Accepted Paper:

Meet the solar monster: space weather security in the data centre industry  


A.R.E. Taylor (University of Exeter)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in high-security data centres, this paper explores how the electromagnetic energies and agencies of the heliosphere are being brought into political organisation as existential risks for techno-planetary futures.

Paper long abstract:

Space weather occurs in the outer layers of Earth's atmosphere when electrically-charged particles ejected from the Sun interact with Earth's magnetic field. These interactions generate powerful electromagnetic fields that can induce high-voltage currents in electrical equipment, potentially disabling or destroying the microchips, processors and other digital components found in terrestrial technology systems. Since 2010 space weather has been swiftly brought into political organisation by critical infrastructure protection initiatives across the UK, Europe and US as a planetary threat in need of urgent address. The data centre industry has emerged at the forefront of space weather preparedness efforts, with growing numbers of facility operators taking precautions to increase the resilience of their data centres to the electromagnetic energies and agencies of the heliosphere. By reinforcing walls, cables and wires, sealing off all ports, vents and piping, shielding data servers in metal enclosures and fitting specialised surge protection filters, data centres are 'hardened' against the energetic materialites of the solar monster. Drawing from ethnographic fieldwork on data centre security, this paper explores how solar-terrestrial relations are being reconfigured in response to inward encounters of heliospheric electromagnetism. Destabilising narratives of earthling mastery and technological progress, and conjuring imaginaries of dystopian digital futures, the hardened, ensealed and space-weathered surfaces of data infrastructures become agentic sites where solar electromagnetism and terrestrial technopolitics meet and are remade, articulating new visions of the globe as a fragile digital world.

Panel A21
Outward and inward encounters: STS meets Outer Space