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Apple's Reno iCloud data center taps AT&T's latest DWDM tech

post #1 of 28
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Apple's $1 billion iCloud data center near Reno, Nevada taps into the latest technology in data signaling to bring high speed Internet services from the desert to users. Here's what's involved in the mega "information superhighway" project.

Previous segments in this series have looked at Apple's commitment to building the world's greenest data centers, the company's jump start in construction at its Reno data center site, the massive scope of site preparation, and the sophisticated water technology being installed. Here'e we'll look at the futuristic conduits that deliver iCloud's digital packets at the speed of light, as well as their historic predecessors.

Apple Reno iCloud data lines


Something old, something new, something borrowed, something rainbow



What do you do with affordable land, blessed with abundant natural resources and located at a strategic point between America's major cities?

Historically, you build transportation links and set up infrastructure to deliver goods and services across vast distances. And today, Apple is partnering with leading data providers, including AT&T, to do just that with its massive iCloud construction project, except instead of roads, the company will use data links to shuffle data between Silicon Valley and New York City (and, of course, to the rest of the Internet) at light speed.

AT&T's data building (above) opposite Apple's vast construction site (visible in the background) gives the appearance of being just a simple, single room Old West prairie schoolhouse. The only feature that's really historic, however, is its olde fashioned white outhouse (standing in the foreground).

The brick structure with its massive exhaust chimney actually holds high tech equipment pioneering some of the world's most advanced signaling technologies now in production: Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing (DWDM) for long range fiber optic data links offering blazing speeds that replace Coarse Wavelength Division Multiplexing's 40 Gigabit links with conduits that can support 100 Gigabit transfers.

While simple fiber optic systems (such as the Toslink digital audio cables Apple supports on its MacBooks and Apple TV) use a single wavelength LED to essentially shine a flashing light down a glass tube, more sophisticated systems use higher powered lasers, and break up the light spectrum into a rainbow of colors ("wavelength division"), each of which is used to send part of the signal.

"Multiplexing" packs this rainbow of signals into a single optical cable for transmission, and the "dense" designation means that more wavelengths and channels are packed into tighter bundles (compared to "coarse," of course). The actual "color" frequencies that work best to deliver data over fiber optic are actually infrared rather than those visible to the human eye.

Densely packed optical data requires highly sophisticated, temperature controlled lasers tuned to generate precise wavelengths of light, as well as expensive new transponders and repeater equipment to support the advanced technologies required to effectively amplify different parts of the spectrum for long distance transmission.

Without the massive investments made to figure out how to perform this sort of optical magic, fiber links would be restricted to short runs within cities, rather than being able to send huge streams of data long distances, linking users together with a centralized service like iCloud.

Three centuries, three high speed networks



The site of Apple's newest data center, located within the Reno Technology Park now under development by Unique Infrastructure Group, follows in the footsteps of three landmark transport paths built across America over the past three centuries.

The first was the Transcontinental Railroad, initiated from Sacramento, California to the Missouri River in Iowa during the presidency of Abraham Lincoln. Funded by the Pacific Railroad Acts of 1862 and completed in 1869, it opened up the Western U.S. to development and still serves as a critically important mode of shipment.

The second was the Interstate Highway System built under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, funded by the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956. Interstate 80, which runs from San Francisco to New York City (and past Apple's Reno data center site) was completed in 1986, resulting in the first and longest continuous freeway to stretch across the nation, 120 years after the First Transcontinental Railroad.

The third are the data conduits that support the Internet, funded by former Vice President Al Gore's High Performance Computing and Communication Act of 1991. Gore's promotion of an "Information Superhighway" became a key platform issue in President Bill Clinton's successful first campaign.

Apple Reno iCloud data lines
Data lines stretching east toward Salt Lake City, Utah


The rapid expansion of the Internet in the 1990s helped fuel the longest peacetime economic expansion in American history. It also eventually contributed the "i" to a series of Apple products that has over the past 15 years vaulted the company into being the world's most valuable and productive firm in the world: iMac, iPod, iPhone, iPad and now iCloud.

