Tagged: infrastructure Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Mark 6:16 pm on May 19, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: clouds, , data centres, infrastructure   

    Emerging computational mega structures 

    My notes on Delic, K. A., & Walker, M. A. (2008). Emergence of the academic computing clouds. Ubiquity, 2008(August), 1.

    I was intrigued by this short paper from 2008, prefiguring a number of themes which are central to contemporary debates about digital infrastructure. It reflected on the “emergence of the cloud as the generic infrastructural fabric enabling a huge number of services”, as well as what this might mean for research practice. They talk about the emergence of cloud computing in terms of the transition from data centres to grids: 

    Grids are very large-scale virtualized, distributed computing systems. They cover multiple administrative domains and enable virtual organizations. The key characteristic of grids is their ability to upscale and downscale rapidly and gracefully. So, they provide utility type of computing which enables another type of business model and spawns start-up businesses.

    Grids are collections of data centres, operating through “aggregation, virtualization and scheduling” to provide a platform for executing immensely computationally intense  applications. They draw an analogy between computing grids in this sense and energy, communication and transportation grids. Grids transform large swathes of hardware and software assets into computational services which can be drawn upon by many users. The cloud is what we get from the assembly of distinct grids, though I was slightly confused by this definition as it seems to reproduce their distinction between grids and data centres.

    They make the important observation that “the typical workloads for academic/scientific applications are very different from commercial workloads”, with the former revolving around the ‘mega-scale simulations’ which are becoming possible due to the affordances of the cloud. They correctly predict this will lead to new forms of scientific inquiry, driven by the “vast amounts of data coming not only from the web but also from a rising number of instruments and sensors”.

  • Mark 6:56 pm on May 6, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: infrastructure, infrastructure studies, , , , surveillance studies   

    Platform Surveillance 

    My notes on Wood, D. M., & Monahan, T. (2019). Platform Surveillance. Surveillance & Society, 17(1/2), 1-6.

    In this editorial, David Murakami Wood and Torin Monahan introduce a special issue of Surveillance & Society which considers platform capitalism from the perspective of surveillance studies. Their focus is on how “digital platforms fundamentally transform social practices and relations, recasting them as surveillant exchanges whose coordination must be technologically mediated and therefore made exploitable as data” (1). This highlights hoe surveillance is intrinsic to platforms, using the epistemic primacy they enjoy over activity taking place through them in order to “become dominant social structures in their own right, subordinating other institutions, conjuring or sedimenting social divisions and inequalities, and setting the terms upon which individuals, organizations, and governments interact” (1). They draw other institutions into their logic of surveillance, while encouraging the emerging of subjective orientations consistent with and supportive of that logic. They argue that the centrality of surveillance to platforms mean that “surveillance studies is uniquely positioned to investigate and theorize these phenomena” (2).

    Reflecting on the slipperiness of the term ‘platform’, which has transmuted from a precise computer science term to a pervasive concept in only a few years, they suggest it is “not just a particular kind of organizational form associated with the tech industry and social media, but an entirely new mode of governance, perhaps an authentic political economic descriptor of the structure of the information age” (2). In computing “it is the foundation upon which other computing processes are built, or the environment within which such processes run” (2) which can encompass hardware, operating system and higher level processes within other applications can run. This can computing use spawned a broader tech use in which services like social media are seen as platforms, in that they “form the basis for other activities, which can be experienced and described from the individual user perspective as something with minimal technical knowledge and input” (2). Then there is what Wood and Monahan describe as a maximalist approach in which ‘platform’ is used was a metaphor for infrastructural operations across multiple arenas, as in the case of someone like Bratton who sees the platform as a replacement for corporation and nation state. They summarise the classical sense of infrastructure on pg 3:

    Infrastructures establish contexts for practice. They enable, support, and afford certain practices while necessarily disabling, eroding, and resisting others. Whereas classically, one might envision infrastructures as the various forms of hardware that sustain life—the pipes, roads, electrical lines, and communication grids that form the backdrop of modern existence—they manifest analytically as relational properties apprehended through use (Star and Ruhleder 1996; Larkin 2013) or failure (Bowker and Star 1999; Graham and Thrift 2007). Infrastructures are also necessarily political in their differential allocation of resources and services and in their establishment of regimes of capital and violence (Cowen 2014; Parks and Starosielski 2015).

    In this sense, we can say that “digital platforms are already becoming infrastructural in their properties and effects” (3). The big tech firms are increasingly involved in undersea cabling operations as an example of infrastructure in the classical sense. But scale of operation on some digital platforms rivals that of existing public or private infrastructure, breaking down any sense of a clear distinction between them. If I understand correctly, their point is to ask how something like Facebook could be regards as non-infrastructural while something like the cellular network would be infrastructural. If it’s just a matter of how many people are on the grid and how pervasive it is, the biggest digital platforms are clearly becoming infrastructural. But this reflects a wider ambiguity, which I think cuts through this literature, concerning whether platforms are a type of infrastructure, the emerging infrastructure will take or something analogous to but different from infrastructure.

