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Apple's Reno iCloud data center taps AT&T's latest DWDM tech

Jobs and products

It is noteworthy that Apple's choice to build a data center here represents a massive new type of investment infrastructure that can't simply be shipped overseas in the way that manufacturing increasingly has. The highly automated nature of Apple's iCloud servers don't directly involve a huge workforce, but its servers do create new value in the form of online services. These services generate revenue to help support the local and national economy, with effects lasting long after the initial surge of constructing the data center is completed.

Much like the railroads of the 1800s and the automotive and petroleum industries that advocated highways in the 1900s, the tech companies that pushed for national data network infrastructure in recent decades are now investing in making those assets productive.

While recently denigrated by some developers who are upset Apple hasn't flawlessly solved all of their advanced data service needs within the first two years of iCloud's existence, the company's plans are ambitious. By building out its Internet services as a platform that's just as important as OS X and iOS, Apple has helped set a new minimum expectation for users where all of their data, documents, backups and media are available anywhere they have network access.

Apple's iOS App Economy has directly created 291,250 jobs in the U.S. (an increase of more than 80,000 over the past year) and has paid out over $8 billion to its developers. Apple simply wouldn't have been able to generate its incredible revenues or those jobs had the U.S. not invested in founding the infrastructure of the Internet.

Prominent computer scientists and Internet pioneers Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn commented that, "as far back as the 1970s Congressman Gore [then in his late 20s] promoted the idea of high speed telecommunications as an engine for both economic growth and the improvement of our educational system. He was the first elected official to grasp the potential of computer communications to have a broader impact than just improving the conduct of science and scholarship. Though easily forgotten, now, at the time this was an unproven and controversial concept."

The economic growth sparked by the Internet is no longer a controversial concept. Apple's iCloud and iTunes App Store promote, sell, distribute and update apps to users at mind boggling rates, with over 20 billion new app downloads (not including any redownloads or updates) handled by the company just last year.

That's as many apps in one year as the combined total Apple reported delivering in the previous four years between the App Store's opening in 2008 and 2011. This tremendous growth curve, which shows no signs of slowing, demands new investments in infrastructure and incredible data network capacity.

Gore now sits on Apple's board, and has been a major advocate of Apple's development of Internet services in an environmentally sustainable and responsible way, reflected in the company's efforts to build the world's greenest data centers.

Apple Reno iCloud data lines

Data lines stretching west toward Silicon Valley in California.

Better, faster, smarter pipes

In addition to benefitting from initial government investments in Internet infrastructure, Apple has also formed partnerships with carriers to leverage their networks. When it released the iPhone in 2007, it partnered with a fledgeling group of struggling GSM carriers that had just merged to create the "new AT&T."

Apple's iPhone stressed that mobile network to the breaking point on several occasions, but also strengthened it to become a real national competitor. In 2010, Apple partnered with Verizon in the US, and subsequently every other major carrier has jumped to partner with it as soon as they could afford to buy Apple's business, from Sprint in 2011 to T-Mobile this year.

With iCloud, Apple is the data customer, not just a manufacturer with a hardware catalyst that sells carriers' mobile data service to end users. For its new Reno data center, Apple has again partnered with AT&T, which has intercontinental lines that stretch like a highway from Silicon Valley to the East Coast. For redundancy, Apple also has a variety of other options among data providers that have run parallel high speed fiber optic cables along the highway or railroad right of ways.


Strategy Analytics graphic via Engadget.

As the primary driver in cloud services among consumers, Apple is using the "Information Superhighway" to radically change how individuals buy media, software and use services.

From its original, pioneering efforts to make digital music downloads in iTunes easier than driving to a store or shipping physical recordings around, Apple has since revolutionized software distribution, entirely eliminating retail packaging and erasing the need for optical media with the Mac and iOS App Stores.

The result is increased efficiency for developers and users, with savings that include less packaging, shipping, waste and other environmental impacts. By replacing old media with digital downloads, Apple is shifting many conventional goods into the electronic realm, and it's using its billions in profits to reinvest in the expansion and enhancement of its cloud offerings.

More on Apple's plans for iCloud is expected to be outlined in June at the company's Worldwide Developer Conference in San Francisco.