Switching from Windows to Mac: The ROI case

Summary:Auto Warehousing Co. CIO Dale Frantz says his decision to go from a Windows shop to one powered by Apple is based on time and labor spent maintaining Windows.

Auto Warehousing Co. CIO Dale Frantz says his decision to go from a Windows shop to one powered by Apple is based on time and labor spent maintaining Windows.

A week ago, I noted that Auto Warehousing Co. was switching to the Mac platform. The move, first chronicled by Computerworld, left a few loose ends on Frantz's business case. The biggest loose end: I looked like Frantz was adding costs with an unclear return.

I emailed Frantz to get some more color on his decision. Without offering specific return targets he did tie up a the loose ends. Instead of interpreting his remarks and paraphrasing I thought it was best to let him tell it. Here's his reply to my question about his business case for switching to the Mac on the front end of his infrastructure.

Our proprietary application (written and maintained in-house) is not Vista compatible. That was our first and foremost problem that we needed to solve. We have a client/server solution, with the client written in PowerBuilder, and Microsoft SQL Server on the back-end. There are no plans to move away from Microsoft SQL Server, only to rewrite the client app in Java.

That having been said, Vista is coming, and it is unclear how long we will be able to delay its introduction into our facilities. Our company is growing, and Microsoft says they will stop selling XP in any flavor no later than Jan 31, 2008. In any event, at some point in the next 6-12 months we will be unable to buy Windows XP pre-installed on a box anymore. This meant that we needed to develop a migration strategy for our application (which we have decided to recode in Java, which we anticipate taking 18-24 months).

All of our revenue-generating operations occur in an automobile shop environment, and the computers that run our application in the shop do not require any additional software (no Office, etc.). At this point it is only those PC's (several hundred in the US/Canada) that we are looking at replacing with 17" iMacs. There is no plan today to migrate our offices (HR, Finance, etc.) to Mac's.

We did a study to analyze the actual cost of "Windows" maintenance and support. In part, we did this by asking our I/S Operations group to have their technicians log all support calls that were specifically "windows" related - windows crashed, locked up, driver errors, DLL failures, whatever. We also logged any additional time spent on any Windows maintenance. In other words, we tried to identify as best we could how many man-hours we were investing in simply the "care and feeding" of Windows to keep it up and running. When the analysis was complete, the results were unbelievable - simply unbelievable how much time, effort and money we were investing into the care and feeding of Windows on a PC. When you add that internal support cost into the ROI calculation for Macs the results were undeniable. There are those who would say that the Mac hardware is more expensive than a PC, especially when you add Parallels and a Windows XP OEM license, and if you stop there, that is true (but not a huge difference). However, when you throw the Windows support cost in to the matrix, the results fall drastically towards the Mac, based upon our estimates. Our proof of concept testing found that Windows running on a Mac in the Parallels virtual environment did not require the same degree of support as full-blown Windows PC's - much less, in fact.

As part of my due diligence I have visited 2 companies that have between 10,000 - 20,000 Macs on their network. In both cases the companies have blended networks, supporting both Mac's and Windows PC's. In both cases Mac XServes were the controlling architecture. The network management tools and support software that Apple provides allows each of these companies to have fewer than five I/S support personnel. I have more than 5 just to support our fleet of Windows PC's and related devices.

So, in summary, we found the true cost to support a single PC in the shop environment to greatly outweigh the minimal difference in hardware/software cost between a Mac and PC with Vista. It is our belief that we will achieve a significant savings with this move to Macs on the shop floor, as well as increase system reliability and user satisfaction.

Frantz added that his due diligence was the result of asking colleagues about their infrastructure. Few are actively documenting the results of a switch from Windows to the Mac so "industry networking is invaluable," says Frantz.

More reading:

Topics: Windows, Apple, Hardware

About

Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet as well as Editorial Director of ZDNet's sister site TechRepublic. He was most recently Executive Editor of News and Blogs at ZDNet. Prior to that he was executive news editor at eWeek and news editor at Baseline. He also served as the East Coast news editor and finance editor at CN... Full Bio

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