When Clouds Go Dark
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- 4 min
During my frequent flying days, I was a fan of Mobiata’s FlightTrack mobile app. As the name suggests, the app tracked your flights, including delays and cancellations, as well as more routine information such as departure gate information and updated arrival times. I liked it over the other apps, even the free ones, for two reasons:
- It used to synchronize with TripIt, which meant that as soon as you booked your flight and forwarded your email confirmation to TripIt, FlightTrack would begin tracking your flights.
- Each notification would be accompanied by the familiar airplane cabin chime.
Last week, Mobiata announced that FlightTrack and their FlightBoard apps would stop working after February 28. They are “sunsetting” both apps and are apparently joining the mobile development team at Expedia to work on all-in-one travel app that could include FlightTrack’s functionality. While Mobiata can’t reach out and delete the apps from my phone, the apps will stop working because, on March 1, they will shut down the servers that FlightTrack and FlightBoard use to get flight data.
Mobiata’s shutdown made think about how many of my mobile apps I use that rely on a developer’s cloud server to work. As I suspected, it’s a lot. Here are the just apps on my iPhone’s home screen that communicate with a server and why.
- iCloud, including my calendar, contacts, email, messages, web browser bookmarks and tabs, photos, music, and activity to share with my friends. I also need a server to use Maps.
- Dark Sky to get its hyperlocal weather data.
- Paprika to synchronize my recipes across devices and the web browser bookmarket to quickly add recipes.
- Bankitivity to synchronize transactions between my desktop and iPhone applications.
- OmniFocus to synchronize tasks, projects, and contexts across desktop, iPhone and iPad applications.
- Deliveries to synchronize package tracking across devices and get delivery tracking data.
- Day One to synchronize journal entries across devices.
- Drafts to synchronize text clippings across devices.
- Dropbox to access files on my Dropbox.
- Downcast to fetch podcast episodes and synchronize across devices.
- Untappd to fetch beer data and post my check-ins and notes.
- At Bat to stream baseball games and fetch news.
- Bus NYC to fetch realtime bus and subway data.
- Transit to fetch nearby bus and subway data and to plan routes.
- Citi Bike to fetch data on bike and dock availability, posting my trips, and fetching account information.
- 1Password to synchronize my 1Password keychain across devices.
For each app listed above, my phone is communicating with a different server to post and fetch data. No wonder I need an unlimited data plan.
But what’s even more alarming is the prospect of a server going dark. It’s not so much that the server will fail. Any cloud computing platform is designed to mitigate collapse, such as an extended outage or a hardware failure. But no server is designed to keep running after the developer has ceased to do business: because the developer couldn’t pay their server bills (e.g., Everpix), because the developer couldn’t raise funding (e.g., Avocado) to keep operating, or because the developer died.
At the risk of sounding apocalyptic, it’s not a matter of if these cloud services will go dark, it’s a matter of when. And when it does happen, each app and the data contained within it will go dark, just as the lights in the developer’s office and their Amazon AWS account.