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Apple Pushes Into the Cloud

Stocks in this article: AAPL NFLX GOOG

Apple cloud story updated with additional analyst commentary.

MAIDEN, N.C. ( TheStreet) -- Apple's (AAPL) massive new data center in Maiden, N.C. may provide the key to the tech giant's technology roadmap and could herald a major push into future cloud-based services, say analysts.

The notoriously secretive gadget maker has provided scant details of its new facility, which reportedly cost $1 billion to build and, at 505,000 square feet, dwarfs the company's existing data center in Newark, Calif.

Last year Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer told analysts that the North Carolina project was on schedule, and was expected to be complete by the end of December.

Avi Cohen, an analyst at Avian Securities, says that Apple's data center expansion is a clear indication of future on-demand and hosting services. "They are going to open their new data center in North Carolina and push less local storage on their machines," he told TheStreet.

Bill Kreher, senior technology analyst at Edward Jones, says that Apple's Maiden site is laying the foundations for a slew of new services. "They are certainly readying for something -- I think that a new cloud computing initiative is likely" he told TheStreet. "It would be a platform that would allow content streaming to Internet-connected devices -- it seems obvious that in the future, Apple expects its customers to store their files in the cloud."

There have certainly been big hints as to Apple's cloud plans. The tech giant dispensed with hard disk drive storage on its new MacBook Air, in favor of Flash and "Internet services." Apple also overhauled its Apple TV offering last year, adding content streaming for Netflix (NFLX) , Google's (GOOG) YouTube, Flickr and MobileMe.

Kreher says that a cloud-based version of iTunes is on deck, letting users stream content to any Internet-connected device. "If there's anything that we have learned with Apple, it's that they like to proceed at a measured pace -- it makes sense to start with iTunes," he said.

Apple declined to provide comment for this story when contacted by TheStreet, although there was plenty of chatter about a cloud-based announcement before the company unveiled the Beatles on iTunes in November.

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