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So If You Were Thinking of Just Dropping By Apple’s New Data Center…

Don’t bother. Yes, I know there is a You Tube video with clandestine pictures taken while the place was obviously still under construction, and a recent photo and write up from Robert Cringely on his blog, but I didn’t actually finds those until after my wasted trip. I can tell you that the place doesn’t exactly say “Come right in,” from the road. In fact, it practically screams “Stay the hell away.”

Let me back up for a moment. It just so happens that I have spent the last 10 days working on a project at a large pharmaceutical manufacturing facility about 60 miles from Maiden, NC. I had seen the aerial photos of Apple’s data center as it was under construction, and I knew that it was located in the mountains, so I figured that it wouldn’t be too hard to get a peek of the place from some vantage point. So, with that in mind, I took a drive from my hotel in Marion to Maiden, NC yesterday evening figuring to get a quick look, and snap a couple of pics for the site. No such luck.

The data center is located near the intersection of Startown and Elbow Rd in Maiden, NC, and has two main entrances. Both of the entrances have large guard shacks with mirrored windows, which adds a little of that “you better have a reason to be here” flair. I have worked at plenty of corporate and government facilities that had high security entrances and that require fingerprinting, background checks, and issue photo id badges. This was the most secure entrance I have seen outside of the two prisons and two military bases that I have worked on. Even they didn’t have the mirrored windows. Of course, they both have lots of guns, so I guess that isn’t so necessary for them.

There was also a security SUV with emergency lights hovering at one of the entrances. The occupant took notice and watched my closely after noticing me pass by a couple of times. Needless to say, I didn’t go by that entrance again.

Just to be clear, I wasn’t exactly expecting the welcome wagon. I just wanted to get a couple of pictures of the place. Legally. For those unaware of the law, you must be off of the owner’s property to do that. Driving past the main entrance on Startown, Rd, the only thing you can see is a wall of earth, topped with pine saplings 2 to 3 deep. Looking at it from my car, I would guess that it was at least 10-15 foot high. Nothing behind it was visible, even from the breaks in the wall where the guard shacks stand. Unfortunately, even though this is a mountainous region of North Carolina, the particular area that the data center is located in is actually fairly flat, so there was nowhere around from which to gain a vantage point.

I also tried heading down Elbow Rd to try and flank the second guard shack. I found what looked to be some now abandoned construction parking lots, but there was plenty of tree cover between them and the facility, and they are probably part of Apple’s property anyway. Past those lots is just a winding Dead End road with several houses. The back of the facility is wooded, and didn’t seem to back up to any road. Strike two.

I then drove back down Starwood Rd to the other side of the data center, and pulled into the parking lot of the same Baptist church that Robert Cringley snapped a picture from. From there, I could barely see the tops two large tanks that are visible in the aerial photos, but that was it. The tanks look like they are pretty tall in those photos, so it seems Apple’s chosen designers went to great lengths to make this data center invisible. Add to that the fact that the place was apparently blacked out on Google Earth until just recently, and it seems just like the Apple we are used to- paranoid. Anyway, I was going to get out and take some pictures, but the church’s Sunday evening services were just letting out, and it seemed a little rude. This is a small, country church we are talking about, so I definitely stood out. I figured it was best to leave at that point.

I did end up returning a little while later, after most of the church lot was empty. Even then there were a couple of people still hanging around talking, and they took notice of me sitting in my car, as I thought about what to do. Considering that the only way for me to get a decent picture would be to go around the church’s barbed wire fence onto Apple’s property, get on top of the 10-15 foot earth wall, hide in the trees, and illegally snap a few distant pictures while trying to not attract attention, I just figured it wasn’t worth it. As an Apple fan, having them press trespassing charges against me isn’t the kind of attention I am looking for. I guess this means I should pass on that career in corporate espionage.

So is there a moral to this story? No, not really. Just a bit of advice. Maiden, NC isn’t far off of I-40, one of the busier Interstate Highways in the US. So, if any of you readers figure, like I (and evidently Robert Cringely, as well) did, that it would be worth the 30 minute detour off the main road to see the home of Apple’s iCloud adventure, don’t wast your time. There’s quite literally, nothing to see here.

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  • Mikhailovitch

    Mind you, for a hugely expensive and strategically vital Cloud installation you’d hope there was pretty good security!

  • Nostradamus

    Not entirely on topic, but you do know that “Robert Cringely” does not exist, right?

  • Ricardo

    With psycho stalkers like you out there casing my joint I’d be paranoid too.

  • jhrogersii

    Mikhailovitch- Great point. We should expect tight security. However, for such a large facility with so much indoor square footage, and so much acreage around the building, I didn’t expect them to go to the trouble of completely blocking the view from the road. For comparison, the plant that I am currently working at is the single largest manufacturer of IV bags on the planet. Their facility is twice the size of Apple’s, and it has an appropriate level of security. However, I think Apple has them beat by a mile, which I found surprising.

    Nostradamus- I was aware the Robert Cringely is a pen name, and a sort of sensationalized tech “character,” but I admit that I didn’t know all the specifics. I figured people would more quickly recognize that name, especially since the site I linked to bears that name, so I just stuck with it. I guess that makes me lazy, right?

    Ricardo- Wow. Psycho stalker? Really? I elaborated on my movements in detail, but I wasn’t around the data center more than 15 minutes total. The data center was only an 1 1/2 round trip from my hotel, and I have been working out of town for 10 days straight now with little sleep. I’ll just file this excursion under “it sounded good at the time.” There was also a Starbucks on the way, which I admit, helped make up my mind to go. I’ve had a lot of bad coffee on this trip, and seriously needed a caffeine fix.

  • nynyme

    He is right, don’t waste your time!

    I work there, and there is nothing you can see from the road legally.
    The physical gate security is beefier than that of Camp Legume (about 5 hours away), but no guns here (that I have seen)

    Its a datacenter, if you’ve ever seen the inside of one, its very similar to most. lots of servers, and power. I can only add: its NOT empty like some clown said.

  • jhrogersii

    Wow. Do you seriously work at that facility? If you really do, I’m curious about a few details. Well, if you can share, that is. Are you employed by Apple, or are you contracted by them? Roughly how many people work at the data center? Are you from the area, or did you move there for this job? Do you live closer to Charlotte, or in the area around the data center. Thanks a lot for your insight on the place.