Why even IT pros are demanding Macs

A consistent platform, strong cloud support, and a great server all appeal to IT

The rise of the Mac in the enterprise is increasing because users are finding ever more ingenious ways to work with Apple's accommodating platform. A mid-2008 Yankee Group survey of 750 senior IT executives found nearly 80 percent have Macs onboard, up from 47 percent in 2006. Nearly a quarter of these have 30 or more Mac boxes. Usability features such as Safari browsing, iChat videoconferencing, FileVault encryption, Back To My Mac remote control, Spotlight search, and Time Machine backup were cited as primary user attractants.

You might think the Mac value proposition story has been told, but the reasons for Mac popularity are diverse and steadily increasing -- and not just with end-users.

[ Discover the ins and outs of managing Macs in your business with InfoWorld's expert guide. ]

Software engineering consultancy Okori Group pins Mac popularity on its consistency and versatility. Okori's CEO Brian Fox, a Unix developer (and, coincidentally, author of the open source Bash shell undergirding Mac OS X's command line interface), says, "Apple's two platforms -- server and desktop -- are homogeneous. The desktop I get on the server is the same one I get on the client. For servers, the Mac is a true crossover system: real Unix with all its tools and scripting, plus the built-in management GUI for less-sophisticated administrators. We use Mac servers to host video streams, and users are able to manage hosted services with a click of a mouse, while we developers use the heavy-duty command line tools we prefer."

It's long been known that engineers and developers prefer Macs. For small enterprises, though, the Mac's attraction may be as a superior launching pad for cloud-based applications. Guy Engineering CTO Alexander Guy explains: "We use Google Apps for e-mail, contact, and calendar collaboration, [the open source] rsync for local and cloud backups, and [Mac OS X's] iSync to sync notebooks and iPhones. The Mac is just way better at cloud interaction than Windows; we have zero pain points because we don't try to integrate with a Windows infrastructure."

At Guy Engineering, most management tasks are thus focused on the cloud, not desktops. Users manage their own boxes, he says, sharing between machines. "Updates are automatic from Apple, and viruses are not a factor if you follow reasonable security practices, such as never installing untrusted software. We've had no problems for more than a decade."

Enterprise users of Apple's Xserve server point to Apple's excellent hardware quality reputation and its versatility as a virtualization platform. Bill Earlywine, IT manager at Video Product Group, says, "We use a Mac server to manage both Windows and Mac users via Mac OS X SMB and Open Directory authentication infrastructure. Our primary enterprise controls are authentication and access control, rather than policy enforcement. Virtualization helps us homogenize management tasks. For instance, we have Windows Server supporting specific functions, running under Parallels on a Mac Xserve, and use Apple's server management suite for server monitoring and administration."

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