    But this still raises the question of what the systemic implications are of the proliferation of platforms. Is this the next stage of capitalism or possibly something beyond it? Is it something which deviates from the logic of capitalism or something which expresses its next stage? Surveillance capitalism is just one of “an increasing multitude of terms for a hydra-headed phenomenon that also includes the information economy, affective capitalism, the gig economy, the sharing economy, and many more” (4). They argue that the commodification of ‘behavioural exhaust’ described by Zuboff might be reaching its peak given the growing political and regulatory backlash against it. They suggest her “inevitable path to a Skinnerian society of rational control” in which datafication consumes life itself lacks an economic rationality and that “what appears to be emerging is a battle for the ‘payment space’ and specifically how micropayments might be made properly functional in both online and offline spaces” (4). The partnership between Microsoft and MasterCard suggests a new infrastructure of persistent identification without the ubiquitous datamining and advertising which constitutes the current business model of platforms. Recognising this gap between technical infrastructure and business model is important if we are to see the opportunities which become apparent during such a stage of transition. As they write, “The platform could be just another differently shaped vessel for capital accumulation, or it could be a way of finally breaking the alignment of the state and nation and reorienting more ineluctably with capital through pervasive surveillance and the persistent manipulation of data, in an entirely new form of governmentality”. But there are more hopeful possibilities which are opened up by the same transition which we must “see and seize” (5).

  • Mark 9:17 am on November 18, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , digital innovation, infrastructure, IT projects, ,   

    The singular new risks of organisational IT projects 

    This short article by Bent Flyvbjerg and Alexander Budzier makes a powerful case that “IT projects are now so big, and they touch so many aspects of an organization, that they pose a singular new risk”. It reports on a project they undertook analysing 1,471 projects,  comparing their expected budget and performance benefits to the eventual reality. While the average cost of these projects was $167 million, the largest project $33 billion. They found an average cost overrun of 27% but a much smaller subset of huge overruns, suggesting a potential for existential risks which are obscured if one merely looks at the averages:

    Graphing the projects’ budget overruns reveals a “fat tail”—a large number of gigantic overages. Fully one in six of the projects we studied was a black swan, with a cost overrun of 200%, on average, and a schedule over- run of almost 70%. This highlights the true pitfall of IT change initiatives: It’s not that they’re particularly prone to high cost over- runs on average, as management consul- tants and academic studies have previously suggested. It’s that an unusually large pro- portion of them incur massive overages— that is, there are a disproportionate number of black swans. By focusing on averages in- stead of the more damaging outliers, most managers and consultants have been miss- ing the real problem.

    They find that the biggest problems tend to arise when a spiralling IT project compounds the existing difficulties (e.g. “eroding margins, rising cost pressures, demanding debt servicing”) which an organisation is facing, What fascinates me here is the possibility that the IT projects may have been conceived wholly or partially to address these difficulties, instead making them even worse when the implementation of the technology fails.

  • Mark 2:41 pm on May 30, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , cash reserves, infrastructure, investment, , , ,   

    The infrastructural ambitions of technology companies 

    Given the cash reserves (see below) and/or capacity to raise investment of each of these companies, as well as the practical challenge they face in expanding their markets, it seems likely these nascent infrastructural ambitions will only grow and grow:

    Facebook and Microsoft are going underwater.

    The two technology companies announced on Thursday they are to install an undersea cable from the east coast of the US to Spain to help speed up their global internet services.

    Fast connectivity is particularly important to Facebook, which wants to encourage users across the world to broadcast live video and meet in virtual reality. Both activities can consume vast amounts of bandwidth.

    The project marks yet another example where technology companies are assuming roles traditionally left to public utilities or the government, and until now undersea cables have traditionally been laid by telecommunications incumbents. Meanwhile, Google continues to expand Fiber, its high-speed internet program, Amazon.com effectively is building its own postal service, Uber is attempting to replace regulated cab companies and Facebook is bringing wireless internet to Africa.


  • Mark 1:34 pm on December 22, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: , , infrastructure, international, phone sex, ,   

    the geopolitics of phone sex 

    From Spam, by Finn Brunton, pg 67-68:

    The business of phone sex is structured around arbitraging the different settlement rates—how much it costs to call a given country from the United States. A company in the United States leases lines in another country to route the calls and takes a per-minute cut of the settlement rate, with most phone sex calls routed through places like São Tomé, Moldova, and the Republic of Armenia. These millions of minutes of pay-per-minute activity were a significant source of income for the leasing countries: foreign pay-per-call operations were an enormous part of the traffic on Guyana Telephone and Telegraph (GT& T) circuits, for instance, making up $ 91 million of GT& T’s $ 131 million of revenues in 1995, and São Tomé kept approximately $ 500,000 of the $ 5.2 million worth of phone sex calls Americans made via their country in 1993, using the money to start a new telecom system. It is one of those strange macro/ micro moments that will recur on the fringes of spam’s history as lonely, sexually frustrated Americans unintentionally built telephone infrastructure for an island they’d never heard of off the coast of central Africa. 10

Compose new post
Next post/Next comment
Previous post/Previous comment
Show/Hide comments
Go to top
Go to login
Show/Hide help
shift + esc