Apple: It's time to Enterprise the App Store

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?

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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 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.

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29 comments
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  • RE: Apple: It's time to Enterprise the App Store

    I think it safe to say that Apple's recent discontinuation of it's XServe server hardware is a pretty good indication of its ambitions towards becoming a major enterprise server player.
    bitcrazed
    • RE: Apple: It's time to Enterprise the App Store

      @bitcrazed Read it again. Redhat doesn't make server hardware either. Neither does Microsoft.
      jperlow
      • RE: Apple: It's time to Enterprise the App Store

        @jperlow
        Neither Redhat nor Microsoft use to self their software only on their hardware. In fact neither sell hardware. So i agree with bitcrazed that Apple is not interested by enterprise, only by consumers who happen to work for enterprises. And this make a big difference.
        Btw, as an IT manager i am deeply annoyed by people trying to push my department to integrate iPhones and iPad to our environment. And as long as i have my word to say it will never happen.
        timiteh
      • RE: Apple: It's time to Enterprise the App Store

        @jperlow
        Microsoft and linux products have a long history of supporting many different kind of hardware configurations, from embeded to server station.

        Apple doenst have that kind of experience, their OS are build for one specific hardware configuration.Thats why Apple products look so well, they just have to focus on one thing.

        On entrpreprise level, things are differents, you need to have a platform who integrate easily with many different diffrents kind of hardware and technologies.

        Beside that, entreprise level OS must be able to fit in one of those roles:
        -LDAP server,
        -Virtualiation center,
        -Database server,
        -NAT server,
        -Web or Services Application server (IIS,NT services,Apache,etc..)
        -Communication server
        -...,
        Currently the Mac ISX server offer the LDAP and virtualization (with vmware), still lack all the others services.

        So apple still have a long road ahead before beeing considered a Entreprise level OS. But still have enough to be used in small compagnies
        SylvainT
      • RE: Apple: It's time to Enterprise the App Store

        @jperlow
        Jason, you are the man. This is spot on. Anyone with a brain in their head, no matter how long they've been in IT, should understand there's real enterprise potential behind MacOS X since it is UNIX-based. From what I understand, it actually has more UNIX in it than Linux does as it stands now. And I'm not putting Linux down. I'm using it right this very moment. But it's about time somebody wrote this piece.
        Galidari
  • Jason, your ideas are sound but ..

    What you are proposing is a LOT of work. Hard work in order to make this concept happen.

    Plus, the resources required to run the support infrastructure.

    I don't know. I agree that Tim Cook, if anyone could or wished to, is the man that could make Apple an enterprise player.

    But maybe Steve was right and Apple should just remain a consumer oriented business concern. Let other persons and "server platforms" worry about integrating Apple products into the enterprise / server ecosystem.

    Why reinvent the wheel? (Although granted, that wheel definitely has a few broken spokes in it.)
    kenosha77a
  • RE: Apple: It's time to Enterprise the App Store

    there is a reason most corporates use blackberry as opposed to iphone, whilst the general consensus is that apple is relatively unsecured I cant see any serious uptake of server technology happening..software or hardware
    s_jarmin
    • RE: Apple: It's time to Enterprise the App Store

      @s_jarmin
      If Apple chose to focus, do you really believe they don't have the resources to match whatever technology RIM has?
      anono
      • RE: Apple: It's time to Enterprise the App Store

        @anono I am sure they have the resources. But they (obviously) have not had the focus. Personally I think that is a good thing.
        s_jarmin
      • RE: Apple: It's time to Enterprise the App Store

        @anono
        That is an easy statement to make. Truth is it would take quite some time for them to produce a mature infrastructure that rim has, let alone the software to match.

        I've been around since the apple I (yeah the thing without a box or mouse that looked remarkably like a KIM I) and I have yet to see apple look at the enterprise seriously. At best they keep getting stuck in work group land.

