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Tuesday, August 18, 2009, 04:50 am PT (07:50 am ET)

Expert speculates Apple's new data center to be for cloud computing

A data center expert believes Apple's new, massive cluster of computers in North Carolina could be intended to power a giant cloud computing operation.

This summer, Apple selected Maiden, N.C., as the site of its $1 billion server farm, and speculation suggested it was to support the company's booming media business, mostly through iTunes. But in an interview with Rich Miller, editor of Data Center Knowledge, Cult of Mac discovered that Apple could be looking to create an Internet-based computing operation with a size that would rival the services of Google.

The data center reportedly has 500,000 square feet of space for computers all inside one building, and Miller said that would make it one of the largest data centers in the world. Typically, he said, such large-scale operations are used by companies like Google for cloud computing. Apple's current data center in Newark, Calif., is just over 100,000 square feet.

Miller said that Apple likely chose the North Carolina location to save money, rather than for connectivity. Because the Mac-maker is more interested in cost and scale, he said it also suggests a cloud computing data center. Apple received a tax break from local lawmakers, with the assumption that the Cupertino, Calif.-based company can reach a $1 billion investment target within nine years. If the server farm remains active for three decades, the corporate tax breaks would amount to $300 million.

"In the past several years we’ve seen a handful of new facilities that are redefining the scope of modern data centers," Miller told Cult of Mac. "These include Microsoft’s new facility in Chicago, the SuperNAP in Las Vegas and the Phoenix ONE co-location center in Phoenix. All of these facilities house at least 400,000 square feet of space. These data centers are designed to support an enormous volume of data, and reflect the acceleration of the transition to a digital economy. All those digital assets -– email, images, video and now virtual machines -– drive demand for more and larger data centers."

Apple already dabbles in cloud computing with its MobileMe Service, which delivers push e-mail, contacts and calendars from the Internet-based "cloud" to computers and handheld devices. It offers a suite of Web 2.0 applications that provide a desktop-like experience through a Web browser.

While Miller's cloud computing possibilities are speculation, as Apple has not announced its intent for the $1 billion server farm, it's also possible Apple is simply looking to bolster its current offerings. When MobileMe first launched in July of 2008, it was riddled with problems. As a result, Apple gave subscribers an extra 30 days of free service. MobileMe now comes with a 60-day free trial, while the cost for the service, with 20GB of online storage, is $99 per year.