MobileMe: Cloudy Front End for the iDataCenter?

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An aerial view of the new Apple data center in Maiden, North Carolina.

So how is it that Apple has built and launched a 500,000 square foot data center without announcing any new services to explain its need for all that additional IT horsepower? A possible explanation has emerged: Apple expected it would already be storing iTunes media libraries in the iDataCenter by this time – only to have a major retooling of its MobileMe service delayed by licensing talks.

That’s the word from the Wall Street Journal, which reported the latest rumor of a new Apple cloud computing service as part of a larger story about the prospect of a smaller, cheaper iPhone to serve as a carrier-friendly weapon to fend off emerging competition in the smartphone market.

It’s the latest incarnation of persistent rumors that Apple will offer a cloud hosting option for  iTunes users, allowing them to access their music and videos from anywhere. “Apple is considering making MobileMe a free service that would serve as a ‘locker’ for personal memorabilia such as photos, music and videos, eliminating the need for devices to carry a lot of memory,” the Journal writes, citing the usual anonymous but informed sources. The paper said the service could be available as early as June, but said Apple had “planned for the service to roll out a year earlier.”

Apple’s new data center in Maiden, North Carolina  is nearly five times the size of the company’s primary California facility, suggesting that the company anticipates major growth in its data storage needs. Apple’s long-term plans for the site include a second data center of similar size, and in recent months the company has obtained construction permits for preliminary work on the site of the second building.

What could be driving this huge upgrade in Apple’s data center ambitions? Apple has said very little about its new data center, which has created an air of mystery around the “iDataCenter” and prompted active speculation about how Apple might use it. 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. This fits neatly with Apple’s purchase last year of the streaming music service LaLa.

See the Apple Data Center FAQ for a complete rundown of what we know and don’t know about the huge North Carolina facility.

About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor at large of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.

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