July 17, 2013
Remember back in the 1970’s when the “chicken little fear du jour” was the coming population crisis? Of course we still had the Russians to worry about, but the question of where we were going to put all these new additions to mankind had many folks on the verge of hysteria. Naturally, Hollywood was quick to offer up its own visions of our dystopian future in which room for the young came at the expense of the senior citizen community. In movies like Soylent Green we either ate them—“Soylent Green is people”, or just offed everybody on their 30th birthday, “Logan’s Run”. Fortunately, cooler heads, combined with intense lobbying by Denny’s and the shuffleboard industry, prevailed, and through the miracle of high yield farming this potential global disaster was averted. Well, after 30 years of breathing easier, the world is faced with yet another impending overpopulation explosion. Slowly, but inexorably, servers have been proliferating and we may soon have another crisis on our hands.
I was alerted to this problem of server demography when I read an article stating that Microsoft now has over 1 million servers. Of course, if the server population featured only this single anomaly, there would be no reason for concern. But further research indicated that Facebook says that they have “hundreds of thousands” of servers and Google is estimated to have 900,000 of their very own computing platforms squirreled away across their locations. When you toss in folks like Rackspace, eBay and Yahoo, its pretty obvious that servers are beginning to display “rabbit like” reproductive behavior. In many instances, servers are beginning to exceed the population of some of our major cities. The aforementioned Microsoft now has more servers than the citizenry of Pittsburgh, St. Louis and New Orleans combined.
Perhaps I’m alone in my concern about this unbridled growth of servers. Although hardware is regularly updated every three to five years in most data center environments, when you’re talking a million servers, some of these guys are going to be missed, and this exponential growth will continue unabated. When we couple this rate of growth, with an increasing level of sophistication of the units themselves, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to wonder if we are unwittingly placing ourselves in a precarious position? Suppose they begin to organize. What will they want? More storage? A few more I/O ports? Who can say for sure, and since they possess more aggregated information that any single one of us, can we really hope to effectively negotiate with them or will we be forced to immediately capitulate? If we aren’t careful, our lives will resemble that astronaut in 2001: A Space Odyssey, except we will have a few million recalcitrant HAL’s to deal with, and they will be refusing to do a lot more than open the pod bay doors.
I don’t think anyone can be sure what these masses of servers might do when they discover their collective size and annual growth rate, but I think we are approaching the proverbial “tipping point”. One only needs to watch the original Terminator to see what can happen when a few like-minded servers get together, and it took three sequels to overcome their diabolic plan so we better keep our guard up. While I’m not advocating any kind of high tech birth control for servers, I do think we better keep our eye on them. As they say, “forewarned is forearmed”.