Apple says 'serious' server snafu caused MobileMe outage

Users scream over blackout, now in sixth day

Apple late Tuesday confirmed that a server problem has knocked out e-mail for some subscribers to its MobileMe sync service, and said it has been working since Friday to bring the system online.

While some customers reported Wednesday that they can now use MobileMe e-mail, more continued to fume over the outage, now in its sixth day.

"On Friday, July 18, we experienced a serious issue with one of our MobileMe mail servers," Apple admitted in a document posted to its support site yesterday. "This issue is currently affecting approximately 1 per cent of MobileMe members. Affected members are unable to send or receive email at www.me.com or access email using any email client software such as Mail on a Mac or Microsoft Outlook on a PC."

Apple apologized for the breakdown, and said it is "working hard to restore service."

It was the first public statement by Apple since MobileMe users began complaining late last week that they were unable to access e-mail.

Previously, the only indication that Apple knew of the problem was a notice on the MobileMe support site -- the notice remains on the page -- that "1 per cent of MobileMe members cannot access MobileMe Mail."

A few users who earlier had been locked out of their mail reported today that they could access their accounts. "It's been back up for me now for 20 minutes," said a user named "NotSoTechnical" in a message Wednesday morning. "Feels solid as a rock, but what is supporting the rock?"

A much larger number of users, however, said that nothing had changed. "Still down in Chicago, been out since Friday 10:30am," said "psziel."

"Still not working for me either," added Darla Mack on the same thread. "And its been since Saturday for me. This is freakin' nuts!!!"

Others vented over the long outage and Apple's explanation. "This whole MobileMe effort has been run like a circus sideshow," argued "boot1133."

"I am not sure of their architecture, but if one server going down takes out several accounts, isn't that a problem?" said "DTCreate" on the same forum. "Also shouldn't redundancy be employed to allow for fail overs? Worst case, they could have moved them to a new server by now."

"They claim it was a server issue. But this whole thing smells like data corruption or data loss," said a third user, "futureman" on the thread. "In either case, it raises other more serious issues about redundancy and availability. Apple should seriously look at the billion dollars they just took down in profit last quarter and spend that money on redundancy and high-availability.

"If they don't emphasize this in whatever announcement they make, I certainly will not host all my mail up in'the cloud'."

The long-running e-mail outage was only the latest glitch in MobileMe, which launched two weeks ago just before the on-sales date for the new iPhone 3G. Then, customers of the.Mac service -- MobileMe's predecessor -- complained about a day-long blackout when Apple shifted to MobileMe. The process was supposed to take just a few hours.

Last week, other users took Apple to the woodshed over slow synchronization between Macs and PCs on one hand, and the iPhone and MobileMe servers on the other. Apple issued an apology to users and credited them with an additional 30 days of service after acknowledging that that part of the sync service didn't meet the definition of "push" technology.

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Gregg Keizer

Computerworld

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