back to article A peek inside Apple's iCloud data center

At the very end of his keynote address at Apple's WorldWide Developer Conference this week in San Francisco, Apple CEO Steve Jobs flashed up some photos of the exterior and interior of the new $1bn data center the company has built in Maiden, North Carolina to support its new iCloud storage cloud. "If you don't think we're …


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  1. The Mighty Spang

    not running xsan servers on the backend then?

    silly me i forgot apple have cancelled them.

    now there's faith in your own technology. and here's us running their now obsolete hardware with a 'hot backup' that only works if *every single client* is turned on.


    now i know why they didn't use their own kit....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up


      Beat me to it...


    2. Ilgaz

      Gotta admire MS for it

      At the cost of getting laughed at or at the risk people blaming whatever downtime to their operating systems, they use Windows servers in all kinds of situations.

      What happened to Apple's server guys? Seriously, what bothers me is UNIX getting ignored. The only "easy to use like mac" UNIX server. Now who can blame companies with hundreds of Mac and iPhone clients when they run Windows or Linux servers?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re "What happened to Apple's server guys?"

        Erm, nothing. They've stopped manufacturing and selling XServe *hardware*. OS X Server is still around and is installable on any Mac []. No doubt Apple can ignore their own licenses and install it on whatever iron they like, if the are using it at all. They could well be using a variant of the Xnu kernel as the basis of the customised OS that is running in the data centre; essentially OS X, but not as we know it.

  2. Neil Brown

    So, in short...

    ... we don't know.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I guess it's safe to say...

    ... those server aren't running OSX Server.

    Or, are they?

    1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      This is Apple

      with big pockets. I would imagine that Dell, HP, IBM or any of the white box manufacturers would have been quite happy to flash different bootstrap code from normal to allow OSX to boot, considering the number of servers they would sell. Would probably also still support them as well, if asked.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      There is technically nothing to prevent Apple running their own server software on a proliant (subject to the requisite drivers). It's just the EULA that prevents anyone else doing that...

      This requires me to ask: Why do Apple want everyone else to run their servers on their crappy workstation class hardware when they themselves appear to run proper enterprise-class servers.

  4. Andrew Pike

    boringly conventional

    So in other words it's boringly conventional and not very green

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      It is a shame to see them choose NC with coal power when similarly priced green power exists elsewhere in the country, e.g., hydroelectric power in much of the northwest and Nevada...

    2. Steve Evans


      Incredibly non green, powered by coal fired electric, and not a single solar panel or wind turbine on site to even attempt a green wash.

    3. Christopher W

      Nor is it very ethical!

      From the company that brought you unibody Macs (which seem fairly environmentally friendly) - coal-fired electricity to power their cloud services... Natch.

      Producing RED devices with one tentacle, destroying the world's future climate with another. Perhaps they want the Earth to glow white during use like their flaming logo?

  5. Alan 8


    May run osx, they have form for running it on non mac hardware - I vaguely remember the switch from ppc to intel keynote system info panel. NeXT ran on all sorts...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      As per Andrew Pike - this is a conventional datacentre, plain and simple. Plus, rumour has it, OS X Server doesn't scale as well are other dedicated UNIX-based server platforms.

      Apple may choose to spin it differently, bit like their desktop kit, but we all know it's vanilla intel hardware underneath.

    2. David Simpson 1


      Many people run OS X on normal PCs (Mine dual boots windows 7 and SL), it's stupidly easy, and I'm sure Apple have an in house version that installs easily on any X86 setup.

      However I'm sure their data centers run on some form of Linux.

  6. Anonymous Coward

    Boringly conventional?

    Yes, but the outside of the building is painted white! It matches all the other iCrap!

    I suppose if Apple really wanted to be green, they'd locate their data center somewhere served by hydroelectric or wind power, and possibly in a cooler climate where cooling all this iron wouldn't be so much of an issue.

  7. Matthew 17

    Very conventional DC

    Was expecting it to be a super efficient setup, hot/cold aisle containment etc, but it looks to be a standard open spaced DC, albeit a reasonably large one.

  8. This post has been deleted by its author

  9. Mixing


    The way i see it, Apple does not really have an enterprise operating system for large scale servers. Well OS X Server is more directed to small business with limited users.

    There are 2 business here Apple is addressing: Apple Cloud services and OS X Lion. The operating system that supports Apple Cloud services is actually irrelevant. It is well known that Microsoft uses UNIX operating systems for specific services and IBM mostly uses Windows on PC's despite its huge investment on Linux and Open Source.

    As long the service is available and online at an affordable price for Apple and OS X Lion is a success, Apple will not move into enterprise operating systems.

    1. Ilgaz

      IBM uses Linux, z/OS and AIX

      I don't think IBM would touch Windows on a such large installation. They have Windows client support and z/os monsters are maintained that way but the server always runs their own stuff. They also use Plan 9 (the successor to UNIX) on a massive supercomputer. I guess bluegene/l.

      Of course if you are a customer of them and demand your systems served on Windows, they would arrange Windows Enterprise and may even suggest Dell if it perfectly fits. That is their new culture, unlike MS, they are a services company now and not acting like a spoiled kid.

