These Macs mean business

A group of companies that build products to ease the integration of Macs in the enterprise had been separately championing a heterogeneous IT environment where both Macs and Windows can co-exist. Combining those efforts into an umbrella organization seemed like a good idea.

“We started seeing each other at tradeshows, we started talking individually and… we felt that doing it as a whole would be far more powerful than doing it individually,” said co-founder Peter Frankl.

Formed just a few months ago, the consortium, Enterprise Desktop Alliance (EDA), includes LANrev, Group Logic, Centrify, Atempo, and Parallels. It seeks to combat perceptions that an enterprise-wide deployment of Mac machines would be more trouble than it’s worth. “There’s this great misperception out there that Macs are difficult to use and manage in Windows environments. And it’s simply not true,” said Frankl, who is also the founder and chief operating officer at LANrev.

The EDA members want to fill the vacuum around information on Mac deployments available to enterprise IT managers, and help them realize that both platforms, Apple and Windows, can be managed within the same infrastructure.

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In fact, the key requirements of enterprise IT — for instance, authentication, management, Active Directory integration, and backup — are already met with tools that exist for Mac machines, and “gives what IT needs, but not everybody knows that,” said Reid Lewis, EDA co-founder and CEO at Group Logic.

Driven away by ennui

It may have been the case that enterprise Mac deployments were tricky due to the lack of Windows-compatible applications and enterprise-specific tools that enable network manageability, said Richard Shim, research manager with IDC’s personal computing group.

“But that’s gradually changing with third-party companies building more applications for the Mac, and those [companies] that allow the Mac to be able to live in the Windows world,” said Shim, referring to vendors like those comprising the EDA.

But what’s changed accordingly is the market share that Macs hold in the enterprise, rising to eight per cent from approximately four, according to Vince Londini, research analyst with London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Group Ltd.

There are several drivers pushing the growth. For one, said Londini, there’s “an ennui with Microsoft” given the lengthy position of dominance the software mogul has held. “Apple has been successful at capitalizing on that by pitching itself as the bright, cheery, usable alternative.”

And the release of the Vista operating system that Londini described as “not stunningly, startlingly better” than its predecessor is yet another driver. He doesn’t think Vista is necessarily bad but at the end of the day, users question whether the upgrade was worth the time and money.

And, while interoperability of the Mac platform used to be a thorn in the side of many an IT manager who would merely tolerate Macs for the creative types, Londini said that’s now different since Apple moved from the Motorola chipset to the Intel platform. “They really narrowed the gap. They can ride on some of the success that the Linux and open source world has been having in the server room because Mac OS X is largely a BSD variant which is from the Linux family,” he said. However Microsoft, he added, is also making strides towards better interoperability.

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The falling price of the Mac, too, has served to push enterprise adoption as Intel chipsets now allow for commodities of scale. However, Londini cautioned that price and quality can be subjective. The relatively higher acquisition cost of Mac hardware could be justified because, he said, Apple doesn’t offer a “B grade product; you couldn’t just go out and buy the $200 piece of crud version of hardware and watch your operating system just slog along on it.”

Phil Smith, commercial desktop product manager with Hewlett-Packard Co., said that while there are “small gains” by Apple in smaller businesses, he hasn’t observed the same for the medium and enterprise level.

Macs work well for small businesses because of their tendency to act more like a consumer, said Smith, and “get tied up in the flashiness and excitement of consumer-type applications that might come with the [machine]. And Apple has a lot of that more personal entertainment-type of an interface.” Enterprises, on the other hand, he said, have no need for consumer-based applications or designs “so there is much less of an interest there.”

Besides, Smith thinks Mac and Windows have their respective niches among users. “A Mac product is wonderful in many ways when you’re using it in a consumer environment because that is what it’s really been designed for. And the same can be said for Windows PCs. It is wonderful in many ways in the business environment because that is what it’s been designed to do.”

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And he noted that the Vista operating system is designed to meet the security requirements of an enterprise environment.

There’s a low risk of the Mac’s enterprise presence growing enough to warrant concern for vendors of Windows-based machines, Smith insisted. “Certainly Hewlett-Packard doesn’t see it as a big threat right now in the enterprise corporate space.” Instead, the competition will primarily focus on the small business sector, where Smith said Hewlett-Packard has offerings “to counter that balance.”

Apple’s strategic development manager, Willi Powell, said the company began to observe “an incredible wind shift that gives us a little bit of an edge” in 2001 when it shipped the Mac OS X. “That [wind shift] was people being able to do their Windows stuff on a Mac, and their Mac stuff on a Mac, and doing their Unix stuff on a Mac.” With the changing perception of the Mac’s capabilities, Smith said users are giving Apple machines a try within the enterprise, beyond the traditional creative departments like marketing.

And although Apple’s focus has been primarily consumer, education and SMB, Powell insisted the company does also have a corporate enterprise strategy but wouldn’t divulge details.

De facto strategy?

According to Londini, Apple’s enterprise strategy is “a device strategy really at the moment” that centres on handheld devices, not Mac desktop machines. That strategy, which he called “de facto” takes advantage of enterprises’ willingness to spend money on devices like BlackBerries. And, he said, the iPhone is a worthy competitor in that space. The company has also launched software developer kits to promote device interoperability “to make it possible for IT to say, ‘Hey, you’ve got that device, we can support that.’”

But as for the back-end infrastructure, Londini said businesses of at least 200 employees “tend to find room in the data centre for at least one more operating system” besides Windows. In which case, “Apple certainly could have a play there.” Apple has the Mac OS 10.5 for servers and other data centre offerings like a SAN product for creative field data storage, he said, however, the company’s back-end offerings tend to only support the company’s primary user base, the creative types.

Apple’s server pricing may have dropped from last year, said Londini, but it still isn’t competing with mainstream offerings from, say, Dell.

When Apple surveys the landscape of potential customers, according to Shim, the enterprise space is “not as big as one would expect” for the company. Given it already has a hold in the consumer and small business sectors, “they’ve largely left large enterprises alone,” he said.

Besides, said Shim, an enterprise strategy necessitates a significant investment. “You’ve got to get a sales force together, you’ve got to develop applications, and you’ve got to understand the customer.”

Thus far, the EDA has released educational materials, including whitepapers, promoting Mac enterprise integration and management, and it will soon offer Web seminars as well. The recently launched Web site has garnered much attention from large enterprises, running the gamut from corporate to education to government, said Lewis.

“The reaction surprised all of us and it seems that the Mac’s time has come in the enterprise.”

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