It's getting cloudy over at Apple.
Over the past few months, Apple has gone on a cloud computing hiring spree, snapping up several well-known software engineers working across a range of modern technologies, especially containers and Kubernetes. The quantity and quality of the new hires has caused a stir in the tight-knit cloud community, and could indicate that Apple is finally getting serious about building tech infrastructure on par with companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Google.
The new employees include:
- Michael Crosby, one of a handful of ex-Docker engineers to join Apple this year. "Michael is who we can thank for containers as they exist today. He was the powerhouse engineer behind all of it," said a former colleague who asked to remain anonymous.
- Arun Gupta, who joined Apple in February from AWS and is now leading Apple's open-source efforts.
- Maksym Pavlenko, another former AWS employee who worked on its managed container services such as AWS Fargate.
- Francesc Campoy, an ex-Googler who will be working on Kubernetes for Apple.
It's not entirely clear what Apple has in mind, but numerous job postings indicate that the company is in the midst of building new tools for its internal software development teams. Apple declined to comment on its plans for the new hires.
Apple runs a massive web operation, including the iCloud file storage service, the App Store, Apple Music, Apple TV+ and its own ecommerce site. However, it has for years been considered a bit of a backwater in the tech infrastructure community, far behind companies like AWS, Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Netflix.
In fact, a new book from BuzzFeed News' Alex Kantrowitz reported that Apple's internal engineering teams operate "in a state of tumult," staffed by contractors from different firms that find themselves in constant conflict over resources and priorities. "Until Apple gives the division a hard look, its employees will be stuck spending their time reworking broken internal software, and wishing they were inventing instead," he wrote.
In late 2018, Apple announced plans to invest $10 billion in data center construction over the next five years, adding capacity in Iowa alongside five existing data centers. It also leans heavily on the cloud: As of last year, Apple was one of AWS' biggest customers, and it has a cloud computing deal with Google as well.
Now it appears to be investing in the software side of the operation. Around the same time the data center expansion was announced, Apple realized that its older style of software development needed rethinking, and that the new engineers could help the company build a modern platform for development.
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Containers allow software applications to spin up and wind down much more quickly than older technologies, and Kubernetes is an open-source project used to manage large deployments of containers. Apple joined the Cloud Native Computing Foundation — which hosts Kubernetes and containers, a project that Crosby had led at Docker — in June 2019, and with the new hires has brought several prominent members of that community on board.
Apple has long sought to "own and control" the key technologies that have made its products so successful, going so far as to hire its own mobile chip development team shortly after launching the iPhone. As the smartphone and personal computer markets mature, Apple has turned to services for much of its revenue growth over the past few years. Now it appears to be getting serious about running more of the behind-the-scenes technology that powers those services.