Data GPS: Where is “the cloud?”

Most of us have at least heard of “the cloud” or use it regularly to store files, music, and pictures. Cloud storage allows you to access your files from anywhere or start a game on your iPhone and finish it on your laptop later — but what is the cloud really? Where is your data stored after you upload it to the cloud?

Understanding Cloud Storage Data Centers

While your files, pictures, and data are not stored on your hard drive, they need to be physically stored somewhere on a device. Cloud services like Amazon Cloud Drive, Google Drive, Dropbox, and Apple iCloud all employ server farms or warehouses filled with servers that run constantly. These server warehouses are located throughout the world and many large companies outsource these data centers to satellite locations to lower costs. This means there’s no way to know specifically where your data is located.

The Scope of Global Server Farms

These server warehouses that make up the cloud are incredibly vast and account for more than 2% of the electricity usage in the U.S. If the global cloud industry were a country, it would rank 5th in the world in terms of energy usage, according to CNN Money.

To give you an idea of the scope of cloud computing and cloud data centers, consider that Facebook users upload over 350 million pictures to the cloud every day. Amazon, meanwhile, has announced plans for two new data centers to support its cloud business. Amazon will open a new data center in the United States in 2017 and another in Korea in early 2016. Amazon now offers its cloud services in more than 190 countries with data centers in the United States, Brazil, Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands, Australia, China, Japan, and Singapore, among other countries.

Google, also one of the world’s largest providers of consumer cloud services, currently has fourteen data centers that support its cloud operations. More than half of Google’s data centers are located in the United States, although the internet giant also has two data centers in Asia, one in South America, and four in Europe.

The United States currently has the largest data center and data center campuses in the world, although it will likely not hold this title for much longer. China will complete a new data center in Langfang by 2016 that will be larger than the Pentagon at 6.3 million square feet. The facility, owned by Range Technology, will mostly serve government departments in China, although it will also offer cloud computing to private companies and banks.

While you will probably never know where your files are stored after you upload them to the cloud, you may get a general idea if you know where the company owns or “rents” data centers.