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Making the Most of Apple in the Enterprise

By Anders Lofgren

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

After years of indifference towards the enterprise, Apple is expected to make corporate deployments of the company's products a priority in 2012 under new CEO Tim Cook. According to a recent New York Times article, the former COO is familiar with the needs of enterprise IT and much more willing to court large corporate customers than was Steve Jobs. This change, however, won't happen overnight, leaving it to IT administrators to find ways to integrate growing numbers of Apple devices in enterprise.

Not only are large businesses and institutions purchasing more Apple products, but their employees are increasingly using their own Apple devices at work. Personally owned Mac notebook computers, iPhones or iPads put greater onus on enterprise IT administrators to find ways to effectively integrate Apple devices into Windows-based environments-not an easy task without software designed with enterprise security, consumer expectations, and IT management in mind.

Employees who want to use their Macs, iPhones or iPads at work still face problems that arise from incompatibilities with Windows-based enterprise servers. Solving those issues isn't impossible, but it takes up valuable IT time and energy, especially when a problem occurs.

Challenges that arise when employees use Apple devices in the Enterprise can be baffling to IT staff as well as the users, who expect the devices to work as they do in consumer settings. For instance, many of these problems have been reported at MacWindows.com:

  • Files becoming "locked" for no reason.
  • Users waiting 20 minutes or longer to gain access to the centralized server from their Mac.
  • Files become corrupted when opened by Macs.
  • Inability to access, share and edit files on the enterprise servers from Apple devices, including iPhones, iPads, and Macs.
  • Files simply disappearing from the server altogether.

Software solutions to avoid these problems do exist. Finding and implementing the right ones will free up IT staff to focus on more critical issues, and to allow employees to use the devices of their choosing.

Here are key features enterprise IT should consider when considering a cross-platform integration solution:

  • Simple deployment on the enterprise servers:
    Ideally, a cross-platform solution shouldn't take more than a few hours to install on corporate servers. If it takes longer than that, or requires the involvement of your entire staff to make it work, then it's not enterprise-level software, and it's not worth the investment.
  • The same, uncompromised user experience:
    Whether they're working on a Mac or a PC, employees shouldn't notice any differences in the way their device works, only that it is easier to access, edit, print and share files after the solution's deployment.
  • Improvements upon Mac OS X's built-in file sharing:
    The SMB file-sharing client built into Mac OS X doesn't always work correctly with Windows networks and can result in time-wasting problems. Solutions include replacing the built-in SMB client with something else, or enabling the Windows infrastructure to use the Mac's Apple Filing Protocol (AFP). An ideal solution is one that doesn't impose Windows design choices and limitations (such as character limits on file names) onto the user experience when Apple devices interact with Windows network. Other file-sharing issues include problems with built-in support for Microsoft's Distribute File System (DFS) support in Lion. Also, none of the Mac OS X versions support indexed search against Windows servers. By working with both Apple and Microsoft operating systems, rather than against them, a solution that understands both Apple operating systems and Windows infrastructure requirements instantly resolves many common problems on a shared network.
  • The ability for IT to manage and, if necessary, enforce corporate security standards using Active Directory:
    Security is a top priority for the enterprise. Cross-platform integration solutions should come with the ability for IT administrators to use the same tool, Active Directory, to exert the same control over all employee devices, whether they are company-provisioned, employee-owned, Apple Mac OS X, iOS or Windows-based.
  • Fair pricing:
    This is a no-brainer. Pricing shouldn't be based on the size of your corporation, but rather, the number of employees using Apple devices (Macs, iPhones or iPads)-if there are only a few Mac or Apple device users accessing the server, a cross-platform integration solution will only be used to service their needs, and should be priced accordingly.
  • Dedicated customer support should any issues arise throughout the life of the deployment:
    If the solution your IT department is considering does not include enterprise-level support and maintenance throughout the life of the product, it's not enterprise-ready and it's not worth the investment. True enterprise software providers should have a dedicated support staff to work with your company's specific needs.

Apple's rise in the enterprise is being welcomed by many employees eager to use their iPhone, iPad or Mac at work, but it needn't be dreaded by enterprise IT. Affordable solutions exist that offer simple deployment, dedicated support and enterprise standards of security and maintenance. Knowing this empowers IT to choose the ideal solution for a smooth and seamless integration of Macs into their unique enterprise environment. Let's welcome in 2012 with an affirmation that employees who want to use a Mac or iPad at work really can get what they want. Keeping IT troubleshooting-free in the process makes it all the sweeter.

Anders Lofgren is Vice President of Product Management and Marketing for Arlington, VA-based GroupLogic, Inc., a company with a 20+ year history helping organizations incorporate Apple products into the enterprise.

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