Apple’s MobileMe, a Black Data Center (not Green)

There is a bunch of news about Apple’s MobileMe service and Steve Job’s email -

The actual Steve Jobs email is published here.

GigaOm has some interesting background check which shows how Apple’s MobileMe service exhibits the characteristics of a Black Data Center.  Not even close to being a Green Data Center which means Apple’s costs are high for their services compared to their competitors.

I have picked up some tidbits from my Internet infrastructure sources, who tell me that:

  • There is no-unified IT plan vis-a-vis applications; each has their own set of servers, IT practices and release scenarios.
  • Developers do testing, load testing and infrastructure planning, all of which is implemented by someone else.
  • There’s no unified monitoring system.
  • They use Oracle on Sun servers for the databases and everything has its own SAN storage. They do not use active Oracle RAC; it is all single-instance, on one box, with a secondary failover.
  • Apparently they are putting web servers and app servers on the same machines, which causes performance problems.

One of my sources opined that Apple clearly wasn’t too savvy about all the progress made in infrastructure over the past few years. If this insinuation is indeed true, then there is no way Apple can get over its current spate of problems. It needs a crash course in infrastructure and Internet services. Apple’s problem is that it doesn’t seem to have recognized the fact that it’s in the business of network-enabled hardware.

The looks, UI and edge devices are only as good as the networking experience — whether it comes from Apple or from its partners. MobileMe could just be the canary in the coal mine as far as the Cupertino Kingdom is concerned. MobileMe isn’t that big a portion of their revenues right now, but what happens when the problems hit the iTunes store? Imagine the uproar when your 3G connections slow to a crawl because AT&T’s wireless backhaul can’t handle the traffic surge.

These are all the indicators of inefficient data center. I am not surprised by this as why would a great Infrastructure Architect work at Apple? Apple’s DNA is about iPhone, Mac OSX, Aperture, Final Cut Pro.  IT infrastructure isn’t a credible skill.

My Lesson’s from Apple

It’s been 16 years since I left Apple, and had a great time working on System 7 and Mac products, but had lost track of Apple colleagues. Due to my Staycation/Backyard Beach House, I had an Apple friend track me down and found there are a bunch of the people who I worked with on System 7 are back at Apple. Which could go to explain how Apple is doing better than Microsoft in OS development – Apple has a bunch of wise, experienced, and older managers who lived through the pains of OS development.

Working on OS’s for all those years at Apple and Microsoft taught me many lessons, and one key lesson I learned from Apple working on System 7 is the dangers of telling everybody “this is the OS we will innovative and we need to make big changes.”  System 7 had aspirations for features like a new graphics model and print model.  But how do you print some of the new graphics? How do legacy apps work with the new graphics model? Do developers/SW developers want a new graphics model? Apple eventually dropped the new graphics and print models as they didn’t work, but the pressure to be innovative was huge as that was what everyone else was doing. 12 years later at Microsoft, after finishing work on Windows XP leading a team, another group wanted to take over my group’s function for longhorn/Windows Vista, I gladly gave up the function as I knew Windows Vista was repeating the mistake of innovating the whole OS (Apple’s System 7).  I never ran Vista for the next 5 years as I knew it would be a pain, and only tried it last year when I got a new laptop.

As the Steve Jobs’ letter points out.

– Rather than launch MobileMe as a monolithic service, we could have launched over-the-air syncing with iPhone to begin with, followed by the web applications one by one – Mail first, followed 30 days later (if things went well with Mail) by Calendar, then 30 days later by Contacts.

Trying to get everything to work in a complex service is a difficult path which makes failure a high probability.  Imagine what Windows Vista had been like if Microsoft released features in phases, measuring the success of features based on the downloads and activation.  Base the dev teams bonus on use metrics.  It’s game changing, and flies in the face of the status quo. I like it!