Just a Thought - Apple Enterprise, Please!

by - August 9th, 2004

My job title says I'm a systems analyst, but in reality, I'm just a point man; when something goes wrong I'm the man everyone points at to blame or to make it right. It's not as bad as it sounds; I get to play with a variety of systems, plan networks, and develop infrastructures, and see that it all works. It can be fun, and it definitely can keep you busy.

Back when I started this gig I primarily worked in UNIX, AIX to be exact. Back then we used a virtual file system call the Andrew File System (AFS), and people's desktops were X-Stations; dumb terminals that used X11 to provide the user an interface into the AIX servers. This setup was a systems administrator's dream: AFS let admins manage file systems with ease, the end user never knew, or cared where his data was in the system, to him it was just one big block memory. X-Stations gave end users access to then-powerful severs, each user with his own work space.

If an X-Station died for whatever reason, which happened rarely, the end user simply moved to another station; his files, his entire environment followed him where ever he logged in. There were no viruses or worms to worry about, updates to the OS happened once or twice a year, and uptime -- the time the servers were available for use by the end user -- was measured in months. It was not unheard of to have a system up and running for more than a year between reboots.

Today, I deal with a lot of Windows-based PCs and servers. There are some Linux boxes around, and the occasional Sun or HP server, but Windows is what's on everyone's desktop.

Nearly every morning when I come to work I must wait 10 minutes or more while my PC crunches through all of the security updates, virus scanner updates, patches, fixes, and only God and Bill Gates knows what else that was loaded on my PC during the night. I suppose the folks who manage the desktop updates at work could do these updates over night, but it makes too many people nervous not having some sort of check and balance, even if it only means hitting the enter key when asked if you wish to perform the updates.

The Windows 2000 servers that I manage are quirky devils; they sometimes forgets to update DNS files, which leads to odd happenings in the domain. I've come to recognize the strange goings-on and now know to restart the DNS service on the primary domain controller whenever things get weird.

Everyday I wade through a bit-barrel full of e-mail either generated from, or warning me about, a new virus or worm, which means that my PC will be in for another round of updates, patches, and so on. And as my PC gets patched and re-patched, it gets slower and slower: it now takes me 30-45 seconds to open Mozilla on a 2.6GHZ, 512MB XP PC, Word takes 20 to 30 seconds.

Then there are times when my PC will just take a coffee break; it'll just stop, I can't do anything for up to a minute, then everything will be fine. I've tried to figure out why these breaks occur; virus scanner says there are no viruses present, and nothing seems out of kilter, yet, at random intervals my PC will decide that it has had enough for a while, and it won't respond to keyboard or mouse input, or curses.

It's when my PC is being patched or on a break that I recall the good old days of AIX, AFS, and X-Stations, and when I wish, with every fiber of my being, that Apple would really take enterprise IT more seriously, and attack it like the Marines storming a beach.

Apple is in a very good position at the moment; it has done its homework and has produced some very interesting entry to mid-level IT servers and other products that have gotten many of the Old Guard in the IT world to sit up and take notice. They should, because if Apple can somehow bring its famed Innovation Engine to the IT world it could really upset things, I believe it would be for the better.

I don't think I'll get an argument from anyone when I say that Apple will never unseat the likes of Microsoft and Dell, and install itself as King of the Desktop, It just ain't gonna happen, at least not in a head-on fight. While Apple has great products and services, it is just too far behind in the race to catch up.

But Apple has something that no other company seems to possess, a combination of innovation, inspiration, and guts. It proved that combination could reinvent music distribution and how people listen to music with iTunes, iTunes Music Store, and the iPod. I believe that the now stagnate world of UNIX is ripe for Apple's kind of chutzpah. In fact, enterprise level IT needs an infusion of new ideas, because the current way of doing things just ain't hacking it, if you'll pardon the pun.

What can Apple bring to Enterprise IT that the Old Guard can't?

To be honest, I haven't a clue, but whatever it is it has to be something that promises to get IT managers out of the survival mode they are currently in, then deliver on that promise. Apple must deliver products that make the life of systems administrator easier, like AFS did for me. Apple Enterprise must offer not just fast servers with great user interfaces and great deals on licenses, though that does help; Apple must also offer complete solutions to IT problems, either through Apple branded products or through close cooperation with third party vendors.

And Apple must advertise.

Apple is doing a great job in getting the word out about its products through word of mouth, and anecdotally inspired articles, but that just won't cut it in the IT enterprise world. Apple must sear its name into the minds and hearts of every potential buyer: Put server ads in trade magazines, expand its presence at IT trade conferences and shows, and invest in some TV ads.

Enterprise IT needs a way to do things smarter, better, faster, and cheaper. Windows domains and PC desktops have had their run, it's time for something else. It's time for Apple in the enterprise.