Apple's latest iCloud data center happens to be situated at a point where America's railroads, highways and data conduits have made important initial connections across the nation. That's not a coincidence, as each new form of transport was built along the previous one. But only due to recent developments does it now make sense to build massive data centers far from the population centers they serve. In fact, it not only makes sense but is both economically critical to job creation and important for the environment.


Jobs and products



It is noteworthy that Apple's choice to build a data center here represents a massive new type of investment infrastructure that can't simply be shipped overseas in the way that manufacturing increasingly has. The highly automated nature of Apple's iCloud servers don't directly involve a huge workforce, but its servers do create new value in the form of online services. These services generate revenue to help support the local and national economy, with effects lasting long after the initial surge of constructing the data center is completed.

Much like the railroads of the 1800s and the automotive and petroleum industries that advocated highways in the 1900s, the tech companies that pushed for national data network infrastructure in recent decades are now investing in making those assets productive.

While recently denigrated by some developers who are upset Apple hasn't flawlessly solved all of their advanced data service needs within the first two years of iCloud's existence, the company's plans are ambitious. By building out its Internet services as a platform that's just as important as OS X and iOS, Apple has helped set a new minimum expectation for users where all of their data, documents, backups and media are available anywhere they have network access.

Apple's iOS App Economy has directly created 291,250 jobs in the U.S. (an increase of more than 80,000 over the past year) and has paid out over $8 billion to its developers. Apple simply wouldn't have been able to generate its incredible revenues or those jobs had the U.S. not invested in founding the infrastructure of the Internet.

Prominent computer scientists and Internet pioneers Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn commented that, "as far back as the 1970s Congressman Gore [then in his late 20s] promoted the idea of high speed telecommunications as an engine for both economic growth and the improvement of our educational system. He was the first elected official to grasp the potential of computer communications to have a broader impact than just improving the conduct of science and scholarship. Though easily forgotten, now, at the time this was an unproven and controversial concept."

The economic growth sparked by the Internet is no longer a controversial concept. Apple's iCloud and iTunes App Store promote, sell, distribute and update apps to users at mind boggling rates, with over 20 billion new app downloads (not including any redownloads or updates) handled by the company just last year.

That's as many apps in one year as the combined total Apple reported delivering in the previous four years between the App Store's opening in 2008 and 2011. This tremendous growth curve, which shows no signs of slowing, demands new investments in infrastructure and incredible data network capacity.

Gore now sits on Apple's board, and has been a major advocate of Apple's development of Internet services in an environmentally sustainable and responsible way, reflected in the company's efforts to build the world's greenest data centers.

Apple Reno iCloud data lines
Data lines stretching west toward Silicon Valley in California.


Better, faster, smarter pipes



In addition to benefitting from initial government investments in Internet infrastructure, Apple has also formed partnerships with carriers to leverage their networks. When it released the iPhone in 2007, it partnered with a fledgeling group of struggling GSM carriers that had just merged to create the "new AT&T."

Apple's iPhone stressed that mobile network to the breaking point on several occasions, but also strengthened it to become a real national competitor. In 2010, Apple partnered with Verizon in the US, and subsequently every other major carrier has jumped to partner with it as soon as they could afford to buy Apple's business, from Sprint in 2011 to T-Mobile this year.

With iCloud, Apple is the data customer, not just a manufacturer with a hardware catalyst that sells carriers' mobile data service to end users. For its new Reno data center, Apple has again partnered with AT&T, which has intercontinental lines that stretch like a highway from Silicon Valley to the East Coast. For redundancy, Apple also has a variety of other options among data providers that have run parallel high speed fiber optic cables along the highway or railroad right of ways.


Cloud


Strategy Analytics graphic via Engadget.


As the primary driver in cloud services among consumers, Apple is using the "Information Superhighway" to radically change how individuals buy media, software and use services.

From its original, pioneering efforts to make digital music downloads in iTunes easier than driving to a store or shipping physical recordings around, Apple has since revolutionized software distribution, entirely eliminating retail packaging and erasing the need for optical media with the Mac and iOS App Stores.

