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Apple’s New North Carolina Data Center Ready to Roll

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Apple’s (s aapl) $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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7 Responses to “Apple’s New North Carolina Data Center Ready to Roll”

  1. PracticalLady

    Well, where is the parking lot? I can’t see it from the helicopter shots. Maybe that land is for a parking lot and just a few smaller buildings. All the employees for this 500,000 sq ft house will need somewhere to park!

  2. Ames Tiedeman

    Apple TV, MoblieMe, Apple is going to be the most valuable company on the planet before long. They simply keep inventing. If they can monetize these things then their cash flow will continue to explode..

  3. Darrell. I was talking to my brother the other day who said about the new MacBook Air, that 64GB is pretty small for a computer. Even 256GB! I replied that maybe Apple will provide the rest of the storage capacity from the cloud. Storage in the cloud for Mac and iDevices users (even for PC users too if it comes for a price), accessible for anywhere, might be the goal for the data center. Don’t you think so?

    • Laughing_Boy48

      I’m curious as to why you’d think that 256 GB isn’t enough for a light ultraportable. Are you trying to carry around everything you have on your desktop machine. You can fit a fair amount programs and data in 64 GBs. Are you carrying around a lot of videos to need that much space? I know that many people carry around their entire music collection with high bit rates and maybe that is reason. I’m just surprised to hear that even 256 GB isn’t enough for what is essentially a Starbucks-user notebook.

      I hope Apple supplies free cloud storage for all iOS users. That would be a sweet tease to buy Apple mobile devices. Any added storage value should give cash poor mobile rivals a headache.

  4. This is actually quite astonishing. To me, this shows how serious Apple is with their services. The only viable things I see Apple doing is making MobileMe DIRT cheap and for them to expect hundreds of thousands of new subscribers.

    …Maybe they scored some huge deals with content providers and they’re going to dominate once again in that field. Maybe Apple is buying Netflix and merging their business strategies together, therefore requiring some serious data-center expandage. Oh yes.