Apple's North Carolina Data Center to Focus on Cloud Computing?

Cult of Mac posts an interview with Rich Miller, editor of Data Center Knowledge, regarding possible plans for Apple's $1 billion data center due to open in rural Maiden, North Carolina in 2010. At approximately 500,000 square feet and roughly five times the size of the company's existing center in Newark, California, Apple's new data center will be among the largest in the world, sparking questions about what the company plans to do with the capacity.

While public figures closest to the Apple deal acknowledge only that the project will support existing iTunes and MobileMe services, speculation has arisen that Apple may be planning a significant foray into "cloud computing", allowing users to move applications and data to Internet-based locations accessible from any Web-enabled device.

One of the leading theories about the size of the NC project is that Apple is planning future cloud computing services that will require lots of data center storage. Cloud computing is a hot trend, and I'd be surprised if Apple isn't thinking hard - and thinking differently - about cloud computing. Many cloud enthusiasts say that cloud computing will eliminate the need for data centers. In reality, the only thing will change is the owner of the building. All the applications and data that are moving into the cloud will live on servers in brick-and-mortar data centers. The companies that are building the biggest data centers tend to also have the biggest cloud ambitions.

Apple until now has used content delivery networks (CDNs) such as Akamai and Limelight Networks to serve significant amounts of content to users, and some have speculated that the new data center will allow Apple to achieve cost savings by bringing a significant part of that third-party content delivery system in-house. Miller, however, points to Apple's data center's rural location far from the network-dense areas where content delivery centers are typically located as a sign that Apple is pursuing cost and scale efficiency rather than the connectivity most dedicated delivery networks are looking for.

Facebook cited latency to Europe as a key factor in its decision to add data centers in Virginia. Before that, MySpace added a data center in Los Angeles to reduce its reliance on CDNs. But in both cases, those companies sought out Internet hubs where they could connect with dozens of other networks to manage their Internet traffic. You don't get that in rural North Carolina, so Apple seems more focused on cost and scale than on connectivity - which again would suggest a cloud focus.

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