The result is increased efficiency for developers and users, with savings that include less packaging, shipping, waste and other environmental impacts. By replacing old media with digital downloads, Apple is shifting many conventional goods into the electronic realm, and it's using its billions in profits to reinvest in the expansion and enhancement of its cloud offerings.

More on Apple's plans for iCloud is expected to be outlined in June at the company's Worldwide Developer Conference in San Francisco.
post #2 of 28
I wonder how long before TimeMachine is offered via iCloud for those on fast connections. I continue to be more and more impressed by TM. I've recently changed out my MBP's hard drive several times during experiments with SSDs after either cloning or migrating and it just keeps on going and going ... After at least five changes I can still access backups from over a year ago including those drives that were swapped in and out. Bloody amazing!
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From Apple ][ - to new Mac Pro I've used them all.
Long on AAPL so biased
Google Motto "You're not the customer. You're the product."
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post #3 of 28
Looks like this house is located at 39.56554,-119.543209 The photo above is looking west onto the Apple construction site.
post #4 of 28

With another billion spent on iCloud, will Apple ever make it as useful as Mac.com was 10 years ago? Who do Apple users have to resort to using Dropbox, which seems to be the new "mac" standard among the Apple faithful that are my peers? Dropbox works just fine actually. Apple should just buy them and incorporate Dropbox into iCloud since the current iCloud features are all but useless to most users.

post #5 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by digitalclips View Post

I wonder how long before TimeMachine is offered via iCloud for those on fast connections. I continue to be more and more impressed by TM. I've recently changed out my MBP's hard drive several times during experiments with SSDs after either cloning or migrating and it just keeps on going and going ... After at least five changes I can still access backups from over a year ago including those drives that were swapped in and out. Bloody amazing!

 

Time Machine is the best, most unique feature on OSX in my opinion. It's the first thing I mention to people who are tempted to switch from Windows.

post #6 of 28
Still, the main problem with Apple is that the company is valued only for the number of iPhones it can sell per quarter. The vast majority of Apple's revenue is directly related to iPhone sales. Apart from that, the rest of whatever the company does hardly even matters. In essence, Apple is considered nothing but an iPhone one-trick pony of a company. In Wall Street's eyes, Apple having some light-speed fiber connections is merely a waste of time and money. And isn't Apple merely following Google's optical fiber initiative? This story will barely elicit a yawn from Apple investors and they'll probably continue to sell off their Apple shares until Apple can produce some decent iPhone sales numbers or some radical new product that no one else makes.
post #7 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by digitalclips View Post

I wonder how long before TimeMachine is offered via iCloud for those on fast connections. I continue to be more and more impressed by TM. I've recently changed out my MBP's hard drive several times during experiments with SSDs after either cloning or migrating and it just keeps on going and going ... After at least five changes I can still access backups from over a year ago including those drives that were swapped in and out. Bloody amazing!

Now they just need a better filesystem on which to store them (instead of HFS+). I moved mine to ZFS after repeated issues trying to restore. Other than that, I agree Time Machine is an awesome feature. I wonder how many people actually use it?

 

When I was in the Apple Store recently, I overheard a customer talking to an Apple Store employee about setting up Time Machine. He had his Mac for THREE years and had never backed up.

post #8 of 28

"... Apple is partnering with leading data providers, including AT&T, to do just that with its massive iCloud construction project, except instead of roads, the company will use data links to shuffle data between Silicon Valley and New York City (and, of course, to the rest of the Internet) at light speed."

 

Apple isn't creating anything like Google's optical fiber initiative, they are simply paying for the use of very high speed fiber optic lines and transmission equipment. The positive thing about this is they are doing whatever they can to make sure the user experience is the best they can provide. This doesn't mean it serves, or will serve, everything every individual wants right now or in the future. 

