Hi, I'm a Mac, and I'm Your Enterprise Computer

As your company brings in more Macintosh computers, you need a bit of advice to integrate the Apple systems into your existing IT infrastructure. Head off the biggest concerns with these hints from leading Mac OS X experts.

The reasons for companies to switch from Windows to Mac OS X are as personal, or unique, as is any shift in religion. For some companies, the motivation is to move away from Windows. Others are influenced by their end users' desire for the style and functionality of the Macintosh environment. But whatever the reason for the migration, the attraction must be backed by serious number-crunching and by common sense.

This isn't an article about the reasons to adopt Macintoshes in an enterprise setting. We assume that you've already decided to do so, whether because of company IT policy or user pressure. The issue, instead, is to make the transition as seamless as possible: to bring the new systems into sync with your existing IT infrastructure, to choose appropriate applications and to cope with always-finite budgets. If you are about to make a jump to Mac OS X, either partially or in toto, people who have been there have some advice.

Planning the Move, or How I Made Friends with Those Darn "Creatives"

If you are the fourth-largest advertising company in the world, your products are terabytes of content produced by graphic artists, film makers and copywriters. Their success is yours, keeping them happy is paramount, and that means giving those users Macintoshes.

"The Mac itself, the nature of the Mac, how it works and how it looks, is actually more conducive to the creative mindset. But those same things have also created a religious factor where the typical 'creative'—they can't even touch a PC keyboard. I'm being actually serious," says Christian Anschuetz, executive vice president and CIO of Publicis Groupe, which is based in Paris.

In the United States, Publicis Groupe has 19,000 users, and about 25 percent to 30 percent use Macs. According to Anschuetz, managing those Macs and their software is made much easier with some advanced planning, whether you are expanding the number of Macs in your enterprise or switching completely. While this initially seems like common sense, there actually are a number of factors to consider that are not readily apparent. As always, the extent of these factors depends on your particular business case.

For Publicis Group, the Macs have higher total cost of ownership. This is because of the particular hardware configurations and the company's corporate culture, which calls for more intense support on the Mac side.

"The Macs require a greater density of field associates. Where we have 1-to-150 PC techs to users, we're somewhere down to 1-to-100 for Macs. I think that's due partly to the technology and partly due to the users. The creatives are more demanding and you have to be more responding, because those are the people that clearly create our revenue," says Anschuetz.

He adds, "The reason for the greater labor is probably at least in part due to the nature of the tools we use on the Mac. That said, I do believe that the Macs require more attention than PCs, if only because Macs are still working on becoming 'enterprise supportable,' and although there are good support and administration automation options, they are not as great in number as with the PCs."

Companies switching to Macs entirely should carefully evaluate software application parity. "You may find that [down the line] some of the things you want to buy for your business—an ERP [application], for example—don't have as satisfactory or robust a client implementation on the Mac as it does on the PC," Anschuetz says.

"So you really have to understand your environment today and understand where your environment may evolve into, to make sure that you're buying a Mac that can support everything it needs to support," he says.

For his company, Anschuetz said, this was not a big problem. "But in hindsight, there were times when the company thought of the Macs second, and that cost us. Because no matter how important the Macs are to us, we're still predominately PC," he says.

"If you go into things with your eyes wide open, you won't come up against any barriers that are insurmountable. And should you encounter a barrier, there are more and more tools that allow you to overcome them," Anschuetz says.

"One of the hardest problems I hear is that a company's database may not be Mac compatible, or there may not be a front end that is Mac compatible. What they have to do is either port the database over or they have to look for different solutions on how to make it work. That seems to be the biggest obstacle to overcome," explains David Thompson, founder of Digital Transitions, a Toronto-based consultant and Apple reseller.

"Most things can be fairly simply diverted to a different solution. But if [the client] has put its entire company into some big Microsoft SQL database, getting that data out can be a lot of work. Ask yourself what kind of database you have, how hard is it to move away from it if necessary, and how much it is going to cost you to do that," Thompson says.

Companies should be open to applications from smaller companies when developing their application parity plan, advises Thomas Larkin, network technician for Olathe District Schools in Olathe, Kansas. "The open-source community is a great resource for applications, and the user community can pretty much answer any questions out there," he says.

The Olathe District Schools system has 10,000 computers in 56 locations, each with an Apple server. The students have available to them about 550 Macs in the computer labs.

