Apple’s New North Carolina Data Center Ready to Roll

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Apple’s $1 billion data center in North Carolina made headlines when the project was revealed in May 2009. New reports indicate that the facility is set to open for business “any day now,” according to local officials talking to Data Center Knowledge. It also looks like additional construction might double the facility’s size, as recent rumors had suggested. But what is the size increase for?

The report assures readers that the data center, located in Maiden, a town of about 4,000 residents, is ready to “ramp up production.” The 500,000 square foot facility won’t actually be producing anything, but will instead operate as a server farm. The specific purpose of those servers isn’t yet known. During Apple’s recent conference call, Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer said only that the data center was on schedule, with an expected completion (and usage) date of late 2010.

Apple’s plans for the facility must indeed be big, since aerial footage (see video below) seems to confirm the recent Digital Daily assertion that Apple was indeed thinking about doubling the size of the center, adding another 500,000 square feet to its already considerable footprint.

The site will be at least five times the size of Apple’s largest current server facility, located in Newark, California. Size alone suggests more than just an evolutionary upgrade in Apple’s server capacity. So why the sudden, massive capacity increase?

Apple TV: Well, most obviously, Apple just announced that it sold 250,000 Apple TVs in that device’s first three months on market. Since the new Apple TV is a streaming only product, offering on demand streams of video, that should translate into a much greater strain on Apple’s servers. But reports seem to indicate that iTunes rental service streaming to Apple TV has been largely without issue to date, which would suggest that capacity isn’t an issue yet. Taken alone, the Apple TV’s streaming demands can’t account for the need for a new data center this big, even if Apple had massively undersold its own expectations for the device, which doesn’t appear to be the case.

MobileMe: Apple also has MobileMe, its own cloud-based services including email, contact, bookmark and note syncing, and virtual cloud storage. The service allows subscribers to keep their information up-to-date and synchronized across multiple Macs and iOS devices. I doubt the MobileMe subscriber base is expanding exponentially, or we would’ve heard about it at the conference call, but there is another possibility: Apple is planning to open up the service to all Apple device owners. If Apple introduced a tiered system, with limited access for free users, it would be a huge incentive for prospective hardware buyers.

iTunes in the Cloud: Finally, there’s the old chestnut of Apple’s plans to bring iTunes to the cloud. A streaming music subscription service has often been rumored, but hasn’t yet materialized. Maybe Apple was simply lacking the infrastructure, and didn’t want to launch a service before quality could be assured.

Whatever the case with music, media streaming and cloud services seem to be written in stone for the future of computing, so Apple’s North Carolina data center, even at one million square feet, makes a lot of sense. And given Oppenheimer’s schedule for facility to become operational, we’ll see what Apple has planned for the site sooner rather than later.

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