Apple's data centre development, NC

This week, news regarding Apple's plans to build a billion dollar data center in North Carolina has become something of a talking point. The incentive was initially announced by the company back in June after state tax initiatives had been aimed at it. However, there has been little official comment on the reasons behind the billion dollar expansion since that announcement. Apple is famous for having any news regarding new products or any major decisions shrouded in secrecy. You only have to consider the myriad of rumors regarding the Apple Tablet to get a taste of the secrecy.

On Wednesday, 19th August, an Apple spokeswoman said, "We're looking forward to beginning construction on our new data center in Maiden, N.C., in the coming weeks," however, declined further comment.

Some experts are calling it a signal for Apple's next big initiative, but what does it all really mean for Apple and more importantly, its users?

To begin with, an interview between Cult of Mac and Rich Miller, editor of Data Center Knowledge provides some interesting specifications for the data center. According to Miller, the speculations that the plans will support Apple's MobileMe business and online iTunes stores are just the tip of the iceberg. He says that the sheer size of the data center hints at something else and companies building data centers this large are gearing their infrastructure for cloud computing. Running applications in the cloud requires a massive, "Google-size infrastructure", according to Miller.

Miller says that despite many officials claiming that the data centre is designed to primarily support MobileMe and digital content for the iTunes store, the most interesting question is "whether Apple needs a much larger facility to support growth in its existing services, or is it scaling up capacity for future offerings." In Miller's opinion the sheer size of the project says it all: "The early site plans indicate Apple is planning about 500,000 square feet of data center space in a single building. That would place it among the largest data centers in the world. For comparison purposes, Apple's existing data center in Newark, Calif. is a little more than 100,000 square feet. Most new stand-alone enterprise data centers are in the range of 100,000 to 200,000 square feet. So this would qualify as a big-ass data center."

"The choice of rural North Carolina suggests that the bottom line for Apple is cost, rather than connectivity. The site in Maiden, NC is not far from a large data center by Google, which usually chases cheap power and tax incentives. Power from Duke Energy is about 4 to 5 cents per kilowatt hour, compared to 7 to 12 cents in California. The company also maximized its incentives by pitting Virginia and North Carolina against one another in trying to wring the best tax incentives out of both states (a popular strategy in data center site location)."

Further evidence, according to Miller, is that Apple seems more focused on cost and scale rather than connectivity; there seems to be enough evidence to suggest that Apple has the cloud well within their sights. "It's my understanding that they want to have bulldozers on-site in mid-August," said Scott Millar, executive director of the Catawba County Economic Development Corporation. Construction of this site cannot happen soon enough for Apple but the true reasoning is still not known.

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