The web’s watchful eye fixes on Apple’s cloud gear

When Steve Jobs flashed inside images of Apple’s (s aapl) new cloud data center during his WWDC keynote on Monday, he ignited a mini firestorm of speculation about just what kind of hardware is filling its immense surface area. No one outside of Apple and its hardware partners know for sure what it houses, but it appears as if HP and Teradata were among the big winners in Apple’s big cloud build-out. Here’s what the experts had to say:

  • It’s full of HP (s hpq) servers. Storage analyst Stephen Foskett and ZDNet Editor-in-Chief Larry Dignan both noted as much, even going into some detail on models and specifications. Both suggest Apple bought a large number of HP’s commodity ProLiant DL 300 series boxes. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. I spoke with HP Vice President of Industry Standard Servers and Software recently, and he explained to me just how prevalent HP gear is among the world’s largest web sites, search engines and social media sites. He also highlighted HP’s major partnership role in helping Facebook design its cutting-edge data center and servers. Certainly, HP has the cloudscale chops to be part of Apple’s cloud foray.

  • It has a large Teradata (s tdc) data warehouse. Foskett and fellow storage analyst Robin Harris agree on this. Both identify the gear as Teradata’s Extreme Data Appliance, and there appear to be about 30 of them. Harris noted that, fully configured, just the number of appliances visible in the picture could store about 8 petabytes. Harris astutely notes that the Teradata analytics appliances aren’t for storing music, but likely are for storing personal data, perhaps even of the geospatial variety. It’s difficult to say for certain that he’s right or wrong, but perhaps this fresh job listing from Apple can shed some light on the situation:

The Global Business Intelligence (GBI( team within Apple’s Information Systems and Technology (IS&T) organization is implementing a 250+ terabyte database to support analytical and reporting needs of hundreds of global Apple users. To drive this effort, GBI is looking for a senior architect with expertise in designing and implementing big data solutions using technologies like Hadoop, Teradata, Memcache, Casandra, Informatica and Java. . . . The ideal candidate will have a bachelors degree in computer science and seven or more years experience with at least three of them being on big data, NoSQL platforms like Hadoop using Hive and HBase. A good understanding of relational databases is required. Experience with MPP databases like Teradata, ETL tools like Informatica, and BI tools like Business Objects will be a big plus.

Earlier job listings from Apple suggest that it’s using Hadoop, as well as other advanced analytics techniques for improving the iAds mobile-advertising platform and iOS, so there’s no guarantee that Apple has all that Teradata gear solely for storing personal data that it ultimately wants to sell.

  • Maybe there’s some NetApp (s ntap) in there, as well. Foskett thinks he spotted a variety of NetApp storage products in Apple’s data center, which is somewhat interesting because Apple reportedly bought 12 petabytes of Isilon file storage from NetApp rival EMC (s emc). Of course, there’s no requirement that Apple go single-vendor across its storage infrastructure and, in fact, Apple customers might take solace in the fact that it appears to have gone best-of-breed for its various storage needs.
  • It’s efficient. Data Center Knowledge’s Rich Miller noted some of the data-center-design principles that Apple employed, including “a slab floor and a cooling system in which cold air enters the equipment area from overhead. Apple is using containment systems to separate the cold supply air for the servers from the exhaust heat, a strategy which dramatically improves the efficiency of data center cooling systems.”

What’s certain is that Apple didn’t approach its iCloud infrastructure build with a light wallet or the mindset that it has to build its own gear and software like Google (s goog) and Facebook have done. As Jobs said during his keynote, “It’s full of stuff. Full of expensive stuff.” Indeed, it cost Apple $500 $1 billion. Apple’s customers can complain about iCloud’s features, but it doesn’t look like they complain too much about Apple’s investment in the infrastructure that supports it.