        It would be a big stretch to bring them in line with a cooperate culture required to do enterprise thinking. I just isn't that kind of company.
        peterbcarter
  • RE: Apple: It's time to Enterprise the App Store

    If anyone can see the possibilities of an App Store ecosystem for the enterprise it is Tim Cook. This is certainly an untapped area that Apple should consider. If implemented right it could make inroads into the enterprise that Apple has neglected. From my experience, certain applications would be a perfect fit if implemented correctly. Certainly it would be nirvana for support to have a birds eye view of the infrastructure on an iPad and the controls to interact with the servers.
    ExCorpGuy
  • RE: Apple: It's time to Enterprise the App Store

    Tim Cook may be the new sheriff but he's also a very smart person and why in he!! would he mess with a winning formula? Besides, Apple is about hardware-software integration. Now you're proposing they team up with HP/IBM/Sun-Oracle for X-Serve? What about all the support headaches this kind of strategy may bring up?
    Furthermore, will they want to support something like an HP machine running OSX server with Oracle Database Enterprise Edition? That is one tangled web they'd get themselves into.
    MG537-23482538203179240121698430309828
    • Winning formula...

      @MG537

      <i>Tim Cook may be the new sheriff but he's also a very smart person and why in he!! would he mess with a winning formula?</i>

      In this business, winning formulas last only as long as it takes for the competition to reverse-engineer it. Apple has managed to get a lot of mileage out of the iPod/iPhone/iPad/iTunes ecosystem, however a lot of that has been because they have been successful at exploiting their "first mover" advantage, but even that is decreasing (where they've always enjoyed a very healthy lead in portable music players, their phone and tablet markets have been getting eaten up by the competition).

      <i>Besides, Apple is about hardware-software integration. Now you're proposing they team up with HP/IBM/Sun-Oracle for X-Serve? What about all the support headaches this kind of strategy may bring up?
      Furthermore, will they want to support something like an HP machine running OSX server with Oracle Database Enterprise Edition? That is one tangled web they'd get themselves into. </i>

      Well, OSX already supports Oracle, so the headache is really on the hardware side. I don't think Apple is as much worried about that as they used to be, since the OS now runs on the same hardware and, given that these systems can run Linux alright, supporting OS X would be possible as well.

      Where Apple's winning strategy and consumer products really come in is that Apple really makes their mark on being at the cutting edge and inventing new markets. This is competible with consumers who are always looking for new, innovative stuff, but not so much for enterprises that want tried-and-tested technology that "just works".
      daftkey
  • Predictable

    When I see certain headlines on the homepage that strike me as a platitude, I instantly think "Jason Perlow" and usually I'm right. This time included.

    -M
    betelgeuse68
  • HP, IBM, Oracle, etc., will not pay the 30% Apple tax

    that Apple requires for hosting any apps in their store.

    Bring it down to a level of, say, 5%, and perhaps then Apple can get some big IT companies on-board. But, still, why would an IBM or an Oracle or any other big IT company have anything hosted by Apple when they could set up their own app stores and not have anything to do with the competing resources of Apple?
    adornoe
  • The &quot;smartest man in the room&quot; would never suggest that,

    any large corporation, or any decent size corporation, suddenly take any of their operations and toss them at the mercy of a very unproven and even "missing in action" OS, that has never, ever, moved beyond a very peripherally low player in enterprise operations.

    Even if there were to be any takers, Apple would have to offer some very nice incentives for anyone to take a bite of the Apple, like "free" out of the gate services, and then, if the client deems the service worthwhile, after, say, 3 months, would the service become a "pay as you go" operation for the client.
    adornoe
  • In the same way Apple...

    ...outsources it's manufacturing to Asia and retains control of the smart part of the process (design) it's likely they'll outsource the nuts & bolts of IT infrastructure and retain control of the smart part of the process (services).

