This morning’s Apple launch was like most previous similar occasions: as soon as the event finished, people raced to the Apple site expecting to see information about the shiny new products. Instead, for quite some time every page on the Apple site returned a bleaker message: “You don’t have permission to access [page]on this server”. Welcome to cloud reality.
To be clear, this wasn’t a major drama. There’s nothing unusual about sites either collapsing under the weight of a sudden boost in demand or becoming temporarily unavailable because of a foolishly switched setting: it happens all the time. Indeed, seeing the Apple store become temporarily unavailable is generally seen as a near-certain indication that new products are or pricing are on the way.
However, its absence is usually signalled with a neater ‘come back soon’ message, not a ultra-basic and inescapable error page. So on a day when Apple was talking up its newfound cloud capabilities, it also served up a timely reminder that while shifting services to the cloud brings masses of benefits, we can’t ever assume that cloud availability will be 100 per cent. And even organisations obsessed with control, like Apple, can’t always get it right.
The only safe assumptions are that the cloud will have outages; the relevant figure is not 100 per cent but how far below that number it will fall; and that the really relevant question for IT workers is: what happens when those services aren’t available? How quickly will they be restored, and will anyone be capable of productive work while you wait?
Apple’s site being down for a quarter of an hour or so won’t have affected its business, especially since every technology news site on the planet was busy reporting in detail what it had just announced. But a series of similar outages with iCloud itself could be more of a problem.
Since iCloud in its basic form is a free service (though you can pay for extra storage), it is unlikely to come with many solid uptime guarantees. It’s not in Apple’s interest for the service to run like a dog from the get-go, but with that said, that’s almost exactly what happened with its last attempt at a cloud-centric service, MobileMe, which was (to be blunt) a bug-ridden disaster.
In terms of offering a stable online service, Apple could still learn a lot from Google. But Google has frequent outages too. They’re a fact of life.
Evolve is a weekly column at Lifehacker looking at trends and technologies IT workers need to know about to stay employed and improve their careers.