      That Mac freak stalking my posts can downvote my comment as long as he wants but let me repeat: MS would never do such a billion dollar PR/Prestige mistake. Also SJobs would really tell if they run os x server on that farm.

    2. Ilgaz

      MS uses Windows

      If you talk about hotmail etc. on FreeBSD, it isn't relevant anymore. MS managed to move it to Windows after 2-3 disasterous tries.

      Not supporting their action but at least they didn't fall into absurdity of Apple.

  10. Stuart Duel

    Non-Apple branded computers

    We may not be permitted to run OS X on non-Apple branded computers, but Apple is free to run OS X on any hardware they feel like.

    But it might not be OS X. It could be some other Unix, heaven knows there's plenty to choose from. But it won't be Linux and certainly not Windows.

    1. vincent himpe

      my guess

      dos with novell netware on top >:)

      1. David Perry 2

        Where I work...

        We put a department full of macs onto AD. Cos the novell support is too unreliable. Novell = expensive LDAP = what OS X server runs hmmm. And I'm a mac user at home!

    2. /dev/null

      Plenty to choose from?

      UNIX on x86/x64? Solaris? FreeBSD? SCO OpenServer?

  11. Paul Vail
    Thumb Down

    hey, there's my investment in Xserves..

    I knew they wouldn't kill off the Xserves we bought. Oh wait, those are the MacPro servers we all turn on their sides... no, no, I'm mistaken. Those are Mac Minis for running the enterprise.

    Um -- OK, I think Steve bought a Dell, dude.

  12. KetchikanTech
    Thumb Up

    The title is required, and must contain letters and/or digits.

    In 50 or so years the average PC (or whatever it will be called) will have more storage and processing power than the computers in this facility. Cannot wait to be 81!

  13. Squeaks

    Oh, Apple...

    I find it funny how their latest data center aren't being powered by their own hardware.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Lots of speculations...

    ... and who cares? Do we really need to know is those are HP Extreme Mega Super Duper Extra blades XX3000 (TM) or El Cheapo Lamo v0.1-- (TM)?

    The real question is: will that be enough for Apple to store all the personal and bank details of a growing world population?

    And to make it more interesting, make it a "Where's Waldo" type game: "Spot which blade holds YOUR details" (ahah, trick question, there's also a backup in the next aisle!).

  15. Anonymous Coward

    Where's the backup data center?

    Apologies if I've missed this, but Jobs only seems to be talking about the one data center for the iCloud service. If that goes off-line (or is destroyed), which location is going to provide the service until it's back up and running again?

    Until I hear about some proper resilience, there's no way I'm going to trust that place with my data.

    1. johnnymotel

      or this?

      there are two identical data centres on this one site, supplied by separate power supplies and separate backup supplies.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Re: "there are two identical data centres on this one site"

        Silly idea - one accident would take them both out.

        E.g. fire spreading from one datacentre to another; airplane crash or big bomb/explosion taking out the whole facility; flood; tidal wave. Heck, even a fire at one datacentre might be enough - the fire department will ask them to disconnect all the power across the whole site, so they can use hoses without getting electrocuted.

        To have true redundancy, you need at least 100 miles between your datacentres.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Missing the point!

      It's not a data center; it's a "store and forward" nexus for Apple devices and services. If that thing gets blasted into smithereens, you'll lose nothing, since your data lives on your devices. It onl uses the data center to facilitate sync. The data center is no more a storage area for your data than is a network switch.

  16. h 2

    So it was apple that ate all the worlds IP's

    So it was apple that ate all the worlds IP's

  17. Matt Bryant Silver badge

    How many datacenters?

    Only one dc means one disaster = bye-bye iCloud. I know Apple never got that whole high-availability idea because they never got deeper into the enterprise than the crayola department desktops, but surely hp and/or NetApp would have pointed out that they need site redundancy too?

    1. Adam T

      Re: How many datacenters?

      He said they're building a 3rd datacenter, so I assume there's two (or they're finishing the 2nd and plan on a 3rd...a straight answer would be too much to ask for). A second was confirmed a while back, being built on the same, or an adjoining, site.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        A second and third datacentre built on the same site is not a DR position. You need to be at least 20-30M away, on a different flood plane and away from any flight paths (amongst other redundancy considerations, such as: power, network, etc. etc.)

  18. Anonymous Coward


    Yes, it's a data centre. Of that there is no doubt.

  19. Chris_B

    Top quality pictures those

    All taken using the magical iPad2 ? :-)

  20. MrHorizontal

    Web Objects

    But from another perspective, I don't think the hardware is the issue here - it really depends on what and how iCloud runs in terms of software.

    I wouldn't be at all surprised if they were using some whitelabel servers running Mac OS X. After all iTunes is largely a web services platform running on Apple's Web Objects - not a bad platform but not exactly a hugely mainstream platform either... and really what is iCloud but iTunes store on steroids? Wouldn't it be ironic if they were indeed hackintoshes?

    <3 Teradata.

  21. A. Nervosa

    Not DL180s

    I think those servers on the right hand side of the last picture are 1U ProLiant DL360 G7s...

