Will this be the year of Apple in the enterprise?

In some ways, with the iPhone and iPad, it's already gotten a toehold in the workplace

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This was big news for those looking to use iPhones and iPads as business devices. But what made it unique was that the company didn't offer its own management server or console. Instead, it let third-party vendors provide scalable products that made use of the built-in features, often providing important options such as support for managing other smartphone and device platforms.

A few months after the release of iOS 4, Apple stunned longtime enterprise customers by canceling its Xserve line of 1U rack mount servers (the company had previously discontinued its Xserve RAID and shifted its Xsan file system for use on third-party hardware).

Last summer, when Apple released Lion Server, it became clear that the company was transitioning away from providing enterprise solutions to support its products. Although Lion Server includes the enterprise functionality of its predecessor, the management interface clearly shows that Apple sees it as a solution for the small- and midsize business (SMB) market, in combination with the Mac mini server.

At the same time, Lion became the first version of OS X to ship with built-in support for Microsoft's Distributed file system, a feature of Active Directory and Windows Server that allows administrators to make shared resources available to users based on a logical rather than physical network file structure. The company then added more enterprise-oriented features to iOS 5, which was released last fall.

These events illustrate a new enterprise strategy: Apple wants to make its products enterprise-ready and easy to integrate with existing systems out of the box. By and large, that integration is possible without the need for in-depth training, though Apple still provides a range of training classes and Mac-specific certifications.

Although jarring for customers that have had long-time investments in Apple's server platform, the approach actually makes sense and offers significant benefits. It streamlines the company's approach to business. It allows Apple to tailor OS X Server to the needs of the SMBs. It allows third parties to offer additional enterprise integration and management features that surpass what Apple could offer (often at a reduced cost and by tapping into existing enterprise technologies).

All in all, the approach is much more logical and gives IT a great deal of flexibility in how to approach Macs, iPhones and iPads in the workplace.

Apple is still hands-on in the enterprise

With its new approach, Apple isn't the central enterprise solution for its products; Active Directory and Exchange at a basic level -- or third-party client and mobile management suites at a higher level -- now fill that role. But that doesn't mean Apple has taken a hands-off approach to meeting enterprise needs. In some ways, it's even more involved than it used to be.

Virtually all third-party management solutions for Macs and iOS devices plug into enterprise capabilities that Apple has built into its desktop and mobile OSes. On iPhones and iPads, that includes a set of MDM capabilities, and on Macs, it means Apple's client management framework. That gives vendors a set of consistent capabilities and helps to ensure that their various solutions affect the Mac and iOS user experiences in the same way.

For the most part, vendors that offer Mac client management or iOS device management implement most of the capabilities that Apple gives them. The differentiation and value-adds that vendors make involve their ability to tap into other enterprise systems, their management interface and organizational tools, their monitoring and reporting capabilities, levels of automation, the ability to manage multiple platforms, and other add-on features. This allows companies working with the same set of options to offer a variety of tools that can be tailored to, or centered around, different needs.

Even with that differentiation, however, all Mac and iOS management solutions offer a consistent set of provisioning options, controls and restrictions. And since all Macs, iPhones, and iPads are made by Apple, there's a consistent user experience, even in managed environments, across all of the devices.

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