Apple in the enterprise: The road forward

Now that the final page in the Steve Jobs chapter of Apple, Inc. has turned, will the company finally embrace the enterprise?
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

So, Apple.

Apple, Apple, Apple, Apple.

What's next?

The company has lost its iconic and arguably its spiritual leader. Tim Cook, supply chain savant and business process genius is now CEO.

Business as usual? Make tons of money with great consumer products? Keep crankin' out the Macs, iPhones and iPads? Start doing some heavy consumer cloud biz? Definitely.

But something's been bothering me. Like an itch I can't scratch. Like I can see something in the corner of my eye, an alternate universe that could have been. Potential unrealized.

Heck, it's been bothering me for over three years, since I joined ZDNet. Pre-Tech Broiler even.

A lot has happened with Apple in the three and a half years I wrote that piece. Some things have changed. Some things I was dead wrong about. Unfortunately, a lot of things have stayed the same.

This was my original argument in a nutshell:

Apple is very good at defining its image in sound bites and marketing to its core demographic, which has paid off for them throughout its entire history. Unfortunately and predictably, this message has fallen on the enterprise as smarmyness and arrogance.

If you want to put Steve Jobs and Apple into a box as far as CIOs and most real companies are concerned, Smarmyness and Arrogance about sums it up.

What can Apple do to improve its situation? The iPhone SDK and the corporate email connectivity is a good start, but it’s really a drop in the bucket if Apple really wants to become an enterprise vendor and have their operating system compete with the big boys.

Let's just set aside for the moment that I had absolutely no way to predict that the iPhone and iOS and the App Store would go gangbusters and Apple would make a gazillion dollars focusing on those technologies like a million petawatt Death Star laser pointed at Planet Waterloo and Planet Redmond.

I was wrong about the impact of iOS SDK. They made craploads of money in consumer and in the process launched a massive software ecosystem with the App Store. And the Mac has really started to gain some serious traction in some very interesting niche areas.

Heck, half the researchers at IBM I've met use Macs. Even most Open Source software developers I know love the thing.

Apple's stockholders are ecstatic. In the three and a half years I wrote that piece, the company has effectively perfected silicon alchemy.

Ok? Have we sufficiently acknowledged the stratospheric success of iOS and the Mac in the last three years? Now let's move on.

Let's talk about what Apple did not do effectively in the last three and a half years. For the most part, my argument and most of the points in my original article stand. While Apple has been very effective in the consumer space, they've made almost zero impact in the enterprise. Zero. Nada. Nothing.Not a blip.

Now, one could simply point to the value of Apple's stock and 50 billion+ dollars in cash and say "Perlow, you idiot, Apple doesn't need to be an enterprise company."

Okay, maybe Apple doesn't need to make enterprise hardware. I think we can all agree that the XServe and the enterprise storage for those boxes were total flops. Nobody except for the weirdest boutique IT shops wanted to use them. And thus Apple killed those products off for good reason.

In the same token, Mac OS X Server is not in any way to be considered an enterprise-class server OS, although it is a fine small business and workgroup server OS.

I own a Mac OS X Mini server. Love it to death. But I'm never gonna suggest you run a huge departmental file server with 1000 users on it. It's not designed for that.

So then what's left for Apple in the enterprise, if they don't have enterprise hardware and an enterprise-class server OS?

Well, there's actually an awful lot left in there. Let's Think Different, people.

Let's start with decision maker #1 at Apple. Tim Cook.

Tim Cook has all the trappings of an Apple executive. He does the dark shirt and jeans thing real well. But underneath that casual exterior lies the DNA of someone that unlike Steve Jobs, has a very good understanding of not only how to run an enterprise, but he also understands enterprise products and how to sell and distribute them.

You see, Tim Cook is an ex-IBMer and spent twelve years there as head of fulfillment of the company's PC business, which it eventually sold to Lenovo.

As I say of many folks who leave the company and go on to do other things -- you can take the man out of IBM, but you can't take the IBM out of the man. Once an IBMer, always an IBMer.

When you deal with reseller channels and fulfillment and distribution, one of the things that is extremely important is how you deal with your partners.