  22. Rainer

    We've been through this

    Apple has been looking for RHEL/CentOS and Solaris admins, with various related skills.

    I don't think there's much OSX-Server running there.

    The guy running that particular part of the show (on behalf of Steve, of course), Eddie Cue, is famous for using what's needed and what works.

    It's not Google, of course, but I have to assume it's reasonable close.

  23. Marco Mieshio

    So what

    It doesn't look like HP kit to me but what difference does it make. Apple can afford to buy whatever kit it wants and if I were Apple I would buy from two major vendors and have one a failover to the other. This Icloud is not going to work any way as I for one don't like the idea of my life stored on someone elses hard drive and I am sure I am not the only one. Best of luck Steve with your venture and your cancer (sorry illness).

  24. XMAN


    That's one hell of a DC

  25. Anonymous Coward

    re: I guess it's safe to say..

    It's also safe to say that Microsoft doesn't exclusively run on Windows.

    Macs a consumer device.... why would you expect it in a data centre, twit.

  26. Valerion

    Rubbish quality pictures

    One of the biggest companies in the world and that's the best pictures they could get?

    Or did they use an original iPhone camera?

  27. Ilgaz

    Plain sad

    You got Xserve, OS X server and it is certified UNIX putting it to AIX league. You got a developer culture who does things different, simple looking complex stuff.

    And your idea of "cloud" is, putting "very expensive" HP servers next to eachother.

    Compare this to Virginia Tech supercomputer which was built on ibm g5 (ppc970) clusters running os x/xgrid and you will understand what kind of harm Intel switch did to the company culture.

    Of course Intel was way to go in portable future but these kinds of side effects really bothers you.

    Apple was a company who insisted their factory, inside look beautiful and now they aren't really different from other guys.

    Hopefully, at least, they run FreeBSD but not betting on it.


      Yes. Sad is the word.

      > You got Xserve, OS X server and it is certified UNIX putting it to AIX league.

      Yes. Sad is the word. You probably don't even realize why either.

  28. RTNavy


    What! Apple didn't want to build the data center in Washington State? A State that is flush with GREEN, RENEWABLE power in all those Hydroelectric Dams and Wind Farms???

    So much power right now with Spring Run Off that the Bonneville Power Administration is having to shut down some of the wind farms because they have more power than their consumers can use (or than they can distribute)?

    I guess money, instead of social responsibility is still running the show at Apple Computer?

    (please turn the heavy sarcasm filter on before reading)....

    1. Ilgaz

      Why would they bother?

      Nokia has multiple awards and one of the greenest companies with perfect worker relations. So, why they had to give up their own OS and in process of going out of business?

      It is because nobody said "It may have less coolness and trendy apps but I choose Nokia since it is a green company who treats their workers (including .cn) well."

      Why would Apple care? They may even put a Nuclear iReactor next to it and dump all the stuff to sea, people would still line up for iPhone 5.

  29. Anonymous Coward

    iCloud, EMC Atmos

    EMC open sourced the Atmos REST API for iOS, that much is public knowledge – google for it.

    Well placed sources might know that EMC sold a bunch of Atmos iron to Apple earlier this year. Or maybe that's public knowledge too now.

    Put the two together.

  30. BRYN


    wonder if is driven by FreeNas booting off a 512mb usb drive?

  31. Anonymous Coward


    Steve is pretty practical as far as scaling and os issues are concerned.

    Even as people where using G5's as super computers in Virginia, at Pixar which he was running at the same time; they where using custom made IA32 and IA64 machines as well as BOXXX workstations running linux and solaris.

    Their site is also not run on osx, but solaris or linux or both.

    They could also technically just use a number of BSDs which would be the closest to osx (or even Darwin) and they would be able to do what they need with this no muss no fuss.

    There is really no real good reason for them to use any off the shelf servers since all they would have to do is call their existing oems, give them the specs and get it all made for probably less.

    At this point all the necessary parts are super commoditized, and adding RAS features to x86 platforms is a relatively simple engineering feat.

    1. Ilgaz

      Pixar bought AMDs

      When Pixar bought AMD cpu farm, they were right since AMD at that time had amazingly well performance for the particular tasks they use. G4/G3 can't do it. Also remember NeXT wasn't real fan of Motorola, they switched to x86 at first opportunity. Also remember OSX wasn't that stable (even if existed) and it would be a disaster that would drive Pixar out of business if they tried.

      Now, Apple is a X86 (in fact x86-64) vendor with amazing cash in their pocket and a gigantic R&D. They also have OSX server edition which has very tough to get UNIX certification.

      I don't say they should have put 5000 Mac Minis next to eachother making 1000 db Mac startup sound. For example, they could have designed a special Mac Mini fitting to racks, having fiber (instead of sound) network etc.

  32. Sillyfellow

    last pic shows dell power edge servers

    last pic shows dell power edge servers :?)

  33. Jorge Lopez

    Could also be virtualized.

    There is nothing stopping Apple from running their own OS on a custom hypervisor or even by partnering with Oracle, EMC or VMWare to make one for them. Chances are they are running many virtualized Operating Systems for whatever serves the best purpose.

    The hardware is only one part of datacenter. Even I know this.

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