Apple avoids the "e" word

Despite enterprise-worthy products, Apple wants no part of the enterprise

History hasn’t been kind to Apple’s enterprise ambitions. Blame it on the products — which emphasized personal productivity over corporate citizenship — or on the smug superiority of Apple users. But “Mac” and “enterprise” have seldom been uttered in the same sentence.

Unless you’re talking to our Chief Technologist and resident Mac fanatic Tom Yager, that is. Yager recently locked himself in his lab with the latest generation of Apple’s Intel-powered x86 boxes. His conclusion: These machines are business-class, even if they are unlikely to end up in many enterprises. “The OS and equipment are more than up to the task,” Yager says. “But Apple has never gotten traction in the enterprise, and they know it’s not going to happen, at least not right now.”

Through the years, the anti-Mac crowd has trotted out dozens of objections to Apple — citing everything from the high cost of its hardware to Steve Jobs’ black turtlenecks. For this week's story “An Apple for the Enterprise?” Yager was prepared to counter every one of those arguments. His work appears in a magazine and on a Web site, though — two venues that virtually scream out for a Top 10 list. So you’ll find just 10 objections neatly enumerated in Yager’s article, along with his impassioned yet objective demolition of each one — nothing about that turtleneck, though.

Interestingly, although its products are probably better suited to big business than ever before, Apple is studiously backing away from that position, practically campaigning against it. One of its latest taglines, in fact, is “No IT required.” According to Yager, Apple is probably just being realistic. “To sell into the enterprise market, you need resellers and consultants with tremendous expertise in the area,” he notes. Apple doesn’t have that, and training contractors in such a discipline can be cost-prohibitive.

Furthermore, Yager says, Intel-based Xserves will make fine entry-level servers but won’t go beyond that: “Because of the chip architecture, you’ll see far less than linear improvement per additional core than if they had stuck with Power PC.” On a practical level, Apple’s positioning may be a recognition that for rack servers above two sockets, Opteron will rule. “No one expects to see 7-foot racks filled with Apple anywhere, except maybe when Apple arranges to put them there for a photo op,” Yager says.

But Apple isn’t turning its back on business. “They’ve simply repositioned their product line for SMBs,” Yager says. Xserve and Xserve RAID are perfect fits for commercial buyers, who may be in large organizations, but are buying machines for a particular task. Though they buy a handful, not hundreds, of units at a time, “their needs are the same as those of enterprise buyers,” Yager adds.

And for those commercial customers, Apple has a compelling story. Even if no one’s willing to say the “e” word.