Apple's iCloud crash response only dents customer confidence

Summary:Apple's iCloud has recovered from a 90 minute email outage. The outage wasn't the primary concern: it was that Apple didn't tell anyone of the problem until after it had been fixed.

Apple's iCloud service crumbled for 90 minutes on Monday, with the company only reporting the outage after the service had been restored.

The crash occurred between 8:00--9:30 a.m. PDT --- affecting approximately 12 percent of Apple's 125 million users --- pegging the figure at roughly 15 million people worldwide.

Apple remained silent during the outage, leaving those who were unable to access their iCloud email wondering why. It's not unusual for a cloud-running company to hedge on the possible causes of an outage as often the reasons are initially unknown.

But Apple's "after the fact" response only dents customer confidence in its ability to run its services transparently.

It is the second such outage in as many months. In April, a similar crash saw a mere 1 percent of iCloud customers without service access for 40 minutes. Apple updated its status pages to note that Mail and Notes were down, and only a minute later gave the all-clear.

Cloud services are not perfect; outages are expected from time to time, and users expect hiccups to occur. While such outages can be frustrating and impact business critical operations, a speedy and open response can absolve a company from the initial flak.

So far, Apple's track record for iCloud uptime has been on the whole good. Microsoft's uptime record is shaky and seen as unreliable.

But Google however holds the cloud crown with its long-standing policy on openness when it fouls up. Even when up to 35 million people were left without Gmail access in April, the company provided up-to-the-minute details on how many users were affected, any developments in status, and a post-mortem incident report.

Google's transparency aside, its email service has shown extreme resilience and reliability, with many opting for Gmail and Google Apps for outsourced corporate email services for this very reason.

Last year, U.K advertising authorities challenged Microsoft's claim that its Office 365 service could "guarantee 99.9 percent uptime". Office 365 replaced the trouble-ridden Business Productivity Online Services (BPOS), which was almost famed for suffering downtime.

Only a week after the regulator announced its investigation into Microsoft, Google announced its 99.984 percent uptime for Gmail during the first quarter of 2011, equating to less than five minutes downtime on average per month.

Apple does not plug iCloud as an enterprise email service. It's designed all but solely for consumers and has made no effort in targeting businesses as of yet. Beyond anything else, Apple may not want businesses to rely on iCloud if the company knows it cannot guarantee the levels of uptime Google can offer.

It's why Apple slapped a "beta" tag on iCloud for so long, and why Siri still has one. "Mountain Lion" feature Messages is one current example to allow Apple to stress-test its servers, despite its occasional hiccups.

It's rare for Apple to release a public beta of an upcoming product; normally restricted to when it requires infrastructure testing or an open developer base to stress its system. Apple will otherwise wait until a product is pitch-perfect before releasing it into the wild.

In the coming months as Apple's prepares to launch additions to its cloud platform at the WWDC conference, Apple not only has to bolster its platform for an expected hike in traffic, it must make a concerted effort to improve its communication with its consumer faithful.

Image credit: ZDNet.

Related:

Topics: Cloud, Apple, Collaboration, Outage

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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