Apple continues to mostly ignore the enterprise, observers say

For consumers, the Macintosh's hip quotient is being hammered home with one of the largest and most memorable advertising campaigns in Apple Inc. history. But the enterprise isn't getting any of that attention.

Despite being roundly ignored, corporate America seems to be perking up its collective ears a bit to some of Apple's newer wares. The company's switch to x86 processors, though way too long in coming by some accounts, has opened doors to some enterprises that otherwise would have remained shut. Businesses that make the switch to Apple generally begin by using Mac desktops and laptops, but many ultimately graduate to the Xserve server platform.

When it comes to Apple's hardware and software, corporate customers report being happy campers indeed. But support and service are another story entirely.

"I definitely say Apple's enterprise support is lacking compared to someone like Sun, which is very good," said Andrew Oliver, director of operations at LiveWorld Inc., a provider of Web conferencing services for companies including Intel Corp., BEA Systems Inc., Campbell Soup Co. and eBay Inc. LiveWorld has an Apple data center deployment of about 120 Xserve dual-processor systems.

"Their baseline support is too weak and is frustrating," Oliver said. "Once we upgraded to their enterprise support program, that improved, but anytime you want to step out of the box, they almost want to wash their hands of you. They do need to sharpen up there."

That frustration with support, however, hasn't stopped LiveWorld from making a major commitment to building its infrastructure around Apple equipment during the past few years. A primarily Sun Microsystems Inc. and Solaris house, the company in 2003 found that it could get more capacity and performance with an Xserve server and Xserve RAID system at a lower cost than it was getting through its traditional network appliance vendor.

LiveWorld decided to test one Apple system and was so pleased with the performance that the company is now primarily a Apple house, with the vast majority of its servers, storage and PC deployments now Mac-based.

"Most of the people I talk to in the industry are a little surprised when they find out about our infrastructure," Oliver said. "Our servers are hosted in a commercial data center. Two years ago, we were the only Apples in there. Now, when I walk around the floor, I see at least a dozen other companies that are using Apple to some level. We are still a little oddball, but I think lots of other businesses are beginning to see value in Apple, although for most, taking the plunge to change their whole architecture is something they aren't going to do."

Rob Enderle, an analyst at The Enderle Group, says Apple's market share in the enterprise remains nearly nonexistent, with perhaps a 1% total penetration. Enderle said barriers include Apple's longstanding nemesis -- the Wintel platform -- the absence of a proven enterprise road map, bad memories of previous Apple efforts in the enterprise and the company's lack of commitment to the market will likely keep it a bit player in the enterprise. According to Enderle, Apple made a bit of an enterprise effort a decade ago but "abandoned" customers when there was insufficient progress in the market.

"The enterprise market is a tough market to penetrate," Enderle said. "It typically takes a good chunk of a decade to become a viable vendor, and building up an ecosystem can take a substantial amount of time. The enterprise tends to be a relatively low-margin business, where companies tend to buy in the mid- or bottom line of product offerings. Success in the enterprise is a pain in the butt, with long sales cycles, and long product cycles."

Charles Smulders, an analyst at Gartner Inc., said he has seen no real change in Apple's approach to the enterprise. "Apple is not pursuing a broad enterprise strategy," he said. "Most IT departments remain resistant to introducing Apple because of the cost to support an extra platform. However, overall Apple usage within enterprises may have risen slightly as part of the 'consumerization of IT' that has seen consumers, rather than the IT department, have increasing influence over driving technology adoption in the enterprise."

Apple seems indifferent to its success in the enterprise and allocates most of its resources in terms of advertising dollars, executives dedicated to the market and to its highly successful consumer efforts. The company sells, on average, more than 10 million iPods per quarter.

Not that it's doing badly in computers. For the most recent quarter ended in March 2007, Macs represented 56% of Apple's product revenue, and portables accounted for 59% of all Macs sold. Apple shipped over 1.5 million Macs in total, and over 10.5 million iPods during the quarter, representing 36% growth in Macs and 24% growth in iPods over the year-ago quarter.

Still, the company's on-again/off-again romance with corporate customers can also be illustrated by the following: Apple's public relations department provided some assistance for this article by pointing a writer to relevant information on the corporate Web site and by providing a customer contact. But the company declined to provide an executive for an interview and would not respond to e-mailed questions about its strategy for the enterprise market, citing commitments to other pressing projects.

The general disregard of the enterprise is a tough pill to swallow even for some of Apple's biggest supporters, but it's a fact of life they have learned to work around.

"I just don't know that it's ever been part of Apple's corporate DNA to be a business-addressing company," said Chip Pearson, partner for strategy and development at JAMF Software LLC, which makes a suite of products aimed at enabling Mac implementations in the enterprise. "Someone I know that works at Apple said it best: 'We're not going after the enterprise. The enterprise is coming after us.'"

