Apple’s Data Center Is 21st-Century Broadcasting Network, Says Cloud Expert [Exclusive]

Apple’s Data Center Is 21st-Century Broadcasting Network, Says Cloud Expert [Exclusive]

Apple’s massive new data center is a 21st-century broadcasting system to rival the TV networks of old, says a leading expert in cloud computing.

Nick Carr, author of the “Amazon ($3.00)” a bestseller about the cloud, says Apple’s North Carolina facility is a “broadcasting system” not unlike NBC or CBS, but one that distributes software as well as media.

“Apple increasingly views its mainstream computers, from iPod Touch to iPhone to iPad to MacBook Air, as media players, with “media” spanning not just audio and video but also apps,” Carr wrote in an email. “From that perspective, the North Carolina data center can be seen as essentially a broadcasting system that will enable Apple to make the shift from a downloading model of media distribution to a streaming model. It’s a proprietary broadcasting system (not altogether unlike traditional broadcasting systems), which means it’s a very different model of the cloud from the open model promoted by Google.”

At 500,000 square feet, Apple’s $1 billion data center will be among the largest in the world. The unusual size of the data center suggests that Apple has ambitious plans for cloud computing.

The massive facility is coming online before the end of the year, Apple has said, although what it will be used for, the company hasn’t detailed.

It’s assumed it will be used to stream music and movies from iTunes. Reports suggest the company is going to build a big office complex next door and is “going after the cable market.”

But it goes deeper than that, says Carr. The facility will help transition Apple from a download model of computing to a streaming model of computing.

Here’s what else he had to say about Apple’s unique take on the cloud:

CultofMac.com: Apple obviously is moving into mobile big time with iOS, but what about the old Mac OS? Did you see Steve Jobs Lion/MacBook Air presentation recently? There were some indications that OS X Lion, due next summer, will have cloud elements. But what are the chances of it becoming more of a cloud OS than a desktop OS, like Google’s yet-to-be-seen Chrome OS? Are consumers are ready for a cloud OS? And is Apple the company to do it?

Nick Carr: I think consumers have already embraced the cloud model of computing – ie, when a person wants to do something new with a computer today, his or her first instinct is to look to the Net rather than to install a new piece of software – but I don’t think they’re ready yet for a pure cloud OS. Or maybe a better way to say it is that the cloud isn’t ready yet for a pure cloud OS. The success of the App Store demonstrates the continuing importance of the local hard drive (or flash drive), with the cloud serving as an extension of that drive rather than a replacement of it. And I think Apple is more than happy to remain in that world for the time being; indeed, one of its great competitive strengths is melding diverse components – hardware, OS, applications, and now cloud – into a unified and seamless user experience. Unlike Google, which has a strong economic and ideological desire to move everything into the cloud as quickly as possible, Apple understands that a hybrid environment plays to its strengths, so I don’t think it has much interest in pushing people into a pure cloud model.

That said, the cloud is becoming more and more central to people’s experience of computing. Apple understands that, and will continue to incorporate more cloud capabilities into its OSes (as well as into its applications like iLife). That’s certainly true of Lion.

More broadly, I think that Apple increasingly views its mainstream computers, from iPod Touch to iPhone to iPad to MacBook Air, as media players, with “media” spanning not just audio and video but also apps. From that perspective, the North Carolina data center can be seen as essentially a broadcasting system that will enable Apple to make the shift from a downloading model of media distribution to a streaming model. It’s a proprietary broadcasting system (not altogether unlike traditional broadcasting systems), which means it’s a very different model of the cloud from the open model promoted by Google.

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  • Mark Aadam

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About the author

Leander KahneyLeander Kahney is the editor and publisher of Cult of Mac. He is the NYT bestselling author of Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple's Greatest Products; Inside Steve’s Brain; Cult of Mac; and Cult of iPod. Leander has written for Wired, MacWeek, Scientific American, and The Guardian in London. Follow Leander on Twitter @lkahney and Facebook.

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