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Apple data-center dreamin'

March 23, 2011: 6:13 AM ET

An analyst imagines everything it might be when -- and if -- it opens this spring

Photo: Bill Wagenseller via Bernstein Research

Among the people who follow Apple (AAPL) closely, the massive server farm the company is constructing in Maiden, N.C., has achieved near mythic status. It has become the answer to every unanswered question about Apple's troubled online strategy, from what Steve Jobs was thinking when he green-lighted Ping to how MacBook Air users are supposed get by on 64 gigabytes of flash storage.

It comes up so frequently in the Apple-related podcasts on Dan Benjamin's 5by5 network, that Benjamin has devised a new corollary to Godwin's law of Hitler analogies: As Apple discussions grow longer, he says, the probability that someone will invoke the North Carolina data center approaches one.

Which brings us to the note to clients issued Tuesday by Bernstein Research's Toni Sacconaghi. Although the 500,000-sq.-ft. project is behind schedule -- it was supposed to come online in 2010 and is still mysteriously invisible on Google Earth -- Sacconaghi came away from a meeting with Apple executives convinced that it will open this spring and could transform Apple from a hardware company to one that excels what he calls "differentiated services." Among the changes he sees in store:

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