Apple announced recently a plan to build a 400,00 square foot data center in the center of Iowa corn country. Why? Ostensibly, to handle Messages, Siri, the App Store, and other Apple services which require ever more data centers and bandwidth.
Why Iowa? Apple received a few hundred million dollars in tax incentives, but the project brings with it a few hundred jobs. The Iowa data center is just one of many the company has constructed in the past few years, with other large centers in Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, California and elsewhere around the world.
The reason why Apple needs so many data centers and is likely to build more has to do with the company’s growth since the iPhone was introduced a decade ago. Back in the day there were no App Stores like we see today and Apple’s data-hungry user base was made up mostly of 30-million or so Mac customers.
iPhone and iPad exploded in the marketplace and produced a few hundred million new customers, and that meant app stores, software updates, and cloud services well beyond Apple’s ability to supply from its own data centers.
Apple went shopping.
The company bought services from Amazon, Google, Microsoft, IBM, and others just to keep up with demand as iPhone, iPad, and Mac sales reached record levels, and along with that, record levels of cloud-based data storage.
Only Apple knows exactly how much third party data center services are required now, but company-owned and operated data centers are spread around the U.S.
- Newark, CA
- Santa Clara, CA
- Maiden, NC
- Prineville, OR
- Reno, NV
- Waukee, IA
Apple manages other data centers elsewhere around the world, but the company has enough money to build their own and make them run with 100-percent renewable energy, which helps keep costs down and makes the company more competitive with cloud services.
Google struggles to get Android smartphones updated to the latest OS version. Last week Samsung issued an update which bricked many of its smart televisions, so getting updates onto old and current devices is a major challenge– not just from the data center requirements, but also operationally.
Think of it this way. In the next couple of months Apple will update hundreds of millions of iPhones, iPads, Macs, Watch, and Apple TV devices all over the world. No other technology company can do that. Not Google. Not Microsoft. And Apple does it year after year.
As Apple moved off third party data centers I’ve noticed an improvement in iCloud and cloud-based services. Siri works better. iCloud syncs faster. App updates are more frequent and faster. At the rate Apple’s customer base is growing the company likely will need more data centers than it has now.
What of the future?
I want to see Apple get into the virtual private network business (VPN) and make it a part of iCloud. iTunes and Apple Music have gained Apple only content, so why not have a special highway to the internet specifically for Apple’s customers?