Some data center related news, the case for digital downloads, and brief commentary on the influence of the MacBook Air. --------------------------------------------- http://www.informationweek.com/news/personal-tech/desktop-os/231001289 Apple OS X Lion Launch To Test iCloud, NC Datacenter, Fall Hardware BYTE -- With the Apple OS X Lion launch, Apple is test-driving its billion dollar data center in North Carolina and testing it hard. The giant 500,000 sq. foot facility -- five times the size of Apple's second-largest center -- will get a chance to show what it's made of at this week's launch of Apple's hyped-up new OS, the upgrade OS X 10.7, more widely known as Lion. "What better time? Right in advance of iCloud," says Rob Maxwell, lead incident handler at the University of Maryland and a BYTE senior contributor. Sources tell BYTE Apple will be watching the performance of the center with a lot of scrutiny. How the Maiden, NC center delivers the 4GB upgrade to a broad base of users will be telling. And it will show whether Apple is ready for a wider, even heavier data roll-out with iCloud this fall. "The center is underutilized. No one is too worried," says a source familiar with the effort, adding that Apple is "already seeding" Apple stores with OS X Lion-equipped hard disks, Wifi for digital download and, soon, for-sale USB keys with the upgrade. A USB key with the download is already available for use in stores and will likely be commercially available to customers within 45 days, adds the source, pointing out that such a sale is all upside for Apple. Apple will not and cannot rely on stores alone. Do the math. Apple genius bars generally have room for about 5 or 6 machines at a time. A five to 15-minute download per store customer will back things up quickly. Impatient customers crowding stores is a fail. Digital delivery must work for Apple to declare a success for Lion and continue along with the upcoming iCloud rollout. The Lion download doesn't have to work quickly. It need to just work, to turn a phrase Apple CEO Steve Jobs has made popular. Apple customers are used to slow download times on iOS. It isn't about speed. It's about precision and delivery of the $29 upgrade from the online store. At its World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco last month, Apple CEO Steve Jobs telegraphed the plan, talking up the Maiden datacenter as the way Apple would deliver on iCloud promises. He didn't mention the Mac. But the Mac after all is just a device among many for Apple. The Maiden, NC facility won't operate alone, sources say. For OS X Lion, it will operate in concert with Apple's second-largest facility, the 110,000 sq. foot center in Newark, CA, its Cupertino, CA facility and likely those of third-party partners such as Akamai, sources say. With Apple's continuing push to kill local optical storage --- its optical-free Macbook Air will soon be its entry level device -- a whole new generation of hardware that is drive-free and multi-gesture ready is gearing up for fall release. Apple needs to find out in a large scale test, and Lion is that test, if iCloud services really will work the way people will expect. So far, Apple execs aren't concerned the delivery will fail. Even if it does, Apple has help on the ground via the Apple Stores and its distribution partners. And it has time to rejigger ahead of fall hardware announcements and iCloud's looming arrival. I'll be watching. For BYTE, I'm Shawn Ingram. Gina Smith also contributed to the reporting of this story.