It’s 2016, and most of us have tens, even hundreds of gigabytes of information stored in the cloud. Most of our pictures get sent to the cloud seconds after we press the shutter button, and every piece of information can be summoned with a click.

But what we call “the cloud” is actually physical storage space located in our physical world – we’re about to explore the four enormous data centers that we know as cloud storage.

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The awesome thing about these centers is that you now have little need to empty your spare bedroom and fill it with hard drives and USB drives – unless you’re into that. Everything can be safely stored somewhere up there, in the vast centers we’re about to see. The potential downside is… what happens when they fail? Does the sky instantly clear up, with no cloud to be seen?

The three biggest players in the cloud game are Google, Microsoft, and Amazon.. Each pack huge data centers that store enormous amounts of information. Without further ado, here they are in all their glory:

1. Google Data Centers, AKA The Mothership

Google is all about information. Cached web pages, emails, email attachments, music, YouTube videos, and trillions of files from Drive are stored in their endless servers. But where are the Google data centers?

Like all things Google, their data centers are an amazingly complex machine, fine-tuned to work together as a single digital brain. An unsettling thought, if you’re afraid that one day soon the machines will rise up.

They’re located in eight countries over three continents, and as Google themselves put it, this is “where the internet lives”. Most of these data centers are in the United States, while the rest cover the rest of the world from Chile to Taiwan, from Singapore to Ireland.

Not much is known about the inner workings of these servers – after all, this would be like KFC disclosing their secret herbs and spices. What we do know is that just one of their locations, in Oregon, has three 68,680 square foot data center buildings. And that’s not counting their office buildings or cooling towers.

But Google is quite open about everything else. You can even tour the squeaky-clean data centers on Street View – click here for a direct link, or check out the video below:

2. Microsoft Data Centers, AKA the old-school cloud

Microsoft has been in the business for decades, and they’ve started to build data centers before Google was even a thing. There are more than a hundred Microsoft data centers, housing more than a million servers across the globe to serve more than a billion customers. How’s that for round numbers?

The name of Microsoft’s cloud storage changes more often than the weather, and with it the hardware only grows in strength. One of their biggest centers, although by no means the newest, is a 700,000 square-foot hangar that connects MS products to the web.

Wanna see what’s inside? Take a short tour, or watch a longer (quite corporate) presentation:

Oh, and in case things aren’t sci-fi enough for you just yet, know that Microsoft is planning to launch even more data centers. This time, underwater:

3. Amazon Data Centers: data from A to Z

From tea pots to antique books, you can find anything on Amazon. Everything you can find in the store is stored in the cloud, which in turn is stored in Amazon’s data centers.

Plus, Amazon has been running AWS (Amazon Web Services) for the past ten years, giving companies a web platform of their own, while carrying the burden of housing all that information themselves.

Amazon’s cloud is rooted in dozens of regions – in North America, Europe, and Asia – and they cater to the entire globe. Things are only going to get bigger, with huge expansions planned for the next years.

While Amazon doesn’t disclose exact numbers (secret sauce, remember?), a single data center can be home to over 80,000 servers. And with dozens of them spread throughout the world, you can imagine the size we’re talking about.

Most of us don’t think we have a direct connection to the Amazon Web Services, but chances are your favorite site is hosted there. And your files, if you’re using Dropbox. And your favorite movies and TV shows, if you’re on Netflix.

What would happen if you lost all your data – I mean all of it – tomorrow?

And as always, we end with an invite: don't be a stranger and join our community - be a part of the conversation where we help each other out, discuss the latest and greatest, and make the best of our tech.



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