The Apple Data Center FAQ

The exterior of the Apple data center facility in Maiden, North Carolina (Source: Apple)

Apple has transformed digital music and mobile devices with iTunes and the iPod, iPhone and iPad. What’s Apple’s latest game-changing hardware design? The company is rapidly expanding its data center infrastructure to support its current and future Internet services, including iCloud.

We’ve compiled our coverage of  Apple’s data center expansion projects, along with some nice sleuthing by participants on Mac enthusiast sites, into a series of Frequently Asked Questions. Here’s the Apple Data Center FAQ (or “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Apple’s Data Centers”).

How Extensive is Apple’s Internet Infrastructure?
Like many content companies, Apple operates data centers on both coasts of the United States, including California data centers in Newark, Santa Clara and Cupertino, and a major East coast data center in Maiden, North Carolina. The company is building an additional data center in Prineville, Oregon. Apple also makes significant use of major commercial content delivery networks to deliver software and digital files.

The scope of the North Carolina data center, which is nearly five times the size of Apple’s primary California facility, suggests that the company anticipates major growth in its data storage needs. What could be driving this huge upgrade in Apple’s data center ambitions? Let’s begin with a look at Apple’s North Carolina data center, and then examine its larger infrastructure ambitions.

How Big is Apple’s North Carolina Data Center?

An aerial view of the new Apple data center in Maiden, North Carolina, excerpted by a video by area real estate agent Bill Wagenseller.

Apple intends to invest more than $1 billion over the next 10 years on its 183-acre data center campus in Maiden, a town of about 3,300 residents in Catawba County in western North Carolina. The company has completed construction of a 505,000 square foot facility (pictured above) that ranks as one of the world’s largest data centers.

Apple’s 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.  The company has also purchased 75 acres of land across the road from the data center campus. Local officials say Apple has given no indication of plans for this land, although rumors point to an office complex.

Apple began actively scouting sites for an East Coast data center as early as 2007. By early 2009, the data center site search had a codename (“Project Dolphin”) and was focused on locations in Virginia and North Carolina. Both states passed tax incentives, but in North Carolina won the bidding with a package that included about $3 million in state-level tax breaks and another $7.3 million in incentives  from Maiden and Catawba County.

On July 31,2009 Apple paid about $3.5 million to acquire 255 acres of land near Startown road and Route 321.  Apple later paid an additional $1.7 million to acquire a 1 acre property owned by Donnie and Kathy Fulbright, a deal that gained global media coverage when it was disclosed. The Fulbrights used their windfall to purchase a nearby 49-acre property that “boasts a 4,200-square-foot house with a Jacuzzi in the master bathroom, as well as a man-made pond stocked with bass and catfish.”

Apple began construction in Sept. 2009 and completed construction in about a year. As Apple prepared to bring the facility online, local realtor Bill Wagenseller shot an aerial video demonstrating the scope of the building:

The Apple data center in Maiden features a one-story data center floor spanning 184,814 of space, according to a property assessment from Catawba County (link via MacRumors). The central server area is enclosed by 262,328 square feet of space supporting mechanical and electrical systems to support power and cooling. The building also has 57,432 square feet of space for offices and loading docks, and has an exterior equipment yard that covers 141,806 square feet. The building’s height ranges from 24 to 38 feet.

Continue to Part 2 of the Apple Data Center FAQ