Is Apple really using Windows Azure to power iCloud?

Is Apple really using Windows Azure to power iCloud?

Summary: Signs are pointing to Apple being a customer for both Windows Azure and Amazon Web Services with its iCloud beta.

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Over the past month, I received a couple of tips claiming that Apple was a Windows Azure customer.

At first, I just dismissed the tips as nothing but a crazy rumor. Then I got more serious and started asking around, to no avail.

But once Apple launched the beta of its iCloud iMessage service, the Infinite Apple site, along with a few other blogs, analyzed the traffic patterns and found that Apple appeared to be using both Azure and Amazon Web Services for hosting.

"We don’t believe iCloud stores actual content. Rather, it simply manages links to uploaded content," according to an updated June 13 Infinite Apple post.

I asked Microsoft for comment and was told the company does not share the names of its customers. I asked Apple for comment and heard nothing back.

I've heard some speculate that Apple may simply be using Azure's Content Delivery Network (CDN) capability. The Azure CDN extends the storage piece of the Windows Azure cloud operating system, allowing developers to deliver high-bandwidth content more quickly and efficiently by placing delivery points closer to users.

Based on Infinite Apple's info, Apple seems to be using Azure's BLOB (binary large object) storage, which is part of the Windows Azure core. However, the Windows Azure Content Delivery Network (CDN) is integrated directly with Azure's storage services.

Apple's iCloud is still in beta, and Apple is just in the process of turning on its much-touted $500 million North Carolina data center. Apple's datacenter, as my ZDNet colleague Larry Dignan noted, is running a combination of Mac OS X, IBM/AIX, Sun/Solaris, and Linux systems.

Maybe Apple's seeming reliance on Azure and AWS -- in whatever capacity they're actually being used -- is temporary. It's still interesting, though. (And probably something the Softies wish they could use in an official case study.)

Topics: Cloud, Apple, Hardware, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Software, Storage, Windows

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • RE: Is Apple really using Windows Azure to power iCloud?

    LOLOL
    I wouldn't doubt it, though. It's not like they run their servers on Mac servers... those don't exist anymore!
    Droid101
    • RE: Is Apple really using Windows Azure to power iCloud?

      @Droid101 They don't exist for sale anymore - there is no real reason to assume that Apple is not using them internally... Perhaps the use of Azure is temporary until their new data center is finished.
      athynz
      • RE: Is Apple really using Windows Azure to power iCloud?

        @athynz I agree... Either way, what does it matter if they use Azure? At the moment Apple doesn't have that kind of cloud platform... its not like MS and Apple havent partenerd before!
        apetti
      • RE: Is Apple really using Windows Azure to power iCloud?

        @apetti, it would ironic because many Apple fans have insisted that Apple's cloud will trounce all others. That aside, I think using Azure would be a smart move for Apple.
        scH4MMER
      • RE: Is Apple really using Windows Azure to power iCloud?

        @apetti: Agree with you. I would be a little surprised, but not more if Apple/Microsoft work together. Microsoft still has a lot of employees working on Apple software like Office on Mac, Bing on iPhone/iPad, Zune on Mac, etc. They are also competitors for many products, but they are not enemies.
        animageofmine1
      • RE: Is Apple really using Windows Azure to power iCloud?

        @athynz Why would the invest so much money developing for Azure? Shouldn't they build the final platform first, then release the product?
        vel0city
      • RE: Is Apple really using Windows Azure to power iCloud?

        @athynz Well when they showed that photo in Jobs' presentation and it had HP racks... Don't get me wrong, I'd assume that some of their servers are still xserves, but based on that photo, I'd imagine not all of them are.
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      • RE: Is Apple really using Windows Azure to power iCloud?

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    • RE: Is Apple really using Windows Azure to power iCloud?

      @Droid101
      What are you smoking?
      http://www.tuaw.com/2011/02/24/lion-server-to-be-bundled-with-mac-os-x-lion/
      Any Mac can be a server. You can't say they don't exist just because they cancelled the Xserve.
      cwt001
      • RE: Is Apple really using Windows Azure to power iCloud?

        @cwt001 Exactly! However, I would add the caveat that they don't have rack mountable servers... That's key for any large organization.
        snoop0x7b
      • RE: Is Apple really using Windows Azure to power iCloud?

        @cwt001 That info isn't quite true. Server is a separate purchase - around $50 instead of $30.
        mattmuir
      • RE: Is Apple really using Windows Azure to power iCloud?

        @cwt001
        yeah.. um.. that isn't a server. A server is a combination of hardware AND software, just like an Apple Mac is. You don't see anyone buying a Dell Optiplex, stuffing OSX on it and flogging it as a Mac do you?
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      @Droid101 They don't sell XServe hardware anymore, but they still offer OS X Server. It's not a stretch to believe (like Google and Facebook) that they are building their own rack mount hardware and putting OS X Server on it.

      Don't forget the pricey Mac Pro towers are server equivalent workstations, but no one in their right mind would want to try and stick several of them in a closet when rack mount servers are better suited for that purpose.
      rdawson@...
      • RE: Is Apple really using Windows Azure to power iCloud?

        @rdawson@... Dell actually makese Facebook server hardware. It's a custom designed server that is only available to Facebook. I'm not sure exactly how they are configured but they use graphics cards for the processing horse power.<br>Dell also made the Google branded hardware for a while too. Still might.
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