A new day for Macs in the enterprise?

iPhone-loving workers disenchanted with corporate IT might love to ditch their PCs for Macs, but are we really on the cusp of greater enterprise adoption of Apple?

The Wholesale Switch

Shani Magosky, chief operating officer (with IT responsibilities) of Jaffe Associates, a 25-person marketing and public relations firm, didn't need the iPhone to embrace Apple.

Magosky started looking into Macs for her traditionally PC and Windows-based company back in the fall of 2006, she says. She wasn't necessarily wooed by Bono singing in an iPod commercial. She was sick of PCs breaking all the time, she says. Then there was the "sticker shock" of learning what it would cost her to upgrade to Microsoft's SharePoint collaboration software (and the accompanying server technology.)

Specifically, she'd been running an outdated version of Microsoft's terminal server, which allowed her employees (all of whom work remotely, as Jaffe has no central office) to connect to the network and share files. "It was unnecessarily slow and unreliable," she says. "We ended up spending a fortune on IT trouble-shooting."

With her terminal server being outdated, she was told the best option would be to upgrade to SharePoint, which, after purchasing and installing the server, buying the software licenses and all the support surrounding it, would have cost US$100,000, Magosky says. "They nickel and dime you," she says.

Meanwhile, PCs became a costly problem. Between what Magosky views as poor manufacturing and tons of malware permeating the layer Windows leaves between the Web and the network, the PCs began to break with great frequency, she says. "There is just so much that can go wrong with them. All these viruses happen to PCs that don't happen to Macs. And then it costs you more to fix it than just buying a new one. So I said I wasn't going to waste anymore, and went out and bought a MacBook Pro."

Perhaps serendipitously, right around this time, her boss, President and CEO Jay Jaffe, was on vacation with his daughter in San Francisco and visited Apple's flagship store on Stockton Street. "He bought an iPod touch that he was infatuated with," says Magosky. "When he was there, he talked to the business team. They convinced him there was nothing we needed to do now that we couldn't do with them [Apple]."

Before long, Magosky set about switching her entire shop over to Macs. Since Jaffe Associates serves the legal industry, which makes wide use of Microsoft software, Jaffe began using Office 2008 for Macs. The company also chose Apple's Kerio software for e-mail, Entourage for archiving and Apple's Xserve server for back-end storage of data. Magosky predicts that Jaffe will realize a savings of 50 per cent in maintenance costs due to the Apple switch, which will pay for the hardware and implementation of Apple products in the first year, she says.

Third-party Mac support, by the hour, remains more costly than Windows support. But, Magosky says, her total amount of required support time has dropped so substantially that she's gaining that 50 per cent in savings.

"It's going to increase the efficiency of our staff tremendously," she says. "On top of the hard dollar savings, it's going to free me up to do other, more value-added things." What about those cool iPhones? While Jaffe's users primarily use RIM BlackBerry devices for mobile needs, Magosky says that she might consider iPhones down the road, if enough users call for them.

Hurdles Remain

Ditching PCs at a 25-person company is one thing. But introducing Apple to a large enterprise with legacy systems is quite another. Even some enterprises who've been managing mixed Mac and PC environments for years say that Apple still has some work to do.

Rob Israel, manager of desktop support at Digitas, a US-based ad agency, says that 30 per cent of his company runs Macs. Israel, who manages some 600 Macs across the enterprise, says that a hybrid environment of Macs and Windows can have its pitfalls, technologically and culturally.

"We barely deploy Apple servers here even though the culture has become Macintosh friendly," he says. "There is still a sense in the IT department that we are a Windows shop, and why bother complicating things by introducing more platforms."

The IT shop runs four Apple Xserves, one of which is used to host Filemaker Pro.

While Israel describes the company's relationship with Apple in terms of contracts as "great," the arrangement leaves some things to be desired, he says. "Apple does not provide technology roadmaps, which enterprise IT departments obviously need," he says. "What's worse, they make their hardware incompatible with the previous version of the operating system, and their schedule is impossible to keep up with."

For instance, Israel says Digitas can't deploy new versions of Leopard, Mac's operating system, as quickly as Apple demands. Every time Apple moves to the next version of an OS, Israel says, Digitas ends up having six months where they're forced to buy out-of-date equipment to stay compatible with the old OS. "We have complained about this for the last four years," he explains. "They [Apple] do not have any motivation to design their new hardware to support an old OS, so they won't."

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