About Apple Business Essentials, I have questions

Apple made a big splash this month unveiling Business Essentials for SMBs. While the service doesn’t arrive until next year, there are a lot of questions IT admins should focus on now before considering it.

Apple Business Essentials

Apple’s newly announced Business Essentials program seems as if it could be a versatile and useful tool for small and midsized businesses (SMBs). It’s easy to see that the interface is derived from Apple Business Manager, the cloud service for larger enterprise IT shops. (The latter is often used in concert with one of the enterprise mobility management (EMM) or unified endpoint management (UEM) providers who tap into Apple’s mobile device management platform (MDM).)

Apple Business Essentials is available now in beta and provides tools including iCloud+ for Work, AppleCare, 24/7 Apple support, device and application management, and automated setup using Collections and Smart Groups. The service will be available in the US initially, with prices ranging from $2.99 a month per user to $12.99 a month per user depending on number of devices and storage needs.

While Apple has touted the service as practically a panacea for smaller firms, the company’s announcement leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Here’s what businesses need answered before they hop on board with the service when it arrives in early 2022.

What’s the real-world scalability? I can’t see this scaling well beyond 50 or so people, and certainly not at all up to 500. Perhaps the 500-user figure Apple touts is the typical dividing line between SMBs and larger enterprises. Maybe there will be automation technologies that make scaling easier. But however the service is designed to scale, scaling up in the real world may be quite different, as is often the case with new technology.

Presuming it is scalable to 500 users, what happens when you reach employee 501? Are you forced to migrate to something else? Can that user simply not log-in? Are you allowed a temporary or permanent pass? Is that limit purely theoretical and not a hard-and-fast limitation?

If it is a hard rule and IT needs to migrate to another service, how difficult will that be? Even if it’s a soft rule, some companies will outgrow the tool if they need more capabilities than Business Essentials offers. What are the migration/transition processes when a company decides that it needs something more? If everything is stored in iCloud, how do you migrate that data to OneDrive, or Workspace, or Dropbox?

Are new iCloud collaboration features coming? If iCloud is going to be the default storage system, this could present its own problems, especially if the default relies on Apple’s iWork apps. Simply using iCloud and iWork isn’t scalable beyond a dozen or so people. It’s not even in the same universe as what Microsoft and Google offer.

What happens to multi-platform organizations? Windows PCs and Chromebooks won’t authenticate against managed Apple IDs — can this federate to Azure AD or Workspace or Okta or any other identity provider? Apple Business Manager can, but it’s not an easy process to setup. On-premise AD might be a realistic option, but even that might beyond the scope of the simplicity Apple claims.

What tier or support is included? Is it the standard AppleCare or is there enterprise IT support? Are there any SLAs for support? Do you have access to Apple business engineers when needed?

What training is available? If it’s like the most recent iterations of Apple’s certifications for technicians or helpdesk staff, there will probably be network and sysadmin issues that won’t be covered, as they tend to be more focused on troubleshooting and repairs. Business Essentials, basd on what we know so far, may not address some of the challenges of a network’s environment.

What’s the point of the 1 device/user tier? Most knowledge workers will need at least an iPhone and a Mac, so this just seems like a way of saying, “Yes, we have a cheaper option than other MDM providers.” Or it could mean that Apple expects some businesses to be multi-platform and that users will have a PC or Chromebook as their main computer instead of a Mac. If that’s the case, then we’re back to the questions above about multi-platform concerns.

Is there a reason for an organization with multi-platform MDM already configured to even contemplate Apple’s offering? Apple has said that MDM and Business Essentials can coexist, but is that worth the cost if you’re already set up? Is there something special or is the point for companies without MDM to use Business Essentials as a stepping-stone to an MDM environment?

How does this stack up to other players, both all-Apple ones like Jamf and Kandji and broader options such as Microsoft and VMware? How does an organization assess the value of what Apple offers and whether it’s worth it compared to rivals?

Without answers to at least some, if not most, of these questions, it’s hard to define both the target customers and the value proposition that Business Essentials will offer.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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