Apple in the Enterprise, Part 2: Uniting the Scientific Community
Dec 18, 2007 4:00 AM PT
Apple's seemingly benign approach to the enterprise market belies the strides it is making in terms of its technology becoming a more viable alternative in the enterprise market.
In contrast to the media-intensive promotional campaigns it uses for its consumer products -- the iPod, iPhone, Mac and iMac PCs -- Apple is steadily, though rather quietly, building up the Unix capabilities and Windows compatibility of its Mac OS X operating system, as well as the cost/performance ratios of its Xserve servers and Xserve RAID (redundant array of independent drives) and Xsan storage technology.
As Part 1 of this series discusses, Apple's approach tackles enterprise IT needs from both ends: Leopard, the latest version of its Mac OS X operating system, is built around an open source Unix core, which improves its attractiveness to high-powered end users, as well as in the data center, while the switch to Intel processors has led to better Windows compatibility, the key to success on the desktop. Apple is even loosening its aggressive defense of the proprietary use of its technology and how it can be deployed, making it easier for third parties to use, extend and resell it in the enterprise sector.
Content developers, media companies and educational institutions have been the mainstay of Apple's customer base of large organizations. The ease of use, reliability and performance of its operating systems and computing equipment, particularly when it comes to graphics and visualization capabilities, is also translating into success in the scientific community.
An example of this can be found in the Harvard Initiative in Innovative Computing (IIC).
By bringing together some of the world's leading scientists from a wide range of disciplines, the IIC is fostering something that was lacking -- their direct, peer-to-peer collaboration. In doing so, the center aims to further the development of leading edge scientific computing as it is applied to some of science's longstanding and emerging problems.
"What we really wanted was peer collaboration. The future of traditional disciplines of science -- life sciences, physical sciences and medicine -- depends on advances in computational science in the same way that we depended on instrumentation in the previous century. Science now depends on instrumentation and computation; therefore, people from both backgrounds should work together to solve these problems. Harvard IIC was the outgrowth of this," said Alyssa Goodman, director of IIC.
Such endeavors typically rely on Unix servers and desktop workstations to meet their IT needs. Nearly all the IIC's researchers have opted for Apple Macs as their desktops of choice, however. Systems engineers are also opting for Macs and OS X rather than Linux-based PCs as the Mac OS X Unix interface enables them to interact with other Unix hardware and software.
As in medical institutions such as the Hartford Hospital Stroke Center, the strength of Apple's 3-D imaging and visualization tools are a big plus for IIC researchers. The fortuitous meeting of an astronomer studying star formation and a computer scientist working on developing the 3-D Slicer -- a cutting edge open source medical imaging and visualization software -- led to their collaboration and the creation of the Astronomical Medicine Project. Initial results have given researchers new perspectives on star formation while work continues to produce multi-disciplinary solutions that can be gainfully used by astronomers, atmospheric scientists and geophysicists, as well as medical researchers.
Windows and Virtualization
Apple's success in making open source use of Unix in the core of the Mac OS X operating system is mirrored in its efforts to make its computing technology more compatible with another standard found in the mainstream corporate world -- Microsoft's Windows operating system.
Cracking the enterprise market entails mixing and matching with the diversity of computing a networking technology found in a large corporation's far-flung operations -- from large data centers to remote field offices and on through supply chains, distributors and sales agents.
It also entails keeping abreast of the latest enterprise IT trends, as well as building up strong business relationships with a supporting ecosystem of third-party developers and value-added resellers. SWsoft's development of virtualization tools for the Mac provides an illustration of both.
SWsoft's Parallels in 2006 was the first company to come out with a virtualization engine for desktop Macs. The company on Oct. 29 announced the release of a new beta version of its Parallels Desktop for Mac certified to work with Mac OS X Leopard that aims to deliver better performance and greater ease of use for users to run Windows and OS X simultaneously.
Some 750,000 users are now making use of Parallels Desktop for Mac to run Microsoft's Windows side by side with Apple's OS X, according to Ben Rudolph, Parallels' director of communications.
"We saw a tremendous opportunity, not just in terms of the Mac, but by bringing out a virtualization solution on the desktop that was very easy to use and offered seamless performance. ... It was a great opportunity for us to work with a strong community of users and take virtualization where it hadn't gone before," Rudolph told MacNewsWorld.
Playing Well With Others
When it comes to building up an ecosystem of third-party value added developers and resellers, Apple's been a good partner, according to Rudolph.
"We're in close contact with their engineering and development and sales and marketing teams, as well as the user community. I think they're doing a pretty good job with it," he said.
Working through Apple's sales, education and retail channel, Parallels has sold its virtualization engine into Fortune 100 companies as well as small to medium-sized business and educational institutions from K-12 to higher ed.
"Virtualization is definitely a boost to [Mac] uptake," Rudolph maintained.
Enabling organizations, as well as individuals, to run Mac OS X and Windows side by side removes a longstanding hurdle to Mac adoption, he said.
People who used Macs at home couldn't use them at the office, and this was typically because they needed to use only one or a few Windows applications, such as Internet Explorer and MS Outlook, Rudolph noted. With tools such as the Parallels Desktop for Mac, "users can have the best of all possible worlds -- the ability to run Mac OS X, Windows and Linux at the same time on one machine."
A Change in Tact
Having tackled Mac OS X virtualization on the desktop, Parallels is now turning its attention to the Xserve version of Leopard, a project that wouldn't be possible, at least without violating Apple's licensing and user agreements, had Apple's not recently eased its licensing restrictions.
Having done so, end users and value-added technology developers such as Parallels can "run multiple copies of Leopard on an Xserve server," Rudolph pointed out.
Although this doesn't cover other vendors' PCs -- the change doesn't allow Mac OS X virtualization on Dell computers, for example -- it's movement along the virtualization path and that makes it "a really viable enterprise solution," he added.
Making headway on the Unix and Windows fronts, as well as participating in the open source community, is indicative of Apple's increasing openness.
"I don't expect them to build out an enterprise sales force," but growing numbers of larger businesses are taking a close look at Apple's technology, according to JupiterResearch analyst Michael Gartenberg.
The shrinking of the price gap between Apple's computers and those of competitors and Apple's policy of not selling stripped down versions of its computers is raising Apple's profile in the enterprise sector, Gartenberg told MacNewsWorld.
The growing tendency for corporations to adopt consumer market products and services is an underlying factor to some extent, he opined, but "more importantly, it's harder and harder to say 'no.' ... You don't have to relegate [Mac users] to a niche environment."
"The 'uber' theme here comes down to supporting standards," Gartenberg maintained. "Whether it's Unix, TCP/IP, Windows or Intel chips, it makes it easier to use Apple technology. ... [Apple's] biggest challenge is to overcome the perception that their stuff is proprietary" and difficult in terms of compatibility with other widely used IT.
"It only bodes well for them in terms of business adoption," he concluded.