Apple Designing Own Hardware, Building Ultra-Fast Data Network For Cloud Services

It’s long been said that Apple’s efforts to tackle “the cloud” have often come up short. Apple has seemingly struggled to get a firm grip on cloud data starting with iTools, which subsequently morphed into .Mac, MobileMe, and to its current incarnation as iCloud.

In the past, Apple has rented server capacity from various vendors -- such as Amazon and Microsoft -- to support its cloud services like iCloud. In addition, Apple has taken the easy (but not always efficient) approach of using off-the-shelf hardware like Cisco switches and HP servers in its growing army of data centers.

However, Apple is looking to take a page from the books of rivals like Amazon, Microsoft, and Google to bolster its cloud services. Apple’s new approach won’t entirely supplant its existing arrangement with third-party vendors (at least not initially), but will extend its capacity and performance by using more homegrown solutions. That means designing and incorporating its own hardware in its data centers to improve efficiency. Apple, which recently joined the Open Compute Project, won’t go bonkers replacing the completely competent hardware in its existing data centers with its newly designed counterparts, but will instead begin the rollout as its opens new data centers around the globe. Apple is also investing in “long-haul” fiber pipes to link up its data centers in California, Nevada, North Carolina, and Oregon.

Apple Data Center Maiden NC
Apple's data center in Maiden, NC

Companies like Google and Facebook long ago realized that designing hardware that was specifically tailored to their respective platforms was the most cost-effective and efficient route to delivering an optimal experience for consumers, so it’s surprising that it took Apple this long to come to this realization. But with Apple looking to take the wraps off its new subscription music service today and the long-rumored streaming TV platform reportedly coming sometime later this year, it makes sense that Apple is trying to pull out all the stops to ensure that it has a stable and efficient infrastructure in place to support its enormous user base.

“If you’re using someone else’s networks and data centers, you lose some control,” said Steve Garrison, marketing VP for networking company Pica8. “It’s hard to call Amazon at 10 o’clock on a Friday night and say ‘triple my capacity right now.’”

“User experience is very important to Apple, but delivery of its content is the one part of that experience it doesn’t control,” added IHS Infonetics Research analyst Andrew Schmitt.

Considering how much of a control freak Apple is with regards to so many aspects of its business, this move makes even more sense.