Apple to convert failed Arizona sapphire factory to data center

Will spend $2B over 30 years on the center and accompanying 70-megawatt solar farm

Apple on Monday confirmed it will convert a failed sapphire factory into a data center that will also double as the hub to control the company's other server farms.

"We're proud to continue investing in the U.S. with a new data center in Arizona, which will serve as a command center for our global networks," an Apple spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. She characterized the center as "one of the largest investments we've ever made."

Until last fall, the facility in Mesa, Ariz., about 20 miles east of Phoenix, was the factory where Apple partner GT Advanced Technologies tried to produce large quantities of scratch-resistant sapphire. The material was to be used to cover iPhone touchscreen displays.

GT filed for bankruptcy in October, claiming that cost overruns and production issues made it impossible to meet Apple's specifications while also turning a profit. In bankruptcy court filings, GT blamed Apple's onerous contract and meddling for its downfall, and said that construction delays and power outages had disrupted an already tight schedule.

Apple bought the land and 1.3 million-square-foot factory from First Solar, which had abandoned plans to manufacture solar panels there. Apple then leased the building to GT. In other court documents, Apple said it had spent approximately $250 million to buy and reconfigure the building.

Under a post-bankruptcy agreement GT struck with Apple, it may use a portion of the facility until at least the end of this year. That space is currently used to store the sapphire production furnaces which GT is now trying to sell. Some of the revenue is to go to Apple to repay its $439 million loan to the New Hampshire company.

Arizona's governor applauded Apple decision's to tap the location.

"[Apple's] decision to bring this new facility to Mesa is a huge win for Arizona," said Gov. Doug Ducey in a statement Monday. "This expansion will bring a significant economic investment, and propel Arizona's position as one of the best states in the nation in which to do business."

Ducey also said that Apple would invest $2 billion over the course of 30 years to build and operate the command center, which will employ 150 full-time Apple employees when it is finished. Apple committed to building solar farm capacity of up to 70 megawatts to power the facility.

Construction is to start in 2016.

According to the Arizona Republic, Arizona did not contribute money from its business deal-closing fund to get Apple to stay in Mesa. Apple also will not claim the $10 million which the fund had earlier granted the company for locating the sapphire facility in the state, the newspaper reported.


Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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