Will Apple's enterprise success spark a business cloud offering?

Apple has made huge inroads with client devices in the enterprise, so a business cloud may not be far behind

With little fanfare, Apple announced the demise of its Xserve line of 1U rack-mount servers back in January. You can't really blame it -- sales were tiny and Apple never really marketed Xserves at all. I miss them, though, because the last generation was a line of 1U servers done the Apple way with Apple fit and finish, including an optional inboard 128GB SSD that freed up all four hot-swap disk bays in the front. Nice.

But with the Xserve gone, it's good-bye enterprise and hello more iStuff for consumers, right? Not so fast.

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All that iStuff is revolutionizing business computing, with so many executives sporting iPads, iPhones, and iWhatevers these days. In many places they've broken the CrackBerry habit completely, and BES servers that used to be extremely busy are idling forlornly, still stubbornly proxying Web traffic to an equally forlorn BlackBerry Storm wielded by an executive who has grown to hate it.

Now more than ever, Macs are popping up all over the corporate landscape. I personally know of dozens of cases where users eschew their corporate desktop in favor of their personal MacBook Pro. Naturally, this can give IT security admins fits because they don't fit into the Windows XP/7 box, but when the tide is rising, you have to rise with it. In fact, in some large companies users can get a corporate-issue Mac as easily as they can get a Dell or HP. Somewhat surprisingly, this number includes IBM, Oracle, and Citrix Systems, or so I've been told.

Then there are companies developing private apps for iOS devices to do everything from data input to shop floor monitoring. Apple has backed into the enterprise on the client side -- and made more inroads than it ever could have with pallet upon pallet of Xserves.

It makes me wonder: Are all these business clients a herd of little Trojan horses? Could Apple be preparing a play to capitalize on the traction it's already enjoying? These days, that could easily come in the form of a set of cloud services, removing the need to ship any hardware.

Remember that Apple ordered 12 petabytes of storage from EMC a few weeks ago. Yes, that's been reported as back-line storage for an impending iTunes cloud play, but it could just as easily be used to provide services that compete with Google Apps or Microsoft Azure.

It's obvious that they're building out a massive cloud, and possible use might be services built around WebDAV, CalDAV, and CardDAV -- the protocols for file, calendar, and contacts sharing -- which are embedded in tons of iOS apps and also supported by Google. The protocols are native in all Mac OS X clients and of course in Mac OS X Server. Imagine how Apple could leverage these protocols for enterprise services that transcend desktop into mobile.

Apple's history has always been to target the user -- the person -- and not the organization. It has never seemed to care about corporate computing, because fitting its stellar (and expensive) desktops and laptops into the dominant Windows paradigm has always been tough, and Mac OS X Server hasn't exactly taken the IT world by storm.

But if all they have to do is spin up all that disk in the cloud and throw a few back-end apps up to seamlessly integrate with all the iOS devices and Mac OS X systems out there, why not?

This story, "Will Apple's enterprise success spark a business cloud offering?," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Paul Venezia's The Deep End blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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