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It's 11:30 p.m. on a Thursday , and Silicon Valley has gone quiet for the night. The streets are largely empty, the corporate campuses dark. But in a sea of vacant office parks, the lights are on in a squat and entirely unnoteworthy building in Sunnyvale, California — and the parking lot is packed full.
Inside, scores of Apple engineers are huddled around, chattering about server loads. A collection of monitors is mounted on the wall, flashing charts, numbers, and graphs. Preorders for Apple's newly announced iPhone 8 are about to begin, and this is the company's "war room" — mission control for a massive one-night retail operation that sees a deluge of sales. Everyone is dressed comfortably for an all-nighter, yellow security bands on their wrists — everyone, that is, except Angela Ahrendts, Apple’s senior vice president of retail. She’s running the show.
At midnight, the war room's server activity chart ticks abruptly from green to red under a flood of incoming iPhone orders. On the wall, blinking red lights begin flashing across a digital world map with a concentrated flurry of activity in China and South Asia. Then a cheer erupts. Someone from the merchandising team made the winning bet on transactions per second. Apple won’t disclose how many orders came through that night (the company hasn’t published actual preorder numbers for the past two years). But it’s a lot.