School shuns Apple servers for Windows

Microsoft networking support wins out over Apple

For a self-described "Mac person" working as a technology manager in a college preparatory school that had been a "Mac school" for as long as he could remember, it was a hard thing to have to face but he said it out loud: "Apple never took enterprise computing seriously," says a somewhat disillusioned Adam Gerson, co-director of technology at Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School in New York City.

But Gerson, who said he always loved the Mac, found a decade of keeping a network of Apple servers running was a trying experience, topped off by Apple discontinuing the rack-mountable hardware the school used. So Columbia Prep, where Apple Macintosh computers reign supreme in classrooms, computer labs and libraries, over the summer made a switch to Windows servers to be used in conjunction with about 450 Mac computers the school has. "It works, though we did require third-party software," says Gerson. "Everything works great."

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In fact, the network of Windows servers with Active Directory supporting Mac clients used at the school has shown better uptime and performance than the previous all-Apple network, says Gerson. The all-Apple network "crashed frequently," he adds. "I couldn't sleep well at night worrying about crashes."

In the migration over the summer, the school's systems administrators also virtualized the Windows servers on VMware software. Gerson said the Apple licensing had made the prospects for the school using server virtualization remote since Apple had required use of Mac hardware for it.

Migrating to Windows servers to support Mac clients took some effort. One of the main tasks was finding a way to set up authentication and access control for Mac users. Using the Centrify Suite for centrally controlling cross-platform systems, the school is centrally managing authentication and access control for the Mac-specific Group Policy, which eliminates the need to manually set preferences.

In addition, there were other considerations, such as having Windows servers support the Apple file protocol (AFP). "Macs can connect to other file protocols, but they're happiest with AFP," says Gerson. Columbia Prep found that GroupLogic's Extreme Z-IP product assisted in integrating Macs into the Windows-based network.

Because he attends user groups for technology managers for independent schools in the area, Gerson says he's aware of several other schools also weighing a switch away from Mac servers to some substitute, though not necessarily Microsoft Windows.

Apple's iPads haven't escaped Gerson's notice, as teachers are now asking for them, he says. The school is testing them but despite their appeal as tablets, the question is whether iPads are really going to work as enterprise-oriented mobile devices. Even doing volume-purchases of apps seems to be problematic, Gerson says. The iPhone and iPad are "great consumer devices," says Gerson, but he harbors doubts about how iPads can be managed easily in the enterprise at present.

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