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The Fear Of Integrating Apple In A Microsoft-centric World

As the BYOD trend continues, IT departments face a number of challenges integrating Apple devices into a Wintel work environment, says Mark Williams

This year will see a dramatic rise in users wanting to bring their own devices into work. This trend will pose new challenges for IT managers as smartphones, tablets and laptops join a growing list of devices complete with software that employees require to be able to work in the office or on the move.

The fastest growing community of devices that are starting to enter the workplace are the products of Apple and its iOS and OSX operating systems.  The BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) trend often starts from the top as senior staff get an iPad or iPhone and insist that the new device be accessible to company applications and data, which in some cases, can pose security, compliance or compatibility issues.

Rise of Apple

Many internal IT departments that have traditionally built skills around Microsoft Windows on Intel hardware often struggle with new Apple devices. Simple things like patch management, integration with Active Directory or single sign-on tools require different processes for Apple devices and administrators often don’t have the skills. Some of the larger vendors are responding and the products like Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2012 now has support for Windows Phone to Symbian, Apple iOS, and Google Android-based units.

Although many clients use Apple Mac in a creative capacity, the last few years has seen more traditional enterprise customers switch. Some organisations exclusively use Apple devices as they believe they are more secure, reliable and less vulnerable to malware. Although the greatest volume of malware targets Microsoft platforms, it is a bit of a myth that the Apple platform is untouchable. There are viruses and security vulnerabilities that specifically target Apple devices as well as web based threats that can just as easily impact on Apple users as Windows.

All Apple devices should have the same anti-virus or web security equivalents as Windows equivalents. The security threat is growing in line with Apple’s increasing market share. It is also worth noting that the larger anti-virus vendors, such as ESET, do sell Apple versions as well as free offerings from trusted brands like avast and ClamXav. Users should be wary of antivirus products that don’t come from trusted vendors such as the “fake” antivirus products such as Mac Protector and Mac Guard and MacShield.

Need for training

As organisations start to use more Apple based portable consumer devices, there is often a desire to look at other enterprise products but this is where Apple has a somewhat chequered history. Although Apple’s last quarterly revenues of $46.3billion (£29.3bn) were amazing, the bulk of this is powered by the sale of 37 million iPhones and its other consumer devices and services like iTunes. Its business products such as the Xserve server and Xsan storage have been sidelined over the years.

Both Xserve and Xsan are still great products with an active user base especially around creative firms, but from an on-going development prospective, it has been down to third parties like Promise to add additional functionality and supporting storage hardware.

Apple’s server hardware portfolio has not been developed in recent years and key features like redundant components and rackable units make it less desirable for critical server applications. However, the biggest issue that businesses face is integrating Apple technology alongside Microsoft Windows.

In reality, users don’t necessarily need to invest in Apple based server or storage equipment to integrate with Apple, Microsoft and Linux environments. Often the issue is not the technology but simply fear of having to learn a new operating system which in most cases, is often easier then Microsoft based systems.

Training is much more widely available and the number of applications and tools that have support for Apple devices is growing to the point that there is rarely a situation where an Apple compatible equivalent does not exist to fill a particular role.

Apple users more happy?

Although a bit of a generalisation, Apple users tend to be more “happy” and often more technically aware. This starts at the typical Apple store that will spend time helping purchasers to get up to speed with the device. With Apple in full control of the underlying hardware and OS, technical experts often find it easier to resolve issues compared to the multi-vendor Wintel PC world.

Unfortunately, Apple stores typically don’t offer the after-care that most businesses require. Simple things like install and set-up are not available directly from Apple stores. For smaller firms that don’t have an internal IT resource, many will rely on third parties.

For more complex integration projects, it is always worth checking that any third party IT provider has proper Apple support accreditations such as membership of the Apple Consultants Network. This certification is only handed out to support firms that have completed training from Apple and maintain sufficient levels of on-going competency.  The accreditation also means that if devices need to be repaired or upgraded the warranties will be honoured by Apple if there is a hardware failure and the device needs to be returned.

BYOD and Apple’s popularity in the laptop space is a trend that is unlikely to slow down. Integration between traditional enterprise systems and Apple is not the painful issue that it once was and as the market grows in maturity, both users and IT departments will ultimately lose the fear.

Mark Williams is the managing director at Pensar