Apple: iTunes ascends to the heavens this spring

$1bn data center turns on

Apple appears poised to float a flurry of its services into the cloud, as its $1bn data center in North Carolina approaches its start-up date.

That bit of news was dropped during the Q&A session at Apple's annual general meeting on Wednesday, according to AppleInsider, which was in attendance at the shareholders-only meeting.

"Apple's North Carolina data center is expected to open this spring, and will support the iTunes and MobileMe services," an Apple spokesman told the attendees.

Although Apple didn't specifically say that a fully cloud-based iTunes service was in the offing, that possibility has long been discussed – and rumors of such a service have been fueled not only by Apple's streaming-only Apple TV, but also by its 2009 acquisition then 2010 shuttering of the online music-streaming service Lala.

With that acquisition, Apple gobbled up Lala's ability to track and monetize a streaming-music service that could be accessed by any browser, anywhere, at any time, whether that browser is running on a Mac OS X or iOS device – or, for that matter, on devices running Windows, webOS, Android, Chrome OS, Meego, Ubuntu, or any OS that Cupertino might deem acceptable.

A recent spate of rumors also envisions a future cloudy iPhone with minimal memory; all of its content and apps would be cloud-based, or so says longtime Apple-watcher Leander Kahney at Cult of Mac.

There are also persistent rumblings about a MobileMe upgrade that would include the ability for devices to cloudify not only their contacts, calendars, email and a relatively small amount of files, but also make all their videos, movies, music, and files available from anywhere and any device.

One particularly intriguing bit of MobileMe buzz is that Apple may attempt to create its own social-networking offering, to be hosted in North Carolina. If so, the attendees at Apple's annual meeting should hope that it'll be more inviting than iTunes' Ping, which is not exactly taking the world by storm, despite interface tweaks – including the addition of a "kill switch".

If Apple does radically beef up its MobileMe service, Apple's shareholders can only hope that doing so will go more smoothly than Jobs & Co's early experience with MobileMe. When that service was first launched, it went through a stormy shakedown cruise, going offline for hours at a time, deleting contacts and appointments, billing incorrectly, and more. Things got so bad that even Pope Benedict XVI felt the need to apologize.

Apple eventually worked out the majority of MobileMe's bugs in March of 2009, and after a June 2010 makeover, the service is now running decently enough – although even fanboy deity Steve Wozniak says he still has trouble with it.

One advantage that Apple has today that it didn't possess during MobileMe's painful birth: eBay's former data center guru Olivier Sanche, who joined Apple in August of 2009.

It's not that Apple had no experience in running large data centers before Sanche's arrival. In 2006, Apple bought a former WorldCom/MCI data center in Newark, California, but that server farm is only about a fifth the size of Apple's 500,000–square foot North Carolina big boy – and there are also reports that Apple is planning to double that already massive capacity.

At the beginning of 2010, The Reg dubbed the as-yet-unreleased iPad as "the tablet with the data center soul". We may have understated Apple's intentions. With a massive data center soon to be chugging away in North Carolina, it's increasingly clear that Apple's ambitions are far more grand than we thought at the time.

One million square feet will be room aplenty to house the world's largest walled garden. ®

Sponsored: How to determine if cloud backup is right for your servers