The Apple of the Enterprise’s Eye

Apple has found its best success in the consumer marketplace. But with a stable of enterprise-ready products, how can it penetrate this tough market?

Editorial Notice: All opinions are those of the author and not necessarily those of

My employer, a globe-spanning technology company with hundreds of thousands of employees, spent the last two weeks in fire-fighting mode, trying to stamp out traces of problems caused by the Sasser worm. Our networks were barely usable, internal servers were inoperable, and even as I write this some critical services are still on the blink.

I am currently participating in a project costing the company over $1 million (trust me, that’s not as impressive as that sounds), and with the short timeline that’s been imposed, the last two weeks’ outages have been a disaster; there’s now no way we’ll make deadline, and that’s going to cost the company money.

This isn’t the first time that those widely-publicized Windows security issues have bitten this company. When you think of both man-hours trying to fix the problem, and the combined loss of productivity in a company this size, the cost must be amazing. So the question must be asked: how can this company — indeed, any large corporation — rationally choose to support a Windows infrastructure?

The answer is complicated, and has as much to do with inertia, ignorance and comfort level as it does with dollars and cents.

But the issue got me thinking about Apple, and their enterprise offerings. With the introduction of the XServe, XServe RAID, XGrid and OS X Server, why hasn’t Apple penetrated the enterprise market?

That answer is complicated too, but I’m going to try to explain it. There might even be a solution.

Problem 1: Enterprise IT hates surprises
The big players in the enterprise IT market (Microsoft, Intel, IBM, etc.) have roadmaps that CIOs use to plan their infrastructure: when to upgrade, when to stay put, are decisions made up to a year in advance thanks to roadmaps. If you’re planning a budget, having that view of the future can determine whether or not you go with a particular vendor.

Sadly, Apple does not offer a roadmap for its product lines, either on the OS X Server front, or the hardware front.

Problem 2: Apple needs a dedicated enterprise sales force
According to Think Secret, Apple may already have one, but it’s clearly too small to be effective. These are the folks that beat the street, getting into the offices of CIOs to explain, in person, the benefits of the platform. They’re the folks doing the unsolicited proposals that win surprise business, giving away a few XServes to test internal company deployments, opening regional corporate testing centers where companies can freely test their solution before going all the way. There needs to be real investment in developing the sales tools necessary to build those large accounts.

According to the report, Apple’s enterprise sales force consists of 16 people. I’m sure they’re doing good work, but it clearly won’t be enough to make a real dent in the enterprise market.

Problem 3: Solutions, solutions, solutions
Enterprise computing is a tricky business. There are an infinite number of permutations of software and hardware that a company may be required to support, and the best players in this market — Microsoft, IBM, HP, heck, even Red Hat — have developed partnerships to ensure interoperability. Large corporations want to buy products from different companies, and they want those products to play well together. That means the companies have to play well together, even if they compete in different areas.

Apple does have a partnership with Oracle, but there are no plans to run, say, Novell on OS X. There are dozens of other applications that Apple should support on OS X Server, but won’t or can’t because of politics.

Problem 4: A strong channel
Apple does have an ISV program (Integrated System Vendors) who provide solutions to customers with specialized needs. But Apple only emphasizes the authorization of ISVs in the media, video and publishing industries, its traditional stronghold. They need ISVs out there putting together solutions that address key enterprise pain points: integrating mail and groupware functionality; rolling out large Open Directory deployments; developing hardware and applications for vertical markets like CRM and eCommerce… the list goes on.

Apple has been shrinking in on itself more and more over the past few years; spurning its channel and selling direct. That might work for the consumer market, but one company can’t be all things to all customers: an ISV can be Apple’s savior for reaching customers it otherwise couldn’t touch.

Is there a solution?
I think so. The Apple we know today is, at is core, a consumer technology company that happens to have some great enterprise products. Why not spin the enterprise business off to a new company, one that can give those large businesses the attention they deserve? Let’s look at the advantages.

Let’s call the company Apple Enterprise (AE). Their stable of products would include the OS X Server operating system, the XServe, XServe RAID, WebObjects, XGrid and XSAN. These products would continue to be developed as they have been, so the company would bring over the same engineers that currently work on them.

The key to making this work is to ensure there is a collaborative-yet-separate development process, particularly where OS X is concerned. While Apple is working on building new blockbuster features like Exposé into Client, AE should be focused on publicly updating Server with the latest open source enhancements, and adding net-new features on a roadmap that is available to customers. This roadmap would let enterprise customers know what’s coming, without jeapardizing the consumer splash that Steve Jobs loves so well.

AE should embrace the reality that great products alone are not enough to sway enterprise clients. They should make a massive investment in their sales force, and open technology centers around the world to assist companies in a migration to Apple solutions.

AE should embrace partnerships with leading technology vendors, like Novell, Oracle and others, to make sure their stuff works on Apple gear. A formal certification process would ease a lot of minds too.

Speaking of certification, an Apple Enterprise should also have a full-fledged AE Certified Professional program, to create a workforce of pros qualified to manage Apple solutions. Part of the problem for enterprise adoption of Apple technology is a lack of IT professionals who can support the platform. There are probably more RHCE’s (Red Hat Certified Professionals) out there than Apple pros, and that’s just scary.

And let’s not forget the channel. AE should help grow a channel that is devoted to the platform through all manner of incentives. When the sales force encounters a whacky setup at some potential customer’s site, they should be able to call in an ISV that can help solve it. There should be ISVs for every market: telecom, healthcare, government and more. An independent Apple Enterprise could devote the kind of manpower needed to manage this program without having to worry about the baggage that comes from a consumer-focused Apple company.

The leadership of this company would also be a key consideration. We couldn’t have someone like Steve Jobs leading AE; he’s too flamboyant, too much the showman for the enterprise. To be taken seriously, AE needs management that is hardened to the realities of enterprise, that can be a credible spokesperson. Preferably, it would be someone stolen from the likes of HP or IBM, companies who are already successful in enterprise. Feel free to suggest some candidates!

It’s a crazy idea, but Apple’s a crazy company, and with a set of good (nay, great) enterprise products, it needs to set up an infrastructure that allows it to make a good argument to large corporations: You’re losing millions of dollars because of your Windows infrastructure. Here’s a solution that’s been around for 20 years, and we’ll support you every step of the way in your transition.

Phrased right, that could be music to the ears of many CIOs. And it could also result in a reverse of Apple’s market share trend as well. You never know…


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