Przemek Wozniak, IT manager at office furniture supplier Tayco, routinely auctions showroom furniture. A few years ago, he found a used Xserve system that the Toronto-based company could basically swap for some of its used furniture. Wozniak figured he had little to lose and started the system off with some minor tasks. He now has three Xserve platforms running most of the company's network applications. Tayco will consider Apple again for future server needs, but Wozniak is not ready to commit long term.

"Apple is one of the more difficult companies to work with, but we did find a very good consultant," Wozniak said. "We have two IBM servers as well, and to get support is so easy. The account rep will take care of anything for you. Support from Apple is really nonexistent."

Eric Seiden, a vice president at wholesale distributor and importer InterState Screw Corp., has been an Apple customer and advocate for more than a decade. But he values flexibility, cost and usability before brand loyalty. InterState has roughly 10 Macs, 10 PCs and 10 Unix AIX machines. Some applications, like United Parcel Service Inc.'s shipment software, run only in a Windows environment, and PCs are also used for accounting. Unix systems are used for inventory management. Seiden turns to Apple for every other user and application that he can.

"Apples don't crash," Seiden said. "There is so little support needed for Macs that I feel comfortable using them as much as possible."

For all his enthusiasm, however, Seiden uses IBM servers. "IBM service is legendary. They don't make excuses," he said. "At Apple, they have so few people in the company even directed at the enterprise. I'm really mystified. I don't understand the logic behind it when I think there is a growing number of people like me who would gladly consider Apple for their servers. But as an IT professional, I have a responsibility to my business to make sure if there is a problem, I can have quick, ready and easy answers."

New applications like SWsoft Inc.'s Parallels Desktop for Mac and Apple's Boot Camp have made it easier for businesses and institutions to make the switch to Mac desktops by allowing users to run in either a Mac or Windows environment.

LiveWorld uses Parallels and now has about 85% of its engineering team on Macs. The team can now easily test the capabilities of any browser on one platform instead of having to maintain a variety of systems, Oliver said.

"The move to Intel has really been a positive thing," he said. The PowerPC-based PowerBooks "were underpowered," Oliver said. But the Intel-based MacBooks have "corrected that well. It's a strong machine in performance, reliability and rugged ability. It stands up well."

Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., earlier this year became one of the first colleges in the country to make a campuswide switch from Windows-based PCs to Macs. Next month, the university plans to buy approximately 566 Macs, the second of three such annual purchases planned in a $1.4 million, three-year program, said Michael Salem, CIO at Wilkes.

Apple's move to Intel and the release of Boot Camp allow what Salem said he felt was superior price performance and reliability while enabling users to operate both Windows and Mac software.

Some of the university staffers and faculty members were apprehensive about the move, he said.

"As soon as they heard the word Apple, they immediately started worrying about their applications and how they'd learn to use it," Salem said. "We did a bit of explaining about what Apple is now and how it is really up to them to decide how they want to operate. Now they're finding Mac applications like GarageBand and getting real excited about how easy it is to create podcasts and multimedia presentations."

That undercurrent of Apple cool and aloofness remains as strong as the continuing Mac-versus-PC ads, and some businesses are finding they can loosen the collar enough to take advantage of Apple where possible.

"Is Apple taking a dig at the enterprise in those ads? Maybe a little," said JAMF's Pearson. "It's a hearts-and-minds campaign. It's a good start, and I'd like to see them follow that up with presentations from an enterprise sales team. In the heart of every one of those stodgy business guys, they yearn to be that young, sarcastic hipster."

Sidebar: Leopard more geared to nontechies

Mac OS Server Version 10.5, code-named Leopard, scheduled for release in October, will likely have a limited effect on corporate America's Apple acceptance level. Leopard is targeted specifically at small businesses and workgroups, allowing "even nontechnical users to set up and manage" the platform, according to the company.

That said, Leopard will include some options for IT professionals, including automatic configuration for file and printer sharing, as well as more options for e-mail, calendar, address book and backup.

Enderle said Leopard should also address some interoperability issues, making the Mac operating system able to more fully integrate with Windows.

Tayco's Wozniak said he believes an advantage of Leopard will be the integration of some new features such as an open-source calendar and Remote Authentication Dial-In User Service (RADIUS) authentication. RADIUS is intended to work in both local and roaming situations in, for example, Apple's AirPort wireless base station.

LiveWorld's Oliver said Leopard is expected to improve the ability to add clustering to mail servers.

"Most of these new features can be done now if you want to do it yourself, but with Leopard Apple is stepping up to a more robust operating system," Oliver said.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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