The elevator opened and I was surprised to find myself inside of Mr. Carvish’s office. This was the first time I had ever seen him in the flesh, though I did speak to him when I was advanced four slots on the org chart to become Neo-Nebula’s chief engineer. E-mails, of course, were almost hourly.
Mr. Carvish was a legendary figure for those who took the time to see such things. He had been at the forefront of the industry since the mid-1980s, always one step ahead of the competition. And yet he was relatively unknown since his services where usually offered by third parties. For instance, his latest venture, Neo-Nebula, was perhaps the first large scale cloud provider and is one of the largest, yet nobody knows about us. Ever hear of Meglacorp’s Cloudtra service? Sure you have, they’re in the top handful. Well, they don’t own a server, they’re all hosted by Neo-Nebula in one of our server farms, like the one in the subbasement of our headquarters just outside of Las Vegas.
As I stood blinking Mr. Carvish got up and came around his desk, a big smile on his face.
“Sue!” he said, sticking a large hand out for me to shake. “I’m glad you could make it. Here, let’s get back on the elevator and go down and see the Cloud.”
I was about to tell him I’d just come up from the server farm and data center but the look in his eye warned me to wait.
Once in the elevator he pulled out his cell phone and touched the screen. The elevator started descending. I was watching the lights and started to move when we were about to reach the subbasement. Mr. Carvish’s little chuckle drew me up short. The light for the subbasement came and went. No new floor light showed up but we continued to descend. After what felt to be about four or five floors the elevator slowed then stopped. The door opened.
We walked out onto a platform some five or six meters above a typical looking data center floor. Only it was anything but typical. Row after row of cabinets stretched in every direction as far as I could see.
“Welcome to The Cloud,” Mr. Carvish said.
“The Cloud?” I asked. “I mean, I know we own a much larger portion than anyone would ever expect, but you make it sound like, well, like this is all of it, everything.”
Mr. Carvish gave me an inscrutable smile and just waved his hand as if by looking out I would understand. He had a point. I tried to estimate the footprint of our server farm some 25 meters above us. This was easily ten time the size, perhaps much larger since I could only just make out that it continued on without being able to estimate size.
“We have a nuclear reactor, unregistered, of course, providing energy,” Mr. Carvish said. “There are over a million miles of fiber. I’ve developed the fasted processors and the most data dense storage in the world. Each cabinet down there has about 50 times the computational power and over 100 times the storage capacity of the most advanced cabinet in Neo-Nebula’s server farm.”
I looked at him. I think my mouth was wide open. I don’t know, my mind was just boggled trying to understand what he was saying.
He smiled kindly at me and then continued. “All of the cloud providers, from the big guys like Amazon to the smallest mom and pop’s provider with one server and a couple dozen VMs are actually just replicas. Oh, you can ask everyone there and they’ll swear they have total control, but we bypassed them. All of the private industry and government clouds in the world. They may have servers behind 20 locked doors guarded by men with machine guns, but the data is actually here.
“See that block of cabinets?” he asked. “That is the world’s financial sector. The whole thing. Over there? That’s the war in Syria. Yes, even ISIS. There’s a server over there that has VMs running spy software from Israel and other VMs running spy software from Iran. They’re sharing the same physical resources, separated only by the virtual firewall. Imagine a data leak there!”
“Is this, uhm, like a US government thing?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “Right now you are looking at one of five people on earth who know about it.”
“But any of you or all of you could, well, misuse this,” I said.
“Sure, we could,” he said without flinching. “We could take over the world. Or we could fix problems. Stop wars. Start wars. We could, true, but we don’t. You see, we’re kind of like superheroes, but we don’t act. Our mission is to ensure nobody misuses the data. Say if someone hacks into Cloudtra and tries to start a war or does some other large scale damage, well we act. We can put the real data back, since we have it and send the authorities. They won’t know it’s us. Or I should say, to them when we do this it’s just an anonymous tip, yet they know enough to trust us. What we’ve stopped so far would make your blood run cold.”
“But, but, well, the bad guys are still stealing data, destroying web pages, taking advantage of people and, well,” I said. “I don’t understand.”
“We can’t take care of all of it, well not yet,” he said. “We ignore the small stuff. To many ‘the small stuff’ is huge, but on the global scale it’s pretty small. And there’s still some things outside of our control, but we’re getting there. Us, the guardians. You see, that’s what we are, the guardians of the data. Even when we don’t stop it, the original data is still backed up. We have it.”
“And you trust the other four?” I asked.
“With my life and, more than that, with the future of humanity,” he answered. I could tell by his face he was serious.
“But what if one of them did decide to try to fix something, say stop a war that’s causing hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions to suffer?” I asked. “I mean, if I had the power to stop suffering I would.”
He smiled tenderly at me. “I know you would. That’s why you’re here,” he said. “But we aren’t really free to act, only to protect. It’s the curse of being a superhero. We can see the injustices, but we can’t fix them even if the power were really in our grasp. But each and every one of us can feel that suffering and so know our duty to protect that much better.”
“That’s why I’m here,” I repeated to myself. “What do you mean by that? Why am I here?”
I noticed a tear in his eye. “It is five of us now but will soon be four,” he said. “We tried to save her, but there is nothing we can do. But we need five. I handpicked you years ago just for this. And I’m sorry. I like you and I hate to have to do this.”
Was the tear for the one who was dying? Or was that tear for me? From his expression I though it must be me. I turned to run, I have no idea where and the world went black.
I just woke up a little bit ago. It must have been a dream. Every day I worry about outages and what it would do to our customers. To the economy. Sure, we have replicas all over the world, but sometimes even a micro-second as everything switches to the replica can mean everything.
I got out of bed and went to the kitchen to get a glass of water.
My head hurt.
I reached back and felt a weird bump on the back of my head. Where did that come from?
I unconsciously picked up my phone. On the screen was a note telling me where my new office was located. Telling me the new app controlled the elevator. The other new app was…
I put the phone down quickly and felt the lump again.
Perhaps I could make some changes.
A voice I had never heard before yet was more familiar than my own said from within my skull, “No, you will not make any changes. You are now a Guardian. You will protect the data. You’ll understand what’s going on but will be powerless to make changes. No, you will not make any changes.”
Suddenly I understood Mr. Carvish’s tears.