It's the fastest growing and maybe the most mysterious means of storing huge collections of data, including photos, music and documents.
It's called “The Cloud.”
For decades, it was photo albums which preserved family histories. Pictures were plastered onto pages that deteriorated over time while the photos themselves also often faded.
The digital era changed all that.
Storage of photos and data shifted to CD's and DVDs, then to backup drives. They got smaller over time and finally, the ultimate convenience storage beyond your home or office, on “The Cloud.”
“Cloud is probably the most misrepresented term in the world,” said James Roche.
Jim Roche works for Cyrus One, which runs more than 40 huge data centers worldwide. Roche says such data centers are where "The Cloud" really is and he offered us a behind the scenes look at Cyrus One's new data center in Aurora.
Getting in wasn't easy.
“So you go through literally seven different layers to make sure that you are who you say you are, and that you are the only one who gets to your data,” Roche said.
Cyrus One wouldn't let us show you it's security measures. Let's just say we passed. The data center actually houses several "data halls,” each one about 60,000 square feet; they feel kind of like McCormick Place exhibit halls.
They're starting to fill up with servers collecting data from all over the world, mostly from large corporate customers. The whole idea is that those companies can save millions of dollars by placing their servers in a safe, centralized location rather than trying to store the data themselves.
So if you are one of the millions of people who store your photographs, your music, or your documents in “The Cloud,” this is where that data might be stored.
If you're worried about your backups getting destroyed by say, a tornado, or maybe some flooding, the man who oversaw construction of the Aurora data center says don’t worry.
“This building is designed exactly for those type of events. No matter what the situation is, we're prepared for that,” said Juan Vasquez, senior construction manager.
That includes systems to guarantee what's called UPS, an uninterrupted power supply.
“We have different situations in place that can keep the building online, including a backup generator system, battery backup systems, and cooling systems to insure our customers are always online, 24/7, 365,” Vasquez said.
The data rooms are always kept at 70 degrees and humidity is often added to reduce the possibility of sparks. Altogether, the complex covers an area equal to five football fields and there's room for growth, which is almost certain to occur as more and more people rely on “The Cloud.”
“Whether you're storing it in iCloud or one of the cloud providers across the globe, at the end of the day, that data resides in a data center somewhere,” Roche said.
Cyrus One says companies that rely on data centers benefit can easily expand their storage capabilities, which wouldn't be possible if they stored the data on their property.