6-Month Mac Convert Moves Large Company From Wintel To Mac

Observer Charles A. Wagoner offers the tale of how he took his company from a fairly large Wintel network to the Mac. Better yet, when he began the process he had been a convert to the Mac platform for only 6 months.

Isnit it amazing, with all the frustration, which comes seemingly as a feature of Windows, just how much people are willing to put up with? Having worked for a Wintel-based PC company, I saw my fair share of this. The biggest problem was my bossi arrogant "time is money" philosophy, which in return sacrificed quality. All of his clients, due to not knowing any better, not only settled for the many technical problems, lost e-mails, lost files, and eventually, lost money, but would dismiss it as something that went hand-in-hand with using computers. That is very unfortunate. Almost as unfortunate as not knowing that it does not have to be this way. As a recent Mac-convert of about six months, I can say that I now know this to be true. I see it every day.

I recently found myself in the position to rebuild a very profitable construction companyis network. For about the last two years, this company has relied heavily on using computers as a tool to make their jobs easier. On the flip-side of this, most of the employees complained about just how much frustration came with turning their computers on in the morning. Nonetheless, this is quite a large construction company, and it would be foolish not to incorporate computers into the functionality of the company. There are times, however, when dumping a computer for a manual filing system and using snail-mail would be more profitable. It was a time like this that lead me to my current position as a Mac network administrator.

Those of you that are familiar with NT Server systems probably have experience with Exchange. For those of you who arenit as familiar, Exchange is a server that keeps information in Outlook stored on the server side, so it can be accessed over the network instead of keeping it on the clientis desktop. If there is a problem with the client, the important information remains intact on the server. It is also convenient for accessing information at other terminals than your own when the occasion presents itself. People use it to share their Outlook calendars and contacts for other users on the network, with the right permissions, to access as well. For the even bolder network admin, it can be useful for people who want to access their Outlook information over the internet from their home system. Well, as we all know, servers crap-out sometimes. In this case, it was the Exchange. It wouldnit be so bad if the company as a whole didnit use it to manage things like contacts, schedules, and important e-mails from where their main project bids came. When Exchange went, money went. Due to some previous experience with the company in consulting with them on Palm Pilot solutions, the president brought me on board to fix their problem and offer a much better solution. I guess it works out nicely because, if it wasnit for everyone in the company having a Palm, their contacts and schedules would be history.

At the time, I was a six-month Mac-convert and was learning more and more every day. The solution I offered was a platform switch. This didnit go over well at first, until I recorded a lot of testimonies from several employees who were using the current systems. Many people said that they hated coming in every morning and having to try and get work done on slow, buggy, and irritating computers. A lot of other people expressed that theyive spent more time inputting work on the current systems than they did when the company filed everything on paper. The thing that single-handedly convinced the board to spend the money necessary for the switch, however, was the drafting/CAD team. Thank goodness for those guys. They had been using Macs forever as their design platform and there was not a single complaint to come out of that department. Add to that the fact that all the important software that the company used, such as MS Office, was already supported under the Mac platform, and I was eventually able to convince the board to make the switch.

The switch was simple. First I got the two servers in. They are both G4/533 dual CPU systems with 1 gig of RAM. They scream! The first one is currently using AppleShare IP to manage users/groups under the domain, it acts as a file server, a proxy web server, and even a print server. Let me just say that I absolutely love how simple ASIP is to administer. It makes me wonder why I ever spent so much time putting up with NT Server, and all that it doesnit do right, for so long. ASIP is simple, powerful, and even makes network administration... dare I say... FUN!

The second server is acting as a test server right now. I am about to install OS X on it to try some things out. Iim sure I will eventually be switching the server side over to OS X completely, as soon as Iim comfortable with it and can make the transition as painless as possible. This system will eventually become the mail server. The current exchange server is a Wintel box, which I swear is only held together by post-it notes and bubble gum. As soon as I can migrate the Exchange information to AppleShare IP, or if Exchange functions are possible under OS X Server, which I havenit played with yet, I can throw the Wintel box out. I pray that day comes quickly.

I also have two more servers on the way. Thank goodness some companies still have them in stock after being discontinued by Apple for the new line of Quicksilver systems. One will be used fully as a file server, while the other one will be the web server, for when we start web development. To sum up the server side, I have never had more fun administering a network. ASIP makes running a network as simple as it should be without sacrificing performance. Being able to control network functions my iBook, through remote-administration, is fun too. Heck, I can even add a new user from my web browser! Not too shabby.

On the client side, weire using an assortment of systems. The four company executives are using G4 Cubes as their desktops with 15" Studio Displays. I had to make orders from two different companies, but I got some, and the execs feel like their systems compliment their granite desks and leather thrones... er... chairs much nicer than their old beige paperweights. The main office workers and secretaries use iMac/600 systems. The special projects team uses G4/533 systems to get their work done. The six field foremen are using some refurbished PowerBook Pismo notebooks. As for the drafting/CAD guys, where computing really matters, they are happy with their dual G4/533 systems, loaded with RAM, and using dual 21" monitors (we couldnit fit the Cinema Displays I wanted into the budget). Our budget was not the largest, so spending extra time tracking down the previous series Power Macs was necessary, but worth every penny. OS X will not be seen on the client side for a while. Itis been hard enough making the switch from Windows to MacOS that switching to OS X will be far too much work. Plus, Office v.X isnit out for OS X yet, so it would cause more problems than itis worth for me right now.

All in all, being fairly new to the Mac side and being able to set up a fairly large network is remarkable. I am the type of person that loves figuring things out from experience, so this has been very fun and exciting for me. Anyone with basic a knowledge of networking and user/group administration can easily set up a network and manage it, really without any large difficulties. Those of you that love computers, but donit know a whole lot about networking, I encourage you learn as much as you can and experiment.

I love this platform and the awesome community of users behind it! Iim glad I made the switch. It has made my work life as a network consultant a lot more enjoyable.