Apple: It's time to Enterprise the App Store

Summary:Linux and Windows both have their respective advantages and disadvantages for large and small businesses. But what if Mac OS X Server really became an enterprise-class OS?

There's nothing quite like a bit of healthy dissent among the ZDNet ranks to get the juices flowing. It's even more amusing when you know that the opponents are both right and wrong at the same time, and you're just aching for each of them to pull the Bat'leths and the Lirpas out. Zeees Kombat.... is to zee death.

Seriously. When Gewirtz and SJVN go at it, it's time to make a bag of popcorn and watch the fireworks. NERD FIGHT!

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Me, I prefer to armchair quarterback. I dissect. I analyze. I find the missing pieces and look for the gaps. I'm convinced that I am the smartest guy in the room, and I refuse to own any Sci-Fi reproduction weaponry except for the ones my wife buys me, like my Darth Vader M&M dispensing lightsaber fan.

I understand where both Gewirtz and SJVN are coming from because I have lived on both sides of the fence. I've been a small business owner, and have had to deal with the nuances of maintaining my own Linux back-end infrastructure using Open Source software components.

At the same time, I've lived in corporate IT and understand the nightmares of dealing with Windows Server sprawl.

What do I do now? I right-size and architect data center infrastructure to consolidate Linux, Windows, UNIX and even mainframe technology.

I can certainly say this -- Linux and Windows both have their unique set of management problems and need trained people in order to maintain any infrastructure of any sufficient complexity and or size.

Enterprise Linux implementations such as RHEL need full IT life-cycle support by using patch management and provisioning products such as Red Hat Satellite Server from the very beginning.

Deviate from standard, fully supported packages than what is supported in the distribution itself or use anything other than 3rd-party products endorsed or certified to work by the distro vendor and you really are on your own.

Gewirtz isn't kidding about having people on staff that know the secret handshakes and knowing where the bodies are buried when it comes to supporting Linux. That's how I make my living. Part of that is understanding what 3rd-party Open Source piece of spaghetti code breaks what and what affinities break under certain package dependency conditions and so on and so forth.

When Linux servers run well and are maintained and configured properly, they perform like one of Scotty's warp engines. When they don't, they might as well be Denebian garbage scows.

At the same time, when Windows infrastructure gets very large, and grows organically without any sense of planning, it can also be a mess to manage and untangle. Like a space station infested with Tribbles.

It's no wonder when IT managers do the financial modelling they throw their hands up and say, "Help me Jason! Strategically Outsource Me! You're my only hope!"

Now, I'm not saying strategic outsourcing is for everyone. For some companies it makes sense and for others it doesn't. Certainly, for really big companies, it makes more and more sense to just cut a check to a big IT services vendor and say "Give me a Service Level Agreement to my specifications and I never want to see these horrible things ever again."

But what about the small and medium sized businesses? The Gewirtzes? Can they still outsource their stuff?

Well, it really depends on the sense of control and the modifications they need. Do they need off the shelf stuff or highly customized implementations with legacy code that needs to be migrated?

If it's the former, then things like Amazon Web Services and EC2, Microsoft Azure/Office 365 and IBM's Development and Test Cloud make perfect sense, but some assembly is still required.

If it's the second, well, then you are going to need a lot more technical expertise even if the provisioning is handed to you on a sliver platter with any of these Cloud offerings. Doesn't matter if it's Linux or Windows.

So... as Master Yoda once said... is there another?

Well, not yet. But there could be.

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In a recent article I talked a bit about how Apple under the reign of Tim Cook could finally take some steps to embrace enterprise customers.

I spoke about the importance of enterprise developer partners in their ecosystem and the kind of things that Apple could do to gain increasing corporate footprint, such as to better enable iOS and the Mac for enterprise-integrated applications and infrastructure.

What if... and this is a big if... Apple could apply the same cloud-based, one-click app install technology they have with the App Store on iOS and the Mac and apply it to enterprise operating systems? Specifically, make OS X Server a real enterprise OS, instead of the half-baked attempt they made with their aborted XServes and finally relegating it to toy servers using Mac Minis?

Look, we all know that Mac OS X has actual enterprise DNA. It's a UNIX-based OS with sophisticated object-oriented technology in it. But there would be a significant level of effort needed in order to make it comparable with say a RHEL 6.2 or Windows Server 2008 R2 for real transactional and multi-tier systems architectures.

Just ask Apple -- their own iCloud data center doesn't run on Macs.

That's where the partner thing comes into play.

The first step would be working with say... the IBMs, the HPs and the Oracles of the world to make Mac OS X Server run on enterprise-class hardware. Make it run finally on all the industry standard hypervisors and allow it to be able to talk to real enterprise storage and use real enterprise-class file systems. Give it clustering.

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I know, I know, Steve Wouldn't Want That and He Thinks Nobody Else Wants That.

I got news for you, Steve is gone.

There's a new sheriff in town and he's a freaking business process genius that actually understands enterprise needs.

Once Mac OS X Server runs on real servers the next step is obvious. Create an App Store for Enterprises.

Line up all the IBMs, the SAPs, the Oracles, the Salesforce.com(s). Everyone who makes proprietary, Shared Source or commercially-supported Open Source stuff, and allow them to submit their App to the store.

Sure, they'll have to go through a qualifications process, and the cycle will take wee bit longer than approving say, Angry Birds or Plants versus Zombies for iOS 5. But the process would be very similar to what iOS and Mac App Stores have today.

What I envision from the end-user or IT perspective is a server management console that could be controlled from an iPad, an iPhone, a Mac, or even the web, where you point and click on an enterprise software package in this theoretical Enterprise App Store and any "extras" such as pre-rolled CMS or CRM systems and viola, it just works.

The Server management console would keep track of all your Mac servers in your enterprise, as well as all your entitlements and the apps and software bundles installed on them.

The supporting infrastructure could be partner-hosted or hosted in your own datacenter, but it would make initial app provisioning so easy that even your ten year old could do it.

And customization? There'd be an entire ecosystem of certified Enterprise App Store Service Providers/Integrators that could hook in and submit custom packages for you to auto-magically install on whatever box you needed.

And then whether you're a David Gewirtz with a one-man shop or an IT director with 400 systems with business-critical apps to run, you can get on with the running of your business instead of tearing your head out.

Will Apple do it? I don't know, but I think the idea is sound. I do know that it really does have to get easier, because not everyone can actually afford to drag me and an army of SMEs in to clean up their mess.

Disclaimer: My Full-Time Employer is IBM. I write as a freelancer for ZDNet. The postings and opinions on this blog are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Topics: Linux, Apple, Cloud, Open Source, Windows

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet is a technologist with over two decades of experience with integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer... Full Bio

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