How Apple’s $1 billion iCloud data center almost didn’t get built

An interesting feature by Katie Fehrenbacher of GigaOM has an insightful look at how Apple’s $1 billion data center in North Carolina came to be and how it almost didn’t get built. Luckily, officials were able to work out the deal and boy did it pay off. Because Apple is a powerful company, the iCloud data center gave Catawba County a much needed bargaining chip in convincing others to build their data centers there, too…

Catawba County officials and a data center development had discussed the data center with Apple and the developer spent months upgrading an abandoned mill building that would house Apple’s data center – until Apple figured they needed more space for the 500,000 square-foot data center.

However, the county had one more shot: Just three miles down the road, it had been developing a 180-acre park that they envisioned would be a campus to a handful of data centers. Faced with the possibility of seeing Apple walk, the county changed tack, and offered it the entire park.

Also, this:

A year before the county almost lost Apple through the Carolina Mills pitch, they almost sold off the 180-acre park to a titanium maker.

The key?

In the end, the county acted more like a nimble web startup than a bureaucratic government agency, taking risks, predicting how the future would unfold, and remaking itself.

If only the Government acted like a startup…


Other notable highlights:

• at the peak of construction, a cool 1,400 construction workers were on-site on a single day
• the iCloud data center employed 67 full time workers in its first year versus 60 for Facebook’s data center
• thanks in no small part to Apple’s iCloud, but also to attractive tax incentives and cheap power, North Carolina has become the favorite choice for data centers operators like Google, Facebook, AT&T, Wipro and others
• they cracked the market back in 2005 by courting Google, though the search giant eventually settled on a site in neighboring Caldwell County
• thanks to that experience, the officials and the local utility Duke Energy turned a site off of Startown Road into a data center park, created to show it off and organized an annual site tour for tech companies called The Data Center Information Exchange, now in its seventh year
• they’re now advertising the region (once a leader in manufacturing of textiles and furniture) as the North Carolina data center cluster and urging other communities to use the phrase in their marketing

Kudos to North Carolina for taking a proactive approach to courting tech companies into building data centers there. They earned their success, especially knowing the cut-throat nature of this market, with states competing for business with insanely attractive deals that include aggressive tax incentives, cheap labor and land and what have you.

My bet is that we’ll be seeing lots more Apple data centers built around the world of the North Carolina’s caliber. With a rumored full-blown television set and premium television programming delivered on-demand via iCloud, Apple is about to become a 21st century broadcaster and this will require multiple data centers all over the world.