Fireworks vs. The Cloud: Which Is Louder?

A decorative image showing a comically large hammer smash a hard drive.

You may think the answer to “What do fireworks and the cloud have in common?” is nothing. But, you would be wrong. Both are carefully designed, highly-researched systems that contain a chain reaction of events that lead to a desired outcome. In the case of data centers (DCs), that’s storing and using data. In the case of fireworks, that’s a delightful explosion. 

More importantly for our purposes today, both data centers and fireworks are loud. Not upstairs-neighbor loud; rather, they are hearing-loss-and-noise-pollution loud. But, which thing is louder, the cloud or fireworks? What are their sonic qualities, and which is more dangerous?

So, in honor of America’s Independence Day, let’s quantify that with data.

Let’s talk about how we measure sound

We talked briefly about how loud the cloud is in a previous article. All that noise comes from a combination of factors, largely cooling systems—either those that affect large areas of the DC, or those that are part of the hardware of each server rack. Back in 2017, we measured our DCs at approximately 78dB, and other sources report that DCs can reach up to 96dB

And, it’s unfair to paint a data center with a broad brush, sonically speaking. There are different zones in a data center, and they can vary widely in the amount of decibels produced based on a variety of factors. Here’s a handy list: 

  • Lower range (40-55 dBs): This quieter zone might be experienced in administrative areas or server rooms with less densely packed equipment. It’s comparable to quiet conversation or background noise in a library.
  • Mid range (55-70 dBs): This is a more common range within data centers, representing the noise level near operating servers. It’s similar to normal conversation or background noise in a restaurant.
  • Higher range (70-85 dBs): This zone can be found near high-powered equipment or cooling systems. It’s comparable to a vacuum cleaner or busy traffic. Prolonged exposure at these levels can begin to cause hearing damage.
  • Very high range (85-96 dBs or above): This is the loudest zone and is typically only encountered near generators or during maintenance activities. It’s similar to a power lawnmower or motorcycle and can cause hearing damage with prolonged exposure.

This can all seem relatively esoteric, but it has real world effects. Noise pollution has been shown to cause all sorts of environmental impacts in humans and other animals, and it’s a hot topic of conversation amongst people who live nearby and amongst those responsible for designing and building DCs. 

And, how loud are fireworks?

As we all know, there are many types of fireworks, ranging from the humble sparkler to the professionals-only aerial explosives. In theory, consumer-level explosives are supposed to have a noise limit of 120 dBs when fired from 15 meters (about 50 ft.) away. Just to get us all on the same page (for science), here’s a table that outlines some dB ranges for major types of fireworks:

Type of FireworkNoise LevelDecibel RangeDescription
SparklersSoft Crackling80-90 dBHand-held sticks that emit showers of sparks.
Glow WormsSoft Crackling/Hissing85-100 dBGround-based fireworks that glow and crackle slightly.
SnakesCrackling/Popping90-110 dBLong, snake-like fireworks that unfurl with a crackling or popping sound.
PoppersModerate Pops100-115 dBSmall, paper-wrapped fireworks that make a popping sound when lit.
FountainsCrackling/Hissing95-120 dBGround-based fireworks that spray sparks and make a crackling or hissing noise.
Roman CandlesModerate Pops/Booms110-130 dBHand-held tubes that shoot out stars with loud pops or small booms.
Bottle RocketsLoud Whistle/Boom120-140 dBFireworks that launch into the air with a whistle and explode with a loud boom.
Aerial Shells (Small)Moderate-Loud Booms130-150 dBLaunched into the air, these explode with moderate to loud booms and create colorful visual effects.
Aerial Shells (Large)Very Loud Booms150-175 dBLarge shells launched high into the air, exploding with very loud booms and spectacular visuals.
Salute BatteriesExtremely Loud Booms150-180 dB+Rapid-fire bursts of loud explosions, often used in professional displays.

Curveball: A direct comparison of dBs isn’t our only metric for “dangerous”

Here’s the funny thing about sound and human hearing, and it ties back to our discussion of decibels: Different types of sound register differently with us, and “loud” isn’t the only risk factor for potential hearing loss. Think of when you’re listening to singers—in general, humans find deeper ranges to be “quieter” while they find higher-pitched ranges to be “louder.” In theory, they could be putting out the same loudness of sound, but we perceive it differently. 

A second factor is that a short, percussive sound (like a firework), and a quieter sound that you’re exposed to for longer periods of time (like in a data center) can cause different types of damage. Any loud noise can cause hearing loss—a rapid change in pressure can easily damage the delicate anatomy of the inner ear. 

When you’re talking about prolonged exposure, the safe zone is generally 70dB and below. And, while 85dB is considered safe over a period of eight hours, that safe period gets cut in half for every 3dB increase. So, at 88dBs, safe exposure time is 4 hours. At that 96dBs we cited above, you’re at risk for hearing loss in less than an hour. 

Of course, there are several ways to mitigate hearing loss in instances where you know you’ll be exposed to potentially dangerous levels of sound, like if you’re attending a fireworks show or going to visit a data center. Over-ear hearing protection and earplugs—which range from your common wax/silicone variety to specially designed models that let in more or less noise—are your two main options (as it relates to your body). And, data centers and fireworks each have methods of reducing sound.

A warning from our robot friend, and declaring a winner

In doing my very thorough research, I did wonder what would happen if you stack these noises… that is, what happens if you set off a firecracker in a data center? Would the noises stack (80dB + 120dB = 200dB)? Would they equalize, then have an additive increment (80dB + the 40dB between baseline and firecracker spike)? 

So, I asked my favorite large language model robot friend, who I seem to have distressed. It answered: 

Setting off a firecracker in a server room would be a very bad idea for several reasons, and the combined noise level wouldn’t be the biggest concern.

Turns out, while the noise levels would be significant, the combined effect might not be as dramatic as one might imagine. First, unlike open spaces, server rooms often have soundproofing measures to dampen noise. This would limit the amplification of the firecracker’s sound as it does the existing server noise. And second, the firecracker’s sudden, high-intensity sound would likely be the dominant noise even within the server’s noise range. The combined effect wouldn’t be a simple addition of decibel levels. The firecracker’s very loud, short burst would likely overpower the server’s constant hum within the room.

LLM conclusion:

Setting off a firecracker in a server room is extremely dangerous and has far worse consequences than just a loud noise. It’s crucial to prioritize safety and avoid such actions in these critical environments.

Obviously (or I hope it’s obvious), this is not something we’d test in our real-world environment, and we don’t ever recommend that you do either. However, it’s safe to say that in the battle of cloud vs. fireworks, it’s a tad unfair to do a direct comparison of their loudness. Fireworks are (on average) louder, as they’re designed to be. Data centers are still very loud, and the quality of the sound therein is also likely to cause hearing damage over a period of time, and all that is still true even when we’re making active efforts to reduce and dampen the noise in DCs.

Safety first, friends. Remember that ear protection around both servers and fireworks is advisable, and use fireworks and data centers responsibly. We’ll see you on the other side.


About Stephanie Doyle

Stephanie is the Associate Editor & Writer at Backblaze. She specializes in taking complex topics and writing relatable, engaging, and user-friendly content. You can most often find her reading in public places, and can connect with her on LinkedIn.