 

As for those one-trick ponies on Wall Street, I wish we didn't base a company's success on the insanity that happens in the financial market. Apple is the largest company in the world (at least the US) without any debt. Isn't that enough? No, because Wall Street doesn't make money on any of the income Apple produces, they only make money on interest they would pay on loans and by manipulating AAPL. Apple would still be a success even without Wall Street and they've proven it. I could care less what Wall Street thinks about Apple because they aren't thinking about Apple, they're only thinking about how much money they can make. They could care less about Apple products, iCloud, or anything they can't make a few bucks on (many times over in a trading day). 

post #9 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by TheUnfetteredMind View Post

.....

 

When I was in the Apple Store recently, I overheard a customer talking to an Apple Store employee about setting up Time Machine. He had his Mac for THREE years and had never backed up.

 

This doesn't surprise me. I would bet if you asked 100 typical PC users the same question, 95-98 would say "what's backup?" The majority of PC home users I see don't even use a password to protect their system, automatically logging on, leaving their system open to anyone who walks by. I would hope Mac users have a better understanding of what they're protecting (photos, iTunes songs, movies and TV shows, as well as purchased applications along with all their personal data) so they'd go ahead and perform some kind of backup. I personally don't use TM but have been using SuperDuper! for years to clone my systems. You only need to have one disk failure (not on my personal computers) to know how much you can lose and how easy and inexpensive it is to back up your files.

post #10 of 28
DWDM gear is regular commercially available kit, nothing special. The fancy description is disingenuous at best.

160G on one fiber is also standard fair these days. Why the fluff author?

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/r
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post #11 of 28

Its nice to see things working at light speed rather than the speed of electrons.

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post #12 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by bill42 View Post

With another billion spent on iCloud, will Apple ever make it as useful as Mac.com was 10 years ago? Who do Apple users have to resort to using Dropbox, which seems to be the new "mac" standard among the Apple faithful that are my peers? Dropbox works just fine actually. Apple should just buy them and incorporate Dropbox into iCloud since the current iCloud features are all but useless to most users.

I agree completely. iDisk was a great feature and I was very sorry to see it disappear.
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post #13 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by digitalclips View Post

I wonder how long before TimeMachine is offered via iCloud for those on fast connections. 

 

At current pricing most folks wouldn't do it. At least not for long. Why spend $100 even just a year for every 50 GB when you get 20 times that for the same $100 with any external hard drive. 

 

And remember that the pipe to and from iCloud is only as good as the narrowest road. So what if Apple is using fiber optic from the 'local' switch to their centers if we are still on crappy systems. 

 

Perhaps one day Apple will control a vast net of these connections and could be an ISP. Heck one day everything could just be data in the same pipe and iCloud could be your ISP, cable company and cell phone company. Although I'm a tad nervous about those lines. Above ground like that seems too easy for someone to run into a pole and knock something down. Or someone to basically pull a DoS attack with a pair of really heavy wire cutters. Wouldn't burying them make more sense. And look better. 

A non tech's thoughts on Apple stuff 

(She's family so I'm a little biased)

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A non tech's thoughts on Apple stuff 

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post #14 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by bill42 View Post

With another billion spent on iCloud, will Apple ever make it as useful as Mac.com was 10 years ago? Who do Apple users have to resort to using Dropbox, which seems to be the new "mac" standard among the Apple faithful that are my peers? Dropbox works just fine actually. Apple should just buy them and incorporate Dropbox into iCloud since the current iCloud features are all but useless to most users.

I would love Apple to offer a solution that is like SugarSync (pretty much like Dropbox, except you can share folders from all over your system) but it's not fair that iCloud is less useful than .Mac from a decade ago. There are a plethora of services that fall under the iCloud purview that didn't exist during any o the .Mac or MobileMe reign.



iDisk in its last form had to go. It was unsafe. FTP transfers that sent everything in plaintext. Even with MobileMe your logins were HTTPS but your emails were still sent in plaintext. In lieu of a modern solution I was good they shut it down. It's like having a structurally unsound building. You can't say that nothing will happen or that you're consciously choose not to send any highly important documents over it, yada yada yada. Apple finally took some responsibly for it with iCloud when they shut it down.

