A local real estate agent [posted a video to YouTube this week showing the massive data center that Apple has been building in the woods outside Malden, North Carolina in the southeastern US. At 500,000 square feet, the facility is the size of a shopping mall, nearly five times the size of the company's existing data center in the San Francisco Bay Area. All Apple has said is that the facility will serve as its East Coast hub, but hasn't explained why it needs such a large data center, which will cost the company $1 billion US over the next nine years.
Most observers have concluded that the facility is being build to support a serious move by Apple into the cloud computing space. While Apple's online presence is quite modest now, some moves that it's made in recent years indicate possible directions the company may be headed in. The acquisition of Lala.com last year
suggested that Apple was bringing their engineering talent in-house to move iTunes to a cloud-based model
. And Apple's "Grab & Go" patent, dated in 2008 and revealed last November, described an ambitious scheme to allow seamless sync of different devices
- iPhones, iPads and Macs - over the network.
Lala's technology would allow users to store their iTunes music libraries on Apple's cloud servers, which would provide on the go access to more music than can fit on an iPhone or iPod. Presumably the same system would allow iBookstore content to be saved on the cloud as well, so that iPad owners could carry their entire collections with them. Since the Lala app saves the last few hundred songs in a cache, users will still have access to some of their media even when they're not connected to the internet.
Apple's Grab&Go system
would provide much the same functionality for a user's documents. In addition to saving data, Grab&Go can also store program states, so that - for example - a game could be started on your desktop Mac, synced with Grab&Go, and continued on an iPhone or iPad right where you left off. Essentially MobileMe on steroids, Grab&Go would also provide security methods and hard encryption to protect data transferred over public networks in places like hotspots.
Obviously, these types of applications would require huge amounts of storage, fat pipes and a lot of power. Apple is keeping the purpose of the facility secret, but it's right down US 321 from Google's Lenoir data center, and both facilities will benefit from cheap electricity
: cost per kilowatt/hour is about half what it costs in California.