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Data Centers Are Really Freaking Loud

There is something almost sublime about the relentless din of data in a holding pattern.
Image: Bob Mical/Flickr

Big data centers have always had a noise control problem, but it's only now that the relentless din of the cloud seems to be reaching a fever pitch.

There is something almost sublime about the sound of data in a holding pattern. It's a digital ambience that fascinates Matt Parker, a British sound artist. Parker recently paid a visit to a medium-sized data center at Birmingham City University-Edgbaston, and rolled tape as the center's server racks and array of hard drives did their thing, emitting a steady white noise. The raw recording is the soundtrack of so much of our lives today, replete with a faulty drive panel that beeps out for help, but nobody's home.


listen to ‘Birmingham City University, Edgbaston Campus Data Centre’ on Audioboo

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"The idea is to highlight the physical nature of ‘cloud computing,'" Parker tells the blog Cities and Memory, "and to remind people that whilst their phones might be sat silently in their pockets, somewhere out there, a huge hive of hard drives and fans is spinning around frantically; managing our digital identities."

He's not alone. Data center field recording has become a sort of cottage industry. Take the appropriately titled "Data Center Hum" by AutoDestructo:

Likewise Jezreel Acústica's "Data Center":

As this shaky video illustrates, recording the secret roar of data centers isn't always kosher; as the description of the video below states, it's "short and kinda dodgy; filming is not allowed":

Of course, getting fired from your systems admin gig, and subsequently accosted by authorities, for covertly recording the hum of progress might not be the worst of your problems. Data centers are probably quite hazardous to your hearing. And let's not forget all the dirty energy they spew out. Sounds awful.