"Executives should be looking for data compatibility when looking for applications on the Mac OS X platform, rather than looking for all the same software, says Jeremy Reichman, senior desktop systems engineer for the Rochester Institute of Technology. Reichman helps support about 15,000 students and 3,300 staff, 17 percent of whom use Macs.

"A lot of the interesting software for Mac OS X seems to be developed by small teams who are rapidly updating them," he says.

Incorporating Macs in the Enterprise, or How I Learned Things Were Different

Another key element in corporate Macintosh adoption is the importance of third-party software and custom solutions. They can help smooth the way for integrating Macs onto the network. While specialists say they wish third-party support were greater, the openness of the Mac makes correcting issues possible.

Don't discount the lure of the well-worn path that draws and then traps your IT staff into familiar habits. "People who are used to doing things one way on a certain platform try to do them the same way when they move to another platform," advises Reichman. One example he gives is an area of contention often mentioned by specialists.

"If you deploy Microsoft's Active Directory for Windows to get its manageability features with its single sign-on and group policy and so on, and you want to do the same thing on Mac OS X, the natural inclination is to ask, 'Is Mac OS X going to be compatible with Active Directory?' But there are often alternative ways to get to the same end result," Reichman says.

Apple has its own Open Directory architecture. It can work in concert with Active Directory to provide features that Active Directory does not specifically make available to Mac OS X clients, according to Reichman.

There is Always Boot Camp, or How I Learned to Emulate

For Mac OS X 4.5+, Apple offers an emulator named Boot Camp. The tool allows Windows to run on Mac Intel-based machines. To switch between it and Mac OS X, the system must be rebooted. It has fast become a catch-all solution for many organizations dealing with integration or compatibility issues. Wilkes University decided to switch its 1,700 computers completely to Macs, phasing in Mac Intel-based systems over the next three years. Key to the plan is to use Boot Camp to support Windows users who may be reluctant to switch. Students and staff will soon be able to sit down in front of just about any computer on campus and choose which operating system they wish to use.

"Before we went down this road, we already had some test machines in place, so we understood what it would take if we were to do this. We also tested every application that we used on those systems to make sure the machines were truly compatible, especially on the Windows side," says Mike Salem, CIO of the Wilkes-Barre, Pa., university.

Relying on Boot Camp resulted in a unique system management situation for Wilkes University. "One of the things we had to do was build an imaging process, so that we could build the machines. On the Windows side you just go out and get something like GHOST or Drive Duplicator, but there is nothing out there that could work with a machine that had two OSes on it, so we had to develop that," says Salem.

Microsoft Bottlenecks, or How I Learned It's Always Something

Some technical issues that specialists mentioned are due to the proprietary nature of Microsoft's technology.

"One of the biggest stopping points is if you've got a company that's built an entire infrastructure on a Microsoft .NET technology. It's really hard to build away from that because it's so proprietary and so enclosed that you can't really get out of that. So if you've built your whole intranet on something like .NET, then that might be a lot of work to reprogram that and get that out of there," says Digital Transitions' Thompson.

Microsoft's Exchange Server also has a Mac client that some may find sub-par, he added, but companies are looking to other solutions to handle that issue. Thompson also cites Microsoft's Great Plains accounting software as a problem source because "it's tied into Active Directory, [so] it's really hard to pull that data out."

E-mail clients won't pose much of a challenge, though. "The built-in mail application in OS X supports LDAP, POP and IMAP, and you can import address books without problems," says Larkin. He's seen organizations use Microsoft's Entourage personal information manager for calendaring, dubbing it "the Outlook version of Microsoft Office."

"There's always something coming from Apple; they certainly are getting involved in group calendar and wiki technology," says Thompson.

Staffing, or How I Learned to Be a Mac Specialist

Becoming a Mac specialist is a self-taught venture, say our contributors. Bringing that expertise to the enterprise means that the Mac specialist needs to be a Windows specialist as well, says Thompson.

"There can be difficulties in finding a Macintosh-savvy staff and bringing staff up to speed with the Macintosh platform, whether it's IT staff or developers," says Reichman. Many prospective employees have Mac experience, but they may be self taught. "They may be very good, but they haven't necessarily been involved ... in a larger organization or even a medium-sized organization," he says.

One way to find people is to seek out the online user community, says Larkin, a point with which Thompson and Reichman agree.

Forums such as MacOSXHints.com and organizations such as MacEnterprise.org are good places to start.

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