    These persistent comments about OSX as an enterprise server bemuse me. Apple's product strategy clearly shows SME server interest only and there is no better for the small businesses. If they were to entertain the Enterprise you can guarantee their target customers are not IT departments so any offering will fly in the face of incumbent thinking. Almost all current 'IT' activity bar software development will be devolved back to the business areas, back to the source of the decision-making.

    Apple would need to re-invent Enterprise IT to address it's critical short-comings i.e. that almost none of the decisions made in producing IT services & software are made by people qualified to do so. To successfully achieve this Apple only need to do three things;

    1) Create a business-oriented incarnation of iCloud with a "BusinessID" to compliment the employee's AppleID. Facebook's eventual downfall will occur because it fails to reflect our personal vs professional personas. This would be managed by extending their current profile mgt controls to allow Business Management or possibly Information Management, as opposed to IT, to control a currently user-centric system. Parental controls for business if you will. This would encompass OS (incl. App Store) & Cloud services access.

    2) Create a Cloud appliance to localise data, appease the paranoid and align the iCloud service with local IM & security policies.

    3) Create an iWork-Flow package. Possibly an incarnation of Filemaker Pro & iWork but shrink-wrapped to develop business-process-hugging workflow templates. Designed by the business, for the business.

    Of course, they may face some stiff resentment. Just as their consumer products don't require integrators, neither would their business products.
    McDaveH
    • You know what Enterprise needs - Bravo!

      @McDaveH

      I'm a little confused whether you think Apple should try to make a play for the enterprise or not.. perhaps I can't read English very well.. but I'm assuming you think they should. I like some of your ideas:

      <i>1) Create a business-oriented incarnation of iCloud with a "BusinessID" to compliment the employee's AppleID. This would be managed by extending their current profile mgt controls to allow Business Management or possibly Information Management, as opposed to IT, to control a currently user-centric system.</i>

      So from an Enterprise perspective, we should take the responsibility that we give the IT department and give it back to the Managers of the business? I'm assuming then because the IT department is "not qualified" to implement enterprise software, because they're too busy being the IT department which is completely disconnected from the rest of the business and just exists for the sake of implementing IT projects, correct? Good - just wanted to make sure.

      Now of course, the big question some of the more naive among us might ask is "aren't managers supposed to be running the business, not dealing with IT stuff?" But then, you already answered that. You would simply create a NEW department called "Information Management". Just to be clear, this isn't just a rebranded IT department - right? Because IT isn't charged with maintaining the "Information management" part of the business.

      And the job of "Information Management" is what? Well, to subscribe to pay-as-you-go email and file sharing services on iCloud, of course! Nevermind that iCloud might be completely inappropriate for the needs of the business - it's user-centric! And everyone knows that USERS know EXACTLY what the business needs, because EVERY user knows EVERY business requirement that could possibly exist in the entire enterprise!

      <i>2) Create a Cloud appliance to localise data, appease the paranoid and align the iCloud service with local IM & security policies.</i>

      You mean, like a file server and an Exchange Server? Except running Mac OS X, right? And as a bonus - it would be rock-solid because it wouldn't be doing anything really intensive like integrating with any document management, CRM, or ERP system, and it wouldn't be tied down with pesky workflows or forms-service. Security would be a breeze because there would be no single-sign-on or directory services component to worry about - one-password-per-service is where it's at!

      <i>3) Create an iWork-Flow package. Possibly an incarnation of Filemaker Pro & iWork but shrink-wrapped to develop business-process-hugging workflow templates. Designed by the business, for the business.</i>

      Filemaker Pro and iWork? PURE GENIUS! You mean no worries with concurrent user data access? No need for SQL indexing, redundancy, or even that pesky thing called a relational database to worry about? That WOULD be something. Definitely user-centric to have a multi-computer-shared flat-file database with no real application server to worry about, no record-locking, and a nice thick-client database application that can run on every person's computer. And best-yet, with no ERP or CRM integration, that means the workflows will be super-simple! No Purchase Orders to approve, no invoices to review, no dashboards to set up. Heck, you don't even have to have financial reports come out of the thing - completely user-centric.

