Not so fast. There’s a lot going on in ‘the cloud‘ so to speak, but most of Apple’s customers know that iCloud stores files on a remote computer and storage system somewhere and don’t worry much about it unless a backup or restore is needed. Guess who is one of the world’s largest cloud users?
The Cloud Is Cloudy
Cloud Computing is a broadly defined term that covers a wide spectrum of definitions and uses. Here’s one.
The cloud is a kind of Internet-based computing that provides shared processing resources and data to computers and other devices on demand.
For Apple’s customers, all kinds of files and functions are stored and available on iCloud, Apple’s name for it’s cloud-based services. That makes Apple one of the world’s largest cloud users. Where are all those servers in the cloud? As it turns out, Apple doesn’t roll their own cloud all over the world.
In recent years Apple has used Microsoft’s Azure cloud infrastructure and Amazons’s Web Services, as well as it’s own data centers, as a mashup melange which together makes up iCloud and other cloud services. That’s right. Apple’s iCloud and cloud services come from Microsoft and Amazon. And soon Google’s Cloud.
Wait. What? Why doesn’t Apple just do it themselves? Surely they have the engineering chops and the money to make it happen, right?
Here’s the problem.
Apple has hundreds of millions of customers who use an array of cloud-based services. These include iCloud backups and storage, of course, but also include iTunes music and media, the various App Stores, Apple Music, and much more. Can you name another technology company with more cloud customers than Apple?
What Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services, and even IBM’s SoftLayer combine to provide is a rapidly scalable environment to store data and run computer services for Apple’s cloud-based requirements which are as complex and large as any other technology company in the world.
Why does Apple rent services from cloud providers instead of rolling their own? After all, Steve Jobs and Tim Cook have stated on multiple occasions that the company prefers to own their technology wherever possible.
We believe in the simple not the complex. We believe that we need to own and control the primary technologies behind the products that we make…
Running and managing multiple cloud systems is complex, not simple. Not owning the primary technologies behind Apple’s cloud operations goes against the so-called Cook Doctrine.
Maybe there are good reasons. Despite being a technology company, Apple’s focus is technology products whereas services often are an add-on. Second, Apple’s growth since the iPhone launched in 2007 has been nothing short of phenomenal, leaving the company with no choice but to rent cloud services rather than build out their own, and to diversify those services wherever possible.
Since the iPhone launched, the Mac’s customer base has nearly tripled. The iPad customer base is four times as large as that. Likewise, the iPhone now has more than 700-million users, and iOS alone has more than 1-billion accounts (iPhone and iPad). Most of that growth has come about in the past five or six years and Apple could not scale its own massive cloud infrastructure fast enough to keep up.
The cloud industry has many players, and Apple’s own systems make it one of the largest, but the company’s growth required it to subscribe to cloud services first from Amazon’s AWS, Microsoft’s Azure, and now Google’s Cloud (and likely other services, too, including Oracle Cloud, and IBM Softlayer).
While many enterprise IT organizations use multiple cloud vendors to remain diversified, Apple does so to a degree which probably overshadows almost any other technology company. Apple’s cloud services and iCloud are in use by hundreds of millions of customers each day and that requires a massive cloud system, hence the hybrid setup with major players.
Will Apple ever run its own cloud? It already does, but subscribing to the likes of Google, Microsoft, Amazon, IBM and others gives Apple rapid growth capability, flexibility, and an opportunity to learn how it’s done so that when the company rolls its own, it will run Apple’s way. The next time someone tells you iCloud is an anemic service let the numbers do the talking.