Mac Attack! An enterprise PC shop switches to Apple

Just down the road from Redmond, an enterprise Microsoft shop is switching to Apple.

This is the first in a series of articles as Computerworld follows AWC's transition to Apple over the course of a year. The second article is "Mac switch revisited: An enterprise PC shop's move to Apple isn't as easy as expected."

It's little things like the small silver Apple logo on CIO Dale Frantz's crisp white shirt that signal the sea change in the works at Auto Warehousing Co.Over the next 60 days, AWC will begin systematically pulling the plug on all Windows-based PCs in its cavernous auto processing shop and power up Macs to execute virtually all of its revenue-generating operations. The move comes on the heels of a quiet wholesale replacement of Windows-based servers for data storage and Web operations, which are now running on Apple Inc.'s Xserve RAID machines.

"This is not a vengeance case," Frantz says, referring to his 2006 tangle with Microsoft over threatening letters from the vendor that made false accusations about unlicensed software.

Instead, AWC's new strategic enterprise technology plan is the direct result of proof-of-concept testing that indicates that the company can cut costs, increase system reliability and security, and provide expanded IT support services by porting a major portion of its IT infrastructure to Apple. Extricating itself from its exclusive dependence on Microsoft is simply the cherry on top.

For Apple, which declined to comment for this story, the move represents a feather in its enterprise computing cap. It also gives the vendor a toe in the door of the Microsoft-heavy automotive industry. AWC is the largest full-service auto processing company in North America, with 23 sites across the U.S. and Canada.

"As a mainstream, big platform, we haven't seen a lot [of Apple] in automotive," says Gartner Inc. analyst Michael Silver. "Apple is still very niche-y. Its niches are in the media creation and the scientific communities."

Auto Warehousing Co.

Business: Largest full-service auto processing company in North America, with 23 sites in the U.S. and Canada.Headquarters: Tacoma, Wash.Services: Installation of new car accessories, such as alarms, air conditioning and luggage racks; preparation and loading of vehicles for rail and truck transport; body shop repair; dealer delivery; warehousing; logistics; export/import.Volume: 5.5 million cars a year.

Key customers: Hyundai, Kia, Mazda, Ford, Isuzu, Honda, Mitsubishi, GM, DaimlerChrysler

AWC's plan, to be announced at a July 29 managers meeting, calls for the retention of some Microsoft technology. AWC's main client/server software, VIPS (Vehicle Inventory Processing System), will continue to run on Microsoft SQL Server on the back end. "The SQL server runs well; it's a solid product. There's no business case to change that," Frantz says. But function by function, AWC will rewrite all VIPS client software in Java 6.0 or higher so it can run at the front end on Apple Macs. VIPS currently runs client software on Windows XP, which AWC will not upgrade to the newer Vista operating system.

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