I’m going to be honest, I really could care less about Apple’s current antenna/signal reporting woes right now. Businesses and users who use their iPhone with a Microsoft Exchange server are facing a much bigger issue that, by and large, is not being covered. The problem? Apple’s iOS4 crashes Exchange servers. What’s worse is that the problem won’t just impact iPhone or iPod touch users. It will impact everyone using ActiveSync on those Exchange servers. That’s right folks, right now Apple’s iOS4 will impact service to every Windows Mobile, Palm webOS, Symbian, Android and iPhone/iPod touch, bringing businesses worldwide to their knees.
[image courtesy of gdgt]
Let’s jump back a second. When Apple’s iOS4 was announced, it brought news of some heavy hitting enterprise features like being able to more easily deploy and manage enterprise applications to iPhones wirelessly, forgoing the need for iTunes or the commercial App Store. Coupled with the on-device security and encryption updates iPhone 4 and iOS brought to the table, and companies could more easily embrace Apple as their primary business mobile solution. Add the fact that the features Apple was bringing to the table can be implemented for free using Microsoft Exchange and ActiveSync, and you can see how Apple was targeting a takeover in the enterprise from the likes of RIM’s BlackBerry solution or Microsoft ‘s fading Windows Mobile. While companies wait to find out how Windows Phone 7 will integrate with their current mobile infrastructure (not to mention whether their enterprise applications have to be re-written for WP7 just to work), Apple came in and threw down the gauntlet. Security, popularity, and ease of use. Users want their iPhone to be used for business, and businesses want to use the very best technology to get the job done. Apple was now not only going to dominate the consumer space, but officially make the iPhone the primary mobile business tool — all while appeasing IT departments and Security teams worldwide.
Then iOS4 hit. It hit BIG. Once it was official, users downloaded Apple’s latest software to get all the features they could cram into their existing iPhone 3, 3Gs and iPod Touches (if they weren’t part of the initial wave of 1.7 Million iPhone 4s sold in a mere three days).
Once business users loaded iOS 4, some issues started occurring. A trickle suddenly became a massive tidal wave, and that wave literally started crashing Exchange servers worldwide. What’s worse is that IT departments didn’t become aware of the issue until well after it was too late. Apple did not officially communicate any information to businesses, and I’ve yet to see any official statement on the matter. IT departments had to find out from sites like MacRumors to find out this was not an isolated issue.
The problem is that iOS4 increases the times that iPhones or iPod touches try to connect to the Exchange server. Devices running iOS4 will timeout, drop sync to Microsoft Exchange, then try to reconnect every 30 seconds or so without tearing down the original network connection to the servers they way every other device will do when connecting to Exchange. This constant bombardment of connection attempts will overload corporate Exchange servers. This, in turn, impacts every mobile device platform connecting to Exchange via ActiveSync. I had firsthand experience of this problem this past Wednesday, as my employer’s servers were hit by this very scenario.
At first we had no idea what was causing the outage and impacting our users across the globe. Servers were being rebooted only to crash again an hour later. Once we determined that the problem was with iOS4 (again, through tech sites and forums — not via anything provided by Apple), we were able to locate the ‘fix’ that Apple quietly put out on their support site.
So here’s the other problem. Companies can’t deploy the fix (a profile update to the phone which lengthens the request to the server if the device times out from dropping sync to mail, calendar or contacts). The fix has to be installed individually to each iPhone or iPod touch by the end-user. The features Apple promised for enterprise mobile device management and wireless application deployment — which could have been used to send the profile update to all iPhones on a company’s network — have yet to be deployed by Apple. This meant every company impacted had to urgently send every one of their iPhone or iPod touch users the instructions to go out and download the update to their devices.
But the woes for corporate users are far from over. If the devices continue to impact all users, Engineers will be forced to block Apple devices from connecting to Exchange at all. This is far from a solution, as many business users rely on their iPhones for critical business mail and information. For my company, it would mean putting 1,500 worldwide users out of mobile service to corporate mail/calendar/contact sync in order to save the other 2,000 Windows Mobile, webOS, Symbian and Android users allowed to access the network. As Nancy Gohring of IDG News Service and Infoworld accurately states in the July 2nd article on the matter,
The iOS 4 ActiveSync issue reflects Apple’s priorities. “They don’t have a vested interest in the load on an Exchange server…The iPhone is not meant to be an enterprise device, and this is a side effect of that.”
Because Apple’s earlier iPhone operating systems correctly supported Exchange synchronization prior to iOS4, businesses are fully expecting Apple to restore the same functionality asap. While Apple will certainly include a fix in iOS4.X via iTunes at some point, no one knows when — and Apple isn’t giving anyone an estimated timeframe to expect such a solution. This continues to put IT departments and companies in the situation of communicating to each individual user and ensuring they install the profile update directly on their device before being forced to block all iPhone and iPod touch users from their networks altogether.
While many people are upset over whether to hold their phones in a new and improved manner or use a case to improve basic cellular voice signal quality on their iPhones, IT departments across the world are just hoping that Apple comes through on a solution to restore synchronization and service for their business users.