The Apple Customer’s Massive Data Conflicts with Apple’s Vision

| Editorial

Our Apple hardware keeps getting more and more capable, and now we have an iPhone 5s with a desktop-class, 64-bit CPU. The massive data created by these modern devices can easily get out of control. All the while, Apple focuses on mobility and a smallish Mac Pro. Is the data management solution really in the cloud? What's the path forward to manage our enormous quantities of data?


Apple as a company reigns supreme at providing us with elegant, first-class computing equipment, from a giant 27-inch iMacs down to a four ounce iPhone.

However, as technology progresses, the power of these devices to generate awesomely large files and large numbers of files continues to increase without bounds. For example, a single photo on my iPhone is 2.6 megabytes. A check of my iMac with a modest 256 GB SSD—half full—reveals that I have 1.2 million files. At one time, I had 760 photos on my iPhone, alone.

We do the best we can to manage the files we have, but it's often on a file by file basis. Documents and versions of them accumulate without limit. It's not uncommon to have 10,000 photos on a family Mac, and I won't even go into horror stories I've heard about iPhoto hosing up a collection and creating serious grief.

In addition, I've never really felt the love for Time Machine. It's not that Time Machine has ever failed me in a big way. It's just that, being a long-time Mac user, I have wrestled with some of its limitations in the past and have happily supplemented it with what seems to be a more robust backup tool: Data Backup 3 from ProSoft Engineering.

Apple's Focus on Simplicity Fails

Apple has a primary marketing focus. Products should be beautiful, first-class, awesome, fun and easy to use. However, those professionals who work in a data rich environment know that the realities of both redundancy and backup can quickly escalate into expensive and complex solutions. And now, families who have made an infrastructure commitment to Apple are confronted with the very same issues.

Apple deals with the situation by providing only one simple product, an easy-to-use utility called Time Machine. (And iCloud discussed below.) But the Pollyanna idea of one family Mac and one family Time Machine drive belies the reality of a family with multiple Macs in different rooms plus, lately, a rich collection of iPads and iPhones owned by spouse and children.

In other words, the ambitions of Apple to provide us with lots of powerful computing devices that generate enormous data sets, in my opinion, isn't matched by the corporate vision for a comprehensive data management scheme. Namely, one that provides a robust data storage, redundancy and backup environment for a lot of data derived from a lot of different devices. It's just been pushed under the rug or declared a third party opportunity for those who really need it.

The problem here is, by and by, we'll all need it.

Cloud Illusions

Apple has wisely invoked iCloud to be a data syncing services. While one can back up an iPhone to iCloud, it isn't practical to manage terabytes of Macintosh derived personal data with any cloud service. There, the issues are cost of storage, available bandwidth (which implies time to access) service capacity, security and liability and, potentially, ISP data caps. It's all too easy for the customer to fall into cloud illusions that don't solve the fundamental problem.

Another issue, and I've talked about this in the past, is that expertise in enterprise data management solutions develops expertise in consumer data management. It all fits together in the end. However, Apple's vision has been, recently, that by focusing on consumer electronics, it could sidestep some tricky data management issues. Again, Pollyanna thinking. 

No longer.

What could Apple as a corporation achieve if it took seriously the right kind of management of all our data before it launches into even more data rich environments: awesome iMacs with multi-terabyte storage, more capable iPads, wearable computing devices and TV services? Apple is probably the only company on the planet that could lead us into the future with the right kind of vision, thinking deeply about what the user experience should be.

I'll be talking about this a lot more in the coming months.



John:  Nice piece.  Very thoughtful.

Frank Lowney 1

I find iCloud to be too limited and too expensive relative to other cloud services but, as you point out, no cloud service will fit the bill.
This is why I’m looking for what I call a “low hanging cloud” service that is installed in my home but is portable enough to take on vacation or anywhere else. It’s a NAS device with server smarts that sits between me and my family on one side and Apple on the other.  In addition to backups, our home folders and other assets are there too.  It talks to iCloud and can be configured to use any degree of what iCloud offers.  All of our devices look to it for LAN-based access to our digital assets, including updates that we download from Apple once and then apply to however many devices we have. Dounds a little like MacOS X Server or what it should become.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

I’d love to get you started on iPhoto hosing years of collected metadata, John.


Thoughtful analysis, John.

I concur that we are fast approaching, if not already arrived, at an inflection point in our data management needs, not only with Apple products, but the combination of data collection and storage devices in the post-PC era, irrespective of platform. The imperative of this era is a robust, secure but accessible data management system.

I wonder, however, if Apple’s assessment is that this lies beyond their core strength and mandate, and that theirs is the task of building the hardware and software that power the front end of data collection, and not the backend of its storage and management. That would be an imperfect analysis, if true, as these are linked, as you’ve articulated above.

If they have recognised where we are, and I suspect that they have, that they have not already provided us with a more complete and responsive solution makes me wonder if this is harder to do, with the consistency that Apple generally strive for in their products and services, than we might think.

As for professionals, I know in my work I rely on a dog’s breakfast of storage and management strategies, many of these proprietary solutions devised in house by collaborating and sponsoring institutions of my work, in addition to those that we have done at our research facilities ourselves. It might be difficult for the likes of Apple to take on such industry staples as Oracle and SAP, or aim for those standards, in order to parsimoniously pare down to a simplified consumer solution of industrial strength.

Thankfully, this is not my headache.


Very thoughtful piece. This is becoming an issue as there really isn’t a good archival storage solution for the consumer. Cloud services, as you have pointed out, are not the solution. Maybe Apple will come up with a solution, or perhaps this is the next “great thing” for an up and coming company. the other issue with the generation of so much data is the really important things get lost in the mass of stuff stored.

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