It's also rumoured they have tried to buy Dropbox so doesn't that point to Apple wanting such a solution? It's not as if the tech in Dropbox isn't something Apple already has. The system sees a file change, copies the file and breaks it up into smaller, tagged, chunks which are then copied to the server. When all pieces have been copied they are reassembled and made visible on the server at which point those pieces get sent to all other devices sharing that folder that are also connected.

They use to be slicker as you could share a file and if that exact file had already been sent to Dropbox it would instantly show up as synced since the server already had it. This was system wide, not just within your own account. I think this still happens to a degree within your own account as deleted or altered files are retained for 30 days for free accounts and indefinitely for paid accounts.

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post #15 of 28

Besides the loss of iDisk, it was nice to send a video or a photo gallery to someone and have it say "Made on a mac" at the bottom. Apple lost a lot of free advertising when they dropped the gallery, which was far better than any free gallery solutions to this day.

post #16 of 28

Can't wait to see all the rack mounted Mac Pros and Mac Minis that Apple is going to use in their own data centers, thus showing to the world that Apple practices what they preach and is not afraid to use their own products.

post #17 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by Haggar View Post

Can't wait to see all the rack mounted Mac Pros and Mac Minis that Apple is going to use in their own data centers, thus showing to the world that Apple practices what they preach and is not afraid to use their own products.

So you think all servers are created equal. Got it.


Mac OS X has a Firewall and internet sharing features so I guess they also don't need any Cisco or Juniper routers in their data center¡ 1rolleyes.gif

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post #18 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post

[...] so I guess they also don't need any Cisco or Juniper routers in their data center¡ 1rolleyes.gif

From what I was reading I would expect AT&T to go with Cisco and Verizon to go with Juniper for their 100 Gbit optical transport interfaces at least based on the preliminary testing. This brings up an interesting question, at least for my limited understanding, how these two interfaces will peer at at a data center if the proprietary protocols require matching back planes on each end? Seems like it might have to drop back to compatible 10 Gbit edge routers in order to peer.

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post #19 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by mstone View Post

From what I was reading I would expect AT&T to go with Cisco and Verizon to go with Juniper for their 100 Gbit optical transport interfaces at least based on the preliminary testing. This brings up an interesting question, at least for my limited understanding, how these two interfaces will peer at at a data center if the proprietary protocols require matching back planes on each end? Seems like it might have to drop back to compatible 10 Gbit edge routers in order to peer.

Do they use proprietary routing protocols? Cisco has EIGRP but Cisco and Juniper both have OSPF and IS-IS, the later being popular for ISPs. If we're talking about an EGP routing protocol we have BGP, or is we're talking about a backplane there is SONET, among others. What proprietary protocols for routing IP are you referring to?

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"There is no rule that says the best phones must have the largest screen." ~RoundaboutNow

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post #20 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post

Do they use proprietary routing protocols? Cisco has EIGRP but Cisco and Juniper both have OSPF and IS-IS, the later being popular for ISPs. If we're talking about an EGP routing protocol we have BGP, or is we're talking about a backplane there is SONET, among others. What proprietary protocols for routing IP are you referring to?

Getting out of my league but I was a referring to the laser lambdas and channel frequencies as being proprietary.

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post #21 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by mstone View Post

Getting out of my league but I was a referring to the laser lambdas and channel frequencies as being proprietary.

That is out of my league now. 1smile.gif

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"There is no rule that says the best phones must have the largest screen." ~RoundaboutNow

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post #22 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post


So you think all servers are created equal. Got it.


Mac OS X has a Firewall and internet sharing features so I guess they also don't need any Cisco or Juniper routers in their data center¡ 1rolleyes.gif

 

You mean Apple doesn't already do that?  I figured that with some of the people in this forum bragging about how great it is that they use 100 percent Apple hardware, Apple themselves must do the same in all their offices and data centers.

post #23 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by Haggar View Post

You mean Apple doesn't already do that?  I figured that with some of the people in this forum bragging about how great it is that they use 100 percent Apple hardware, Apple themselves must do the same in all their offices and data centers.

And so what if some people use all of Apple's products? Are these consumers or companies building data centers?


