MobileMe Problems Show Apple Needs an Infrastructure Lesson

Steve Jobs, in an internal email seen by Ars Technica, makes clear that he’s upset about the botched launch of MobileMe, Apple’s new online suite of applications that has been plagued with bugs, including being flat-out unavailable to some for days at a time.

“It was a mistake to launch MobileMe at the same time as iPhone 3G, iPhone 2.0 software and the App Store,” he says. “We all had more than enough to do, and MobileMe could have been delayed without consequence.”

Amen to that. Having been a subscriber to dot-Mac for years, I was quite upset when the service failed to work at launch. They tried to hush everyone by waiving one month’s fee, but regardless, while some parts of it are up and running, many of the problems continue.

It wasn’t till Walt Mossberg and David Pogue publicly spanked the service with their respective wet bamboo stems that Apple started to understand the magnitude of the problem.

In his email, Jobs says: “The MobileMe launch clearly demonstrates that we have more to learn about Internet services.” You can say that again. The big question in the wake of the MobileMe debacle is whether or not the company even knows how to plan for heavy load.

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.

It might not be a problem of Apple’s making but the company will face the brunt of the backlash. Remember, most of us instinctively blame the device first, then curse the carrier.