I want to make it clear that the ideas expressed here are entirely speculative, I do not work for Apple and I do not have any insight into their plans. I do think that they have been strangely silent however and recent changes in spends for Public Cloud and data centers make me believe that something like this could be in the works.
Apple Data Centers
There are a lot of posts on the internets reporting Apples’ approximate spend in Amazon Web Services which could be as high as $30 million per month. There are also other speculations that they might use Azure and/ or GCP.
The company has reportedly taken efforts to reduce those costs and from 2017 to 2018 apparently cut those costs in half, the numbers I have found on various sites including baxtel are that it cut spending from $775 million to $350 million. This is a conscious effort Apple is making to move services and storage back inside of their data centers.
The motivation presumably would come from cost, to run a service at scale in the public cloud is often considered more expensive than running a similar service internally. This is usually hard to compare exactly because most organizations are not geared up to report on the internal headcount and support used to maintain internal hardware. Amazon, on the other hand, has presumably worked this internal cost into their pricing model and reflects this at the end user costs. That assumption seems to be a bit at odds though with Apples’ simultaneous push to make their data centers run on 100% renewable energy.
The move is arguably a good long term goal as the cost of renewable energy is expected to be cheaper compared to fossil fuels over time. The cost of setting up such large scale energy sources and data centers, however, is quite substantial and it leads me to speculate if there might be a long term plan for Apples’ move away from the public cloud. It makes sense that any long long term plan being a new service offering similar to AWS, GCP or Azure running on Apple infrastructure. The reason being is that it has been traditionally hard to accurately provision datacenters based on a product. In traditional builds for a new product, you will either have more traffic than you suspected leading to outages or compute power sitting underutilized in your datacenter. These usages will also fluctuate on the daily so at some point in time you could reach either of these scenarios.
Amazon took the initiative early to charge customers for these underutilized servers rather than leaving that money on the table. The resulting push allowed startups to go from product vision to demo or even production quality app from years to months to days. Now we see a wide range of interesting new applications on the market providing unique ways to improve the quality of our lives, or just widdle the time away during a meeting. Google and Microsoft realized the potential to recover the cost of running such large scale data centers and eager for their share quickly followed suit. Apple has been strangely quiet here though which leads me to wonder if they are planning a big entry into the market place and what this might look like.
The landscape for data centers looks a lot different than in the past so it’s reasonable to imagine that if OSX Server or Xsan are featured they are going to be abstracted from the user substantially. Most of these would sit under something like an OpenStack or Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and are being further extracted to the Platform as a Service (PaaS) using containers and some sort of orchestrator. The industry seems to be moving more towards the Google approach, running Docker containers with Kubernetes providing a higher level of management for the container clusters. There are additional layers that you can add such as Openshift from RedHat or their open sourced parent project OKD.
Anyway, I am getting lost in the technical “how” that Apple might accomplish this and it doesn’t really look at how they have traditionally been delivering software recently. Most of their software has been packaged in a way that it can be delivered on the phone. If you use your web browser to go to https://www.icloud.com/ you will see a similar view that you do on your phone. What I wonder then if Apple does get into providing services based on their internal cloud will we see the first phone first version of these services? If so, what would that even look like?
The thought becomes more interesting considering Apples’ focus on creative applications such as music and video. Would we see video and sound artists stitching together a complete publishing flow after a large project including authentication and monetization? Could users become their own Netflix? Would we see the growth of a completely user fed movie industry that rivals YouTube? I am not sure but the idea is very exciting to contemplate.
- Apple Cuts AWS Spending By Almost Half in 2018 – https://www.crn.com/news/cloud/apple-cut-aws-spending-by-almost-half-in-2018-report
- Monthly AWS Spend for Apple Reported being $30 million – https://www.crn.com/news/cloud/apple-is-spending-over-30m-a-month-on-aws-cloud-report-says?itc=refresh
- Apple might rely on Google GCP for Storage and possibly Azure – https://techcrunch.com/2018/02/27/apple-now-relies-on-google-cloud-platform-and-amazon-s3-for-icloud-data/
- Apple Data Center FAQ – https://www.datacenterknowledge.com/data-center-faqs/apple-data-center-faq
- Baxtel Data Center News – https://baxtel.com/data-centers/apple
- Apple reducing AWS spend https://baxtel.com/data-center/north-holland/posts/apple-is-reducing-spend-on-aws
- Apple’s Global Operations Now Powered by 100% Renewable Energy – https://cleantechnica.com/2018/04/09/apples-global-operations-now-powered-by-100-renewable-energy/
- Renewable resources are getting cheaper:
- OSX Server – https://www.apple.com/lae/osx/server/features/
- XSan Guide, Apples Network Storage Solution
- Docker – https://www.docker.com/
- Kubernetes – https://kubernetes.io/
- Cloud Controller Manager – https://kubernetes.io/docs/tasks/administer-cluster/running-cloud-controller/
- OpenStack – https://www.openstack.org/
- Openshift – https://www.openshift.com/
- Openshift vs OpenStack – https://blog.openshift.com/openshift-origin-vs-openstack/
- OKD – https://www.okd.io/
- iCloud – https://www.icloud.com/