Three Nightmares When Managing Macs

Even as Apple readies new computers, companies continue to face daunting challenges supporting popular MacBooks, iMacs and Mac Pros.

How hard is it managing Macs in the enterprise? Harder than you might think. Expect lackluster enterprise support from Apple and its horde of Mac developers, for starters. Enterprise savvy Windows developers rushing poor Mac components to market bring frustration, too.

In the corporate world, a shortfall in Mac management can have real impact on worker productivity. Swapping a 20-terabyte file sharing system with one that isn't native to the Mac, for instance, can spell disaster for Mac folks who suddenly are locked out of critical files.

Such tech nightmares surely will become more common as the Mac makes its way to the enterprise. Earlier this week, Apple unleashed a hardware refresh, including a rare update to its powerhouse desktop, Mac Pro. New iMacs also came to market, and its popular MacBook Pro received a small speed boost.

In a recent survey of some 700 companies by Information Technology Intelligence, a whopping 68 percent of respondents said they will allow Macs in their environment within the next 12 months. The survey also found that nearly one out of four companies had at least 30 Macs in their businesses.

"Although Mac's market share in business is still extremely small, it's been growing," says Gartner analyst Mikako Kitagawa. Now Macs are at a tipping point: Many companies are having to hire a Mac engineer for the first time to manage the swelling ranks of Macs. Last year, Gartner began formally evaluating Macs for enterprises.

So what is Gartner's Mac analysis? "We don't really recommend Apple," says Kitagawa, adding, "Apple doesn't provide standard enterprise support like image service and lifecycle support nor has a global account-management umbrella."

Nightmare No. 1: Apple's eye not on businesses

Apple has traditionally turned a blind eye when it comes to supporting Macs in the enterprise—and that's bad news for Mac engineers trying to keep up with the PC counterparts.

When Dell, for instance, plans to release a new PC to the market, the computer maker will give the machine to its enterprise customers a month earlier. Systems management engineers can test and certify their standard Windows build, VPN and third-party applications. When the new PC hits the market—and business users want it—the engineers are ready to support it. Mac engineers, on the other hand, get their hands on a new MacBook Pro along with everyone else.

To be fair, Apple does provide good support for enterprises in a small slice of industries, such as broadcasting, advertising and graphic design, says Gartner's Kitagawa, yet there are no signs that Apple will support the Mac in enterprises more broadly. So the burden falls on the internal IT department, often a lone Mac pro, to find alternative Mac solutions and support.

Nightmare No. 2: Windows developers deliver weaker Mac options

It's very tempting to use third-party Windows tools for the Mac. Chances are you already own the optional Mac feature in, say, an existing Windows desktop management suite. Just flip the switch, right? The promise of a single tool that manages both Windows and Mac platforms and delivers a single view can be enticing but may run into problems, say Mac engineers. Getting good enterprise-class support for Mac features from Windows developers can be problematic at times, too, they say.

Nightmare No. 3: Small Mac vendors struggle with enterprise support

Given poor Mac options in many Windows management suites, Mac pros often turn to Mac-only management tools. For the most part, the tools work well. The problem comes when these small Mac vendors that are mostly geared toward small Mac shops need to provide enterprise-class support.

These vendors might take a day to respond to a support query. Rarely will the enterprise Mac engineer talk to the same support technician twice, and so the engineer will have to rehash his history, environment and current problem. This just doesn't work in an enterprise IT setting.

Most Mac vendors don't have technical account managers dedicated to enterprise clients; they simply don't have the resources or enough enterprise customers to justify the cost. Yet technical account managers who know a customer's environment inside and out are a staple of enterprise-class support.

On the upside, some Mac vendors like JAMF Software, which makes client management software for Macs, are helping to wake up from this management nightmare. JAMF says it is working with customers to set up a technical account manager system, such as possibly filing the ranks with freelance technical account managers who specialize in Mac support for the enterprise.

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