Now in Cook's case that has a lot to do with reseller partners and integrators. As well as companies that write software and bundle your products as solutions.

Right now, iOS and the Mac are very much consumer devices. Sure, you got the whole content creation niche with the Mac going on, but that's not really the bulk of the Mac business. iOS you have a few token vertical market apps, such as in point of sale.

But compared to the amount of consumery, game type stuff in the App Store, the enterprise apps for iOS and also the Mac just do not exist.

So Apple, do you really, really want to continue to cede this territory to Microsoft? Especially when they've for all practical purposes have thrown their existing legacy software development under the bus? Do they really want to miss another huge opportunity with such a massive and uncertain paradigm shift occurring at their largest competitor?

And do they really want someone like Microsoft or even Google to start courting the IBMs and the SAPs? HP? Or Salesforce.com?

Okay, I don't see Larry Page courting Larry Ellison for Oracle to start writing Android apps unless the companies pull off a Begin/Sadat, but you get the picture.

Plenty of executives carry iPhones and iPads. Plenty use Macs. But are they really integrated with their line of business applications? Sure, there's the regular productivity and messaging kind of stuff. But that's not really what I'm taking about here.

Let's talk about stuff like business analytics. Reporting systems. Data visualization. The holy grail that we like to call the "360 degree view of the enterprise."

Can we reallly truly say we can do that with an iPad or an iPhone today? Well, no. Sure, I've seen a couple of cute demos here and there, but nothing I would take seriously.

Frankly, I saw RIM starting to do that kind of stuff with the PlayBook and QNX at some of their developer conferences, but the platform really has no chance in hell of gaining any traction at this point. It would take divine intervention to fix that mess.

RIM has hired a new developer program lead -- Alec Saunders, who hails formerly from Microsoft. I think he's a smart guy, and maybe he can pull a rabbit out of a hat, but I want to see actions, not just words from Waterloo.

HP was starting to rattle some sabers along those lines about a year ago with WebOS, but our buddy Leo Apocalypse augured in on those plans for the TouchPad pretty good.

So that leaves Apple. And Tim Cook. You know how Steve Ballmer's mantra is Developers, Developers, Developers, Developers? Cook's should be Partners, Partners, Partners, Partners when it comes to iOS enterprise software.

And Mac in the enterprise?

I think Apple should concentrate on its strengths when it comes to the Mac. The desktop. But not in the way you think.

Sure, plenty of execs are going to walk around with MacBook Airs. The IT guys and software developers hacking their Linux systems are going to continue to tote their MacBook Pros.

But what about everyone else? If Microsoft has its wish, everyone will be using Windows 8. And Metro apps.

One key area of Windows 8 that seems to be largely ignored -- at least for the time being -- is VDI, or Virtual Desktop Infrastructure. But its fingerprints are all over Windows 8 Server with the RemoteFX technologies.

I don't know about you guys, but I think there's going to be a ton of resistance to using Windows 8's new UI in the enterprise. Heck, I think it might be downright hostile until there's a proven need and there's enough Metro apps to go around.

It sounds crazy, but if you think about it, Mac OS X is far more "Windows-Like" than Windows 8's Metro is. By virtue of how alien it feels to most of us technorati, I could see a lot of consumers migrating from Windows to Mac.

If you consider that Microsoft over its 30+ year history was able to penetrate the consumer space via the enterprise, via "trickle down", and you watch how Apple is making inroads into the enterprise with consumer stuff like the iPad, it's not unreasonable to think that something like the Mac could indeed "trickle up."

What if Apple partnered with a company like VMWare or Red Hat to provide OS X VDI to the enterprise and to vertical markets? Using Thin Cilents? Or maybe go out and buy an existing Mac virtualization player like Parallels and finally allow OS X to run on enterprise-class x86 hardware?

Now that would be Thinking Different. Big Time.

Partners, Partners, Partners, Partners.

Steve Jobs would have recoiled in terror at the thought of doing anything like that. But Tim Cook is not Steve Jobs.

Now that Steve Jobs has conquered the consumer market, should Tim Cook's mission be to bring IOS and Mac into the enterprise? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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.

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