Saur exploits both the Business Team and Solution Engineer channels, giving them high marks. "Granted, with Microsoft, our representative had access to actual source code to help us with really thorny issues. Apple doesn't work quite that way, but the overall effectiveness was similar."
One apparent deficiency in Apple's frontline support offerings is a lack of visibility: Many businesses just don't know about them. For example, when asked about AOSS, Santa Barbara, Calif., IT consultant Croby Loggins said he'd never heard of it. Yet Loggins provides direct support for small businesses using Apple servers, desktops, and mobile devices. "I very rarely call Apple or contact Apple directly. But I do have an excellent relationship with a local [non-Apple Store] Apple retailer for more challenging problems."
That locally owned store provides support similar to Apple's Business Team, but it lacks access to the Solution Engineer program. After learning how AOSS works, Loggins said, "For the smaller end, it seems a little expensive, but for medium-size businesses, I think it probably would make a lot of sense."
Inside Apple's developer programs
Business is about applications as much as user administration, and for some time Apple has owned the mobile app market. Both Apple and Microsoft have proprietary application development platforms: Objective-C with Xcode for iOS and OS X, and C# with Visual Studio for Windows and Windows Phone.
Apple has separate developer programs for its desktop and mobile platforms, both priced at $99 per year for a single-user account. If you want to developer your own iOS apps for internal corporate use, Apple has an enterprise developer program that lets you develop such apps, then distribute them without having to go through the public App Store.
Apple's Xcode interactive development environment (IDE) is a free download. By contrast, the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) starts at $699 per year for the OS-only subscription, but has minimal development tools. Microsoft's Visual Studio IDE costs an extra $699, and other developer packages cost as much as $13,299. Microsoft's development landscape is much broader, to be sure, covering database, policy management, and virtualization -- staples for back-office business applications.
For Apple's smaller front-office development space, the company's developer programs seem to work well for business. For example, "When Lion Server came out in 2011, I was really intrigued by its capability to push out and manage iOS applications," Saur says. He likes the ability to develop and deliver applications without going through Apple's App Store or a complex in-house app delivery infrastructure. "My philosophy in running this business is I really don't want to do IT if I can avoid it. I want to focus on core competencies."
Saur also exploits MSDN in support of his Active Directory infrastructure, and he finds that Microsoft in the back office and Apple in the front office dovetail nicely. MSDN addresses the more-complex Microsoft server infrastructure, Saur says. But he finds that, when combined with AOSS, Apple's developer programs provide everything he needs to reliably deliver and support mobile apps to a large user community.