Apple and the Enterprise

More and more Apple products are popping up inside the enterprise, and they're not just being brought in by users.

Adopters of Apple server and storage gear say the technology is ready for the rigors of enterprise IT duty. They point to the vendor's shift to the Intel architecture, plus its support of directory services, clustering and other technology advances. That's not to say Apple still doesn't have plenty of doubters, who say the company should stick to its consumer efforts.

We heard from both sides—and some in between—in recent weeks after we put out a call to readers to get their views on Apple's enterprise readiness. While we weren't exactly flooded with responses—which in itself might say something about Apple's standing in the enterprise—roughly three-quarters of those who did weigh in are bullish on Apple's enterprise offerings and direction. That's consistent with a poll from earlier this year, in which 80 percent of the nearly 900 respondents said Macintosh servers and desktops are ready for the enterprise.

More Please, Mr. Jobs

"Is Apple ready for the enterprise? I'd say: Yes!" writes Dan Stranathan, Macintosh systems administrator for Gear for Sports in Lenexa, Kan. They have been for years." Stranathan has 200 Macintoshes and 500 PCs in his environment. The Macintoshes are integrated with his Microsoft Active Directory and Exchange environments. "My Microsoft Exchange engineer uses OS X for all kinds of Active Directory-related diagnostics. My Cisco engineer now runs both Mac OS X and Windows on an Apple computer," he says. "One of our Oracle database administrators has recently moved to Mac OS X as well. Life is good."

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Walter Cornelison, director of technology for Tropitone Furniture in Irvine, Calif., also is relying heavily on Apple products.

"The use of MacBook Pros in our IT organization has been such a big success for us that we have added a dual quad-core Mac Pro Tower to replace two Windows PCs in the IT department and are in the process of moving our entire enterprise backup function to a new Apple Xserve RAID combination with an Exabyte tape library running BakBone Software's NetVault," he says. "From an IT perspective, I can say that the move to Mac has been met with both acceptance and satisfaction," Cornelison says. "Apple is making gains in the enterprise, and with the onerous costs and complexities Microsoft has created for all enterprises, more companies could stand a real alternative for their enterprise operations."

Apple's storage efforts won over a handful of respondents.

"Our company has successfully deployed an XSan installation as the core storage platform for our mortgage-centric document-imaging system," says Steve Rosenhamer, manager of software development for Adfitech in Edmond, Okla. "Our XSan currently consists of three XServe servers and two XServe RAID storage units, all connected via fiber through an Emulex Fibre Channel switch. We also have a second mirror installation at a remote site for disaster-recovery purposes, which is kept in sync with our production system on a near real-time basis.

"Currently, we have about half of a terabyte of data stored, totaling around 20 million individual images. We chose the Apple platform for a couple of reasons. Price was a big consideration. At the time we purchased everything, we spent around $50,000 for all the hardware and software, and that set us up with 4TB of scalable storage in a SAN environment with redundant metadata controllers. Price out that amount of storage in a scalable SAN platform from any of the most popular vendors and there's no contest on price—at least there wasn't two years ago."

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John Dubrava, operation manager for enterprise storage for Re:Sources IT USA in Chicago, writes: "We've got a 25TB-plus Apple XServe/XSan configuration in our environment. We use XServe XSan as a clustered file system, sharing volumes between users directly connected to the storage-area network. We also 're-share' Xsan volumes over the AppleTalk Filing Protocol for conventional LAN-based file sharing, using the XSan underpinnings for storage abstraction and virtualization. We've spent about two years with the technology and have lived through the early incarnations of the product."

No Thanks, Apple

Those less enthusiastic about using Apple technologies in enterprise IT cite issues such as the lack of virtualization capabilities for XServe servers, a paucity of heterogeneous networking capability and Apple's position as a single-source vendor.

"Any roles that Apple's XServe servers could play in the enterprise would have to displace Linux or Windows servers," says Nik Simpson, senior analyst for the Burton Group. "The Apple platform simply doesn't have the scalability to run any of the large Unix applications that get hosted on Solaris and the like."

"Many things that you take for granted in terms of software support for bits of the enterprise infrastructure don't exist—try getting EMC PowerPath for Mac OS X," he says.

A systems administrator for a large medical company in the Philadelphia area (who asked not to be named) said that "Apple doesn't offer an option to virtualize OS X instances. We are 'virtual machining' everything these days. Between data center consolidation, power and cooling concerns and green initiatives, Apple just doesn't fit in.

"We've also had a very difficult time getting Apple technology to play well with our other tools such as HP OpenView and an EMC storage-area network. It has forced the Apple equipment to exist as an island. All of Apple's server-management tools, with the exception of the XServe RAID tool, only run on OS X. We even run into situations where to properly troubleshoot one server you need to build another XServe. It's insanity."

Others say they just feel safer with other options.

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"I work for an ISP that has extensive collocation facilities around the world, and we see no Apple servers or Apple appliances," says Ed Kummel, a systems administrator in Lansdowne, Va. "We know how much longer our 32-bit OSes will be around and how to amortize the hardware. All the big players do this—we all know Sun's plans, Dell's plans, Intel's plans—with Apple, we'll be ahead of the game if we can figure out what they're going to do three weeks from now. How can you develop a mission-critical application that relies on a particular Apple product and maintain it when Apple may discontinue it the next day?"

Well ... I Might Give it Another Try

And then there are those users, who based on their experience with Apple server and storage gear, remain cautiously faithful and may use Apple's products again in the enterprise.

"We already have a vastly superior OS from Apple," says Dick Nelson, a systems administrator for a large government agency. "Why can't Apple do the same thing for networking? If it was as easy to network your servers [with the Windows and other Unix environments] as it is to use the OS and Macintosh applications, you could really stand things on their ear—and make it a lot easier for a lot of us to justify buying Mac hardware than others."

"Even the systems administrators on our primary Windows and Unix networks salivate over our Mac servers and RAID arrays, but they know too little about them, and they do know there are a few things that prevent interconnecting them as easily as what they are used to with the Windows, Solaris and HP-UX gear that's common in a mixed network environment."

This story, "Apple and the Enterprise" was originally published by NetworkWorld.

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