BTW, who has bragged about using 100% Apple hardware? Let's remember that a great many people have ovens, stoves, toasters, electric razors, electric toothbrushes, Blu-ray players, televisions, game consoles, cars, etc. that Apple doesn't make so what exactly do you think they meant by owning 100% Apple hardware?

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"There is no rule that says the best phones must have the largest screen." ~RoundaboutNow

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"The real haunted empire?  It's the New York Times." ~SockRolid

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post #24 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post


And so what if some people use all of Apple's products? Are these consumers or companies building data centers?


BTW, who has bragged about using 100% Apple hardware? Let's remember that a great many people have ovens, stoves, toasters, electric razors, electric toothbrushes, Blu-ray players, televisions, game consoles, cars, etc. that Apple doesn't make so what exactly do you think they meant by owning 100% Apple hardware?

 

I am referring to the people here who like to say that they use only Macs and Mac OS at home, use only Macs and Mac OS at work.  So if these people can claim to use Macs and Mac OS exclusively, surely Apple would be doing the same in all their offices and data centers.  Otherwise, where is the sense in touting that you use Macs exclusively if Apple doesn't use Macs exclusively?

post #25 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by Haggar View Post

I am referring to the people here who like to say that they use only Macs and Mac OS at home, use only Macs and Mac OS at work.  So if these people can claim to use Macs and Mac OS exclusively, surely Apple would be doing the same in all their offices and data centers.  Otherwise, where is the sense in touting that you use Macs exclusively if Apple doesn't use Macs exclusively?

What does one have to do with the other? Surely we all know that Apple has machines running Windows and Microsoft has Macs. How else would Apple build and test iTunes for Windows and MS build and test Office for Mac, among other apps? So why think that Apple doesn't use enterprise level HW to support their consumers?

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"There is no rule that says the best phones must have the largest screen." ~RoundaboutNow

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post #26 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post


What does one have to do with the other? Surely we all know that Apple has machines running Windows and Microsoft has Macs. How else would Apple build and test iTunes for Windows and MS build and test Office for Mac, among other apps? So why think that Apple doesn't use enterprise level HW to support their consumers?

 

Compatibility testing and building Windows versions of iTunes is one thing.  But if Mac OS X is the world's most advanced operating system and Apple controls both the hardware and OS, why should Apple need to use anyone else's servers or OS, for anything except Windows testing?

post #27 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by Haggar View Post

Compatibility testing and building Windows versions of iTunes is one thing.  But if Mac OS X is the world's most advanced operating system and Apple controls both the hardware and OS, why should Apple need to use anyone else's servers or OS, for anything except Windows testing?

1) Apple refers to Mac OS X as the world's most advanced desktop operating system.

2) It's a marketing slogan and odd that you would hold such a phrase as canon and to be applied to all operating systems, regardless of their application.

3) Apple does control the HW and SW which means they very well could have created their own systems from the ground up. It might be why they have had growing pains. Do we know of them buying in bulk from Dell, HP, et al. The problem is you asserting that because they make consumer OS that is beloved by many that they also must use that exact HW and SW in a completely different environment for a completely different reason to prove some point that was never stated. Do you really think Telsa only uses Tesla-made electric trucks to ship their cars across the country? Do you think Vespa uses a souped up Vespa with a trailer hitch to transport their mopeds?

"The real haunted empire?  It's the New York Times." ~SockRolid

"There is no rule that says the best phones must have the largest screen." ~RoundaboutNow

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"The real haunted empire?  It's the New York Times." ~SockRolid

"There is no rule that says the best phones must have the largest screen." ~RoundaboutNow

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post #28 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by Haggar View Post

Can't wait to see all the rack mounted Mac Pros and Mac Minis that Apple is going to use in their own data centers, thus showing to the world that Apple practices what they preach and is not afraid to use their own products.

 

You can clear up your curiosity (or is it just trolling?) regarding the hardware Apple uses in its iCloud data centers by looking at the raw headers of emails sent through the icloud.com domain: it uses "Oracle Communications Messaging Server 7u4-26.01(7.0.4.26.0) 64bit."

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