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Macs on the network: Time to panic?

Analysis: The introduction of Macintosh computers into corporate networks gives admins yet another concern to worry about

By John Brandon
September 14, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Editor's note: This article previously stated incorrectly that OS X required admins to use a command-line interface to invoke a firewall stealth mode. That action is actually available through the GUI. The incorrect paragraph has been removed.

They're coming. Gleaming all-in-ones, metallic slimline notebooks and hand-size "mini" machines.

For network admins, the Macintosh has always been the purview of advertising agencies, entertainment companies, educators and home computer users. Mac OS X is merely a minor support issue in a Microsoft-dominated organization.

Yet as the consumer market begins to meld with the corporate world even more, and employees expect to use their preferred gadget (and operating system) for work and home life, the Mac could make inroads at large corporations.

The facts reveal a coming resurgence. Apple sold 36% more Macs in the second quarter than the same quarter last year. The company has sold more than 1 million iPhones and 110 million iPods to date. There also just seems to be "something in the air" -- or at least the blogosphere -- suggesting a Mac resurgence. Blogs such as post about Apple constantly, and even IT analyst firms that have usually downplayed the Mac as "niche" are talking about the platform in the corporate world again.

"We expect that much of today's IT infrastructure is going to be turned upside down by the invasion of consumer technologies," said Andrew Jaquith, an analyst at Yankee Group Research Inc. in Boston. "Consumerization is going to make IT's job harder, and platforms like the Mac are going to become increasingly common, in many cases in spite of the wishes of management."

Minimal changes or maximum stress?

For the most part, connecting a Mac to a corporate LAN doesn't have a world-shattering effect on performance or support. According to William Green, director of networking at the University of Texas in Austin, the Mac has had a minimal impact on the school's infrastructure.
"All OSs behave differently; if you have a multivendor environment, you have to deal with the differences," said Green. "There have not been any special problems related to Macs."

Green did mention a few bugaboos, however, among his generally positive comments about the Mac. He said his group has seen more support issues related to the Cisco VPN for Mac than the version for Windows XP, although they have fewer support calls for the native VPN client for OS X.

"There have been problems with OS patches affecting wireless connectivity for a small portion of Mac laptops in the past -- specifically related to 802.1X," he said. "Those appear to have been corrected. We have found the Mac OS X client much easier for users to configure for wireless and 802.1X. It has been a benefit not having to deal with all the third-party drivers that come from the PC/XP world since this has caused a lot of problems for XP users during our 802.1X wireless rollout."

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