Is Apple tapping Amazon and Microsoft to boost iCloud?

Apple (s AAPL) entered into the cloud services arena with a bang with the launch of iCloud at the Worldwide Developer Conference in San Francisco this week. But according to a recent post at the InfiniteApple blog, Apple appears may be getting a little help from its frenemies in getting iCloud off the ground.

An anonymous tipster sent a series of screenshots to InfiniteApple earlier this week. The screenshots (embedded at the bottom of this post) purportedly show the HTTP traffic logged when an image is sent through Apple’s new iMessage service. The Infinite Loop post says the data may indicate that iCloud is utilizing Amazon’s cloud storage system S3 (s AMZN) and Microsoft’s (s MSFT) Azure cloud service to assist in delivering the message.

Does this mean that the photos of the new 500,000 square foot data center Steve Jobs showed off during the WWDC keynote are just a front? Not necessarily. We ran the screenshots by three networking and cloud experts at major companies. All three said that the screenshots did not conclusively show how iCloud was utilizing the Amazon and Microsoft technologies, if at all.

Two sources said that the log could simply show that the image sent over iMessage was itself initially hosted on Azure or Amazon. A third source said Apple may be using Azure and AWS for content delivery network (CDN) purposes. That would mean that the files are ultimately hosted on Apple servers, but Apple is caching copies of some data on strategically placed CDN servers run by Azure and Amazon’s CloudFront to help speed up delivery. In other words, Apple could be leveraging cloud services from Amazon and Microsoft for short-term iCloud caching to boost speed and reliability — not because its own servers are incapable of handling the content.

Utilizing CDNs is a very common practice even at the highest levels, the third source added. Apple itself has a history of using CDNs, but mostly Akamai (s akam) and Limelight (s llnw) to help serve media content such as iTunes. If anything, the big scandal here is not that Apple is using third-party cloud services to run iCloud, but that it’s opted to use Microsoft and Amazon’s offerings instead of its longtime partners.

But again, we ultimately did not turn up any slam-dunk verdict on exactly how iCloud is using AWS and Azure, if at all. If you have any insight, please chime in via the comments. And to learn more about clouds, CDNs and networking, please attend our Structure 2011 conference on June 22 and 23 in San Francisco.

Screenshots sourced from