Gartner: Apple Macs invading the Windows PC-dominated enterprise

Upper echelons of business demanding Apple Macs, and saying 'no' could be 'a career-ending decision'

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Look out, information technology managers, Apple Mac computers are invading the enterprise, and though you may have been able to slam the door on them in the past, the era of "no Macs need apply" is coming to an end in the Windows PC-dominated workaday world.

That was the spirit of Gartner analyst Michael Silver's talk at the Gartner conference here, as he shared the consultancy's outlook on what exactly is going on in the enterprise desktop.

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The enterprise is still a Windows PC-dominated universe, but Windows is not only being challenged by newer tablet technologies, a subtle shift is also happening that sees users demanding Mac computers, and IT managers no longer can turn that request down so easily, and probably shouldn't anyway, he said.

"[The desktop] is still 90-something percent Windows," said Silver, adding that "thin clients will have 4% or so by the end of the year." At most, there might be a 5% installed base of Macs, which IT managers traditionally regarded as an additional management burden over the Windows PCs they must carefully tend for updates and patch management.

But as the consumerization of IT has its impact, and more companies find themselves not saying "no" to any new device, especially when it's the company sales star or the young new hire that demands it as part of the job, the IT department can no longer wish the Mac away. A Gartner survey found 60% of enterprise still "limit" Macs, but more and more are "embracing" them. And 64% said they will likely allow more Macs into the enterprise over the next few years.

"It used to be, 'How do we keep Macs out,'" Silver said. There's the view that Macs cost more money in terms of hardware, software and IT support, something Gartner says is less the case today than in the past. In fact, today Macs come out, on average, slightly ahead in terms of costs, according to Gartner, though experience among businesses does seem to vary wildly in terms of how easy it is to manage Macs in a PC-dominated enterprise.

On average, Macs hardware and software costs run $1,622 to Windows $1,513. Software vendors like to charge slightly more for the Mac, he noted. The average IT labor cost for Windows is $781 while the Mac is $636, though Silver adds that companies deploying Macs seem to have widely different experiences here, with some easily managing Macs and others finding it "horrendously expensive." Administration costs, tallied separately, were exactly the same for a windows PC or an Apple Mac. On average, Macs came out slightly ahead in overall costs of hardware, software, IT labor and administration.

"Most organizations have to support some Mac infrastructure," said Silver. The main questions center around applications the user wants to run. In general, a minimum of 400 to 500 Macs are needed to be able to assign a support person just for them. If that's not the situation, it might be worthwhile finding an outsourced support, he added.

When it comes to Macs, "expect the demand, and make plans for it," advised Silver, saying the era when IT managers could willfully cross Macs off the list appears to be coming to a close, even though Apple itself does little to cultivate the image of the Mac as an enterprise-ready system. But the upper echelons of the business