There has been a lot of talk about Apple’s growing suite of Services over the last year, and the fact that they, rather than hardware, may be the future profit center of the company. However, yesterday’s Apple Maps search and directions outage was a wake-up call that the company’s cloud offerings aren’t quite there yet.
Reports of the outage started surfacing yesterday morning here in the US, and lasted until the early afternoon. A quick search of Twitter showed lots of comments, and several users who specifically mentioned downloading Google Maps to pick up the slack. Ouch. That is exactly what Apple doesn’t want its loyal iOS users doing. Many iOS users stick with the default Apple Maps because it is included out of the box and it dovetails with all of Apple’s other apps and the popular Apple Watch. Unfortunately, an event like this is the kind of thing that gets those users to consider using an alternative.
Another issue for Apple is that their Support page that shows the status of their various cloud services is often hours behind the actual outage events. Yesterday was no exception, as the problem was almost resolved by the time the page showed it. This caused additional confusion among users, as many commented on the fact that page showed Maps search and directions status as up, while they were getting nothing from their phones, tablets, and watches.
Amazon had notable Web Services outages in 2015 and 2017 and Google also had a big one last year, as well. It is rare for the “big boys,” but it does occur. They both claim 99%+ uptime, and that does actually reflect reality, but the 1% is real and a royal pain when it hits. One big difference I see between Apple and Google, Amazon, and other cloud heavyweights in this regard is their up-front response acknowledging outages and the more real-time nature of their status monitoring. These businesses are absolutely dependent on their subscribers, or in the case of Amazon, the many businesses that use their infrastructure to serve their users, so they have to do this. The stability and uptime of their cloud services is the linchpin of their businesses. That is not the case for Apple, and unfortunately for them, it showed yesterday.
We already know that Apple does not have the cloud infrastructure that some of their competitors do. Up until recently, they really didn’t need it. Before iCloud, there really wasn’t a compelling reason for Apple to bother with data centers. It wasn’t until after the unveiling of iCloud that Apple built and opened up its first data center in North Carolina in 2009. Apple is now planning to build a second data center at that site, and also has other centers in Oregon, California, and Nevada. They are also planning a new Data Center in Iowa, as well as multiple facilities overseas. However, despite all of this spending and growth, Apple is still not even close to Google or Amazon in terms of capacity or infrastructure. That isn’t a problem for them yet, but for their Services business to grow enough to become what some analysts are predicting it will be, they can’t stop here. However, a big key for Apple needs to be insuring that stability and better status monitoring for those who depend on their services comes with that growth.
Apple may be behind, but they are growing fast and have committed to spending what it takes to meet their growing cloud computing demands. That is great, as it should insure stability and give the company the potential to continue to grow its Services business. However, yesterday’s outage should be a lesson to to the company- for all the spending and rapid growth, they aren’t there yet. Not only do they need to spend on infrastructure, but also on capable personnel, solid software solutions, and better traffic and status monitoring. Infrastructure alone won’t prevent poisonous downtime, and it won’t keep their customers updated on system status in real time, either. Hopefully Apple will take a lesson from yesterday and address these issues, as they become more of a player in cloud computing over the next few years.