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Resistance is futile; IT must support Apple products

As more and more users bring Apple products such as Macs, iPhones and iPads to work, IT departments must learn how to best support these devices.

LAS VEGAS -- IT departments have little choice but to support the Apple iPhones, iPads and Macs that employees bring to work. The question is -- how can IT best support these devices?

The enterprise IT shops that continue to ignore the Apple devices that are seeping in to the enterprise do so at their own risk, said Michael Silver, vice president and research director for Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc.'s Client Computing Group at the Gartner Data Center Conference here this week.

"You will have to support Apple products. Resistance is futile," Silver told attendees in a session entitled Using Apple Products in the Enterprise.

When asked about their attitude toward Apple products in the enterprise, attendees were all over the map; 62% reported allowing limited use of Apple products, and 16% had fully embraced them. However, 12% prevented Apple products from joining their network, and 12% ignored them.

Of these choices, "only one is really not appropriate -- ignore." Instead, IT administrators should begin "monitoring" Apple products, he said.

"A lot of [organizations] are really living under a false sense of security," he said.

Why bother with Apple products?

The sticking point for many IT managers is the lack of clear benefits that Apple products bring to the table, which can make supporting them a tough pill to swallow for IT, Silver said.

"People talk about improved reliability, security, or making IT appear forward thinking," he said. "These are soft things that are hard to assign value to. From a research point of view, it's hard for us to put a finger on it and say, 'Yes, [Apple users] are more productive.'"

However, don't discount user satisfaction. Some companies report that supporting Apple products allows them to attract and retain the best people, a phenomenon that started on the West Coast, but is now happening in the East and middle of the country, especially with recent college grads.

The PC vs. Mac cost debate

Although it is unclear whether it costs more or less to support Macs vs. PCs, Mac hardware costs more upfront, but many of Silver's clients believe Macs are cheaper to manage.

Whether or not that's true depends on the kind of applications that users run, Silver said. In the old world, where about 80% of apps run locally, supporting Macs can be expensive, especially when vendors don't keep up with new OS releases.

However, today many more applications are OS-neutral, running in a browser or a virtual machine. In those cases, labor costs for supporting Macs offset the additional hardware costs.

"It's pretty close to a wash is what we're saying," Silver concluded.

IOS device management: Apple product diversity

Once IT decides to take the plunge, it has a lot of decisions to make about the level of support it is willing to provide for Apple iOS products.

A common question from enterprise IT managers is whether to allow iPhones or iPads. There's no right answer, Silver said, but he did recommend IT follow the principle of "managed diversity."

Enterprises should put all devices in to one of three buckets: platform devices, appliance devices or concierge support devices, he said.

  1. Platform devices: devices that the organization fully supports, e.g., an iPhone or a BlackBerry;
  2. Appliance devices: devices that IT will support in some limited capacity, such as attaching it to the network, or accessing email; and
  3. Concierge support devices: any remaining device brought in by upper echelon staff. IT provides a reasonable level of support, but with the understanding that the user or department is responsible for covering the cost of that support.

Beyond device types, Silver said IT managers will have to decide on a variety of issues, such as security and licensing -- especially any additional Microsoft Windows licenses that may be required.

Another challenge is application delivery -- ensuring end users have access to the applications they need from their devices. Not all enterprise applications are available as native Mac apps, but application isolation methods such as virtual desktop infrastructure and local virtual machines (e.g., VMware Fusion) all have usability and cost tradeoffs, he said.

The key point is to evaluate what applications users really need.

"Take a look at user population and understand what apps they use, and then make sure you can supply them with all their apps," he said.

Apple: Not your average IT vendor

Silver offered a final word of caution on working with Apple versus traditional vendors.

"There are a lot of things that Apple doesn't provide," he said, for example, a direct sale force, implementation services and product road maps. However, it does provide break fix services, some enterprise support and a few enterprise features.

The biggest difference is in expectations.

"They are a consumer company," Silver said. "They do a modicum of changes to products to make them enterprise-focused, but they are not going to adapt their products. You are more likely to adapt to them, rather than the other way around."

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