Apple’s OS X Mavericks contributed to a 10-fold spike in update traffic on launch day

November 15, 2013

(Photo by Kansir)

OS X Mavericks is one of the largest operating system downloads Apple has ever released, at 5.3 GB. Between all the new features it offers and its $0 price tag, crowds of consumers rushed to install it last month.

That led to a massive spike in Internet traffic, highlighting how dependent Apple has become on wired broadband companies to deliver a smooth customer experience.

By Nov. 1, 10 days after launch, Mavericks had been installed on nearly 11 percent of all Macs, breaking Apple's previous adoption records handily. (Mountain Lion didn't hit that point until a month into its release.) Here's what launch day last month looked like in terms of Apple data downloaded from the Internet, as captured by the broadband research group Sandvine:

(Sandvine)
(Sandvine)

Within hours of the release, Apple's upgrade traffic — which here includes Mavericks and other company software, such as iOS 7 — saw a tenfold increase on the networks of an unnamed North American Internet provider.

Sandvine observed a similar spike during Apple's initial iOS 7 rollout in September. That event was marked by an overwhelming load on Apple's update servers, leading to slow downloads for many consumers.

"The launch noticeably increased the total volume of traffic during peak hours," according to Sandvine. "This presents a unique challenge for operators, since they must engineer their networks for peak demand," even though those really big events don't happen very often.

Managing these big events is clearly going to be a central challenge for ISPs as digital distribution keeps growing. You can be sure Apple's got its eye on the issue, too.

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post.
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