is a facade of enormous stainless steel water tanks, containing tens of thousands of litres of cool water, sitting there in case of fire.
And up on the roof, to the sound of birdsong, is a football-pitch sized array of shiny aluminium ‘chillers’ that filter and cool the air going into the building.
In experiencing these machines at work, we start to understand that the internet is not a weightless, immaterial, invisible cloud, and instead to appreciate it as a very distinct physical, architectural and material system.
This was a particularly exciting project, a chance for an ambitious and experimental location shoot in a complex environment. Telefónica were particularly accommodating and allowed unprecedented access to shoot across the entire building, not just in the ‘spectacular’ server rooms. Thirty two locations were shot inside the data centre over the course of two days, followed by five weeks of post-production.
I had to invent some new production methods to create a three-screen installation, based on some techniques I developed over ten years ago. The film was shot using both video and stills, using a panoramic head and a Canon 5D mkIII. The video was shot using the Magic Lantern RAW module on the 5D, while the RAW stills were processed in Lightroom and stitched together using Photoshop and Hugin.
The footage was then converted into 3D scenes using camera mapping techniques, recreating the perspective by hand (a kind of low-tech, traditional photogrammetry) so that entirely new camera movements could be created by animating a virtual three-camera rig within this new virtual space. The final multi-screen installation is played out in 4K projected across three screens.
There are more photos available at Flickr.
Internet machine is part of BIG BANG DATA, open from 9 May 2014 until 26 October 2014 at CCCB (Barcelona) and from February-May 2015 at Fundación Telefónica (Madrid).
Internet Machine is produced by Timo Arnall, Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona – CCCB, and Fundación Telefónica. Thanks to José Luis de Vicente, Olga Subiros, Cira Pérez and María Paula Baylac.Posted in Exhibition, Film, Photography, Project, Research, Technology
78 thoughts on “Internet machine”
Thanks for blogging about this project. I am Anuradha, a masters’ student of Interaction Research at Goldsmiths, University of London. I have been after a very similar brief, in physicalising the ‘cloud’ and removing the myth of where our data exists. We tackled it a little differently, by pulling aerial images of data centers through ip address location tracing. It’s fictional, of course, but it attempts at inviting people to explore the whereabouts of their data through a ludic kaleidoscopic lens. The project is explained here.. http://wiredeyeproject.com/ . I’d definitely love to hear your thoughts about it.
This is an amazing project and is precisely the kind of thing I am keen to work on myself. Guess you got there first! It is beautiful and so well put, to make the invisible visible, bringing the cloud into perspective with all of it’s noise and aggression.
It’s too bad that a film intending to deliver the experience of places we don’t ordinarily go is available only in places we don’t ordinarily go.
Both these projects are spectacular. I run a user group in the San Francisco area for less-techie people. I try to give them an idea of the physical realities of “the web.” I’ll use these later in 2014 at a meeting on security. Fantastic work! How can the film be shown in an auditorium?
Great film! Having worked in the construction sector for twenty years, I too have had the direct and unlimited access you talk about. Seeing these places being constructed is so far removed from the mainstream side of the industry with all of its chaos and mess. Data centers are more like operating theatres in that capacity, so clean and neat. There is a somewhat eerie feeling after the trades go home and one walks the site after hours, all that space, all that technology, all those 1’s & 0’s but not a sole in sight…
Be that as it may, I do believe that my PC has a lot to do with it. While servers for Internet Search Engines take up a lot of space there is no physical Tron Internet world out there.
I want to buy the hole movie, Internet machine, for using it, or parts of it, on my web site .
Love your work !!!
Please provide necesarry details for such a legal transaction .
Thank you !
I have to agree with the comment saying that the three screen display seems unnecessary. Otherwise this looks fantastic! Will the full film be available online at some point?
@Ben: Reading is fun-damental. First paragraph: “Internet machine…documents one of the largest, most secure and ‘fault-tolerant’ data-centres in the world, run by Telefonica in Alcalá, Spain.”
The energy spent on the internet certainly is “wasted” if you don’t read what you’re looking at…but that’s not the internet’s fault. 🙂
I am a student in Seoul Natinal Univesity, Seoul, Korea, I would like to know if it is possible to get the film or at least watch it. It would be great if I could share it within the school too. I will wait for any answers, Thank you
Nice artisctic approach to show the real world behind the intangible internet. Without the physical infrastructure of data centers, there won’t be any internet. The real heart of the internet is a network of multiple huge carrier-neutral data centers throughout the world, owned and operated by multiple companies, each one filled with tens of thousands of connections. This diversity both in location as well as in ownership and interconnectivity represents the real strength of the internet. Any single (for now empty) data center owned by a telco carrier – like the one in Alcala – can never even be close to pretending to be of importance to make the internet function.
In the year 2009, Nicholas Carr wrote a nice book about it: http://www.amazon.com/The-Big-Switch-Rewiring-Edison/dp/0393333949
For a complementary 3D video representation of a modern data center, see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jXe0GGA2VNM
Will this project be available for viewing online later on for international audiences?
I echo the sentiment of everyone else that I’d love a regular single-screen version of this on DVD or as a paid-download… I guess I’ll add ‘check if there is a proper release of Internet Machine for the rest of us’ as a yearly recurring task in my calendar system.
You HAVE to release the film online somewhere so we can all see. You could even make it a premium Vimeo film. Please consider this, it looks fantastic!
You should have Netflix, Vimeo, or some other video provider distribute this amazing work. I saw the trailer and I am hooked.
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