      <i>Of course, they may face some stiff resentment. Just as their consumer products don't require integrators, neither would their business products. </i>

      I always wondered what a "systems integrator" did. Sounds expensive. I'm pretty sure Apple will have the silver bullet to rid the world of these leeches. After-all, how complicated can enterprise systems *REALLY* be, anyway?
      daftkey
  • This would be hard for Apple to do, but for different reasons..

    It is reasonable to think Apple would want a piece of the enterprise pie, but you have to remember that the biggest part of any business strategy is not in deciding what you will do, but deciding what you <i>won't</i> do. I think Apple has demonstrated their lukewarm ambitions for the enterprise pretty clearly.

    As others have pointed out, Apple's #1 strategy is the completely vertical solution - Hardware, OS, and possibly infrastructure on the network (Airport hardware, etc). They have proven that they don't know how to work with others' hardware (remember the clones of the 90's?) and there's very little evidence that they even understand server technology (the XServe and XServe RAID were always behind in terms of server technology of their time, and hadn't even gotten as far as supporting 2.5" drives).

    The other reason that you won't see an Apple enterprise App store is simply because (and you know this), completely pre-configured enterprise software is a disaster waiting to happen. The easiest way to think of how, say, a pre-configured CRM or ERP system would pan out would be to look at Quickbooks and try to apply that level of pre-configuration to your typical medium-sized ERP or CRM business. It would be far too limiting (again, that's what you make the big bucks for as a consultant, right?).

    Sure, you could *TRY* to make them more flexible, but then we'd have a different problem - even more widespread IT failures. A good example of this would be Sharepoint - a product that, by itself, is pretty easy to install and configure, but so much so that many companies implement it without a plan as to what it's supposed to do or how, and without appropriate staffing to implement it successfully.

    Apple sells commodity products, and commodity enterprise software (Exchange-type software, file servers, routers, etc) could probably work. But you can't apply that to more business-critical systems like CRM or ERP which require a VERY high-level of planning and configuration.

    Now where Apple is doing a VERY good job penetrating enterprise right now, is with the iPhone and the iPad, and some of your ideas are already being put into practise there. I recently attended a conference put on by a Microsoft partner, centered around a module for a Microsoft ERP system. Most people there were users or administrators of the ERP, and a very VERY large number of them were carrying around both iPhones and iPads. Most of these people weren't just taking notes and reading emails - many were actually administering their servers over the net using them (one of my clients who came along ran through an upgrade and deployment of software from his iPad, and was administering his entire server stack remotely).
    daftkey
  • Automation

    I have worked with a ton of enterprises, and I can't think of many who would even desire these types of functionality. A few marketing firms full of Macs; some music geeks; other creative types. If you look at the Fortune 1000, there are not all that many with a "need for Mac."

    We used to have a many-to-one humans-to-computer ratio, back in the day. You had a big mainframe, then maybe you had a mini, and then maybe a Novell Server each serving large communities of users. Over time, we got more one-to-one as we each got PC's and maybe interacted with a desktop, laptop, and a server or five. These days, with virtualization, that ratio is starting to pull waaaaay away in the other direction: One tablet user is supported by entire ecosystems of servers, both real and virtual.

    HP, BMC, Oracle, IBM, and others, are all focusing on automation to handle this. If you look at a product like HP's Operations Orchestration, you can see a "scripting language" that can touch thousands of disparate systems in complex ways. We used to look at perl as something which would unify the different services within a single machine to a particular purpose. Software today has to be more powerful: To achieve an impact on an "enterprise tablet user," shall we say, the complexity of the back-end is enormous. While Apple may be able to put a smiling face on a BSD-like server, virtualization and other sprawl are still only adding to the complexity. For them to provide data-center-wide or IT-org-wide solutions with value to enterprises will require a lot more than just a server OS and some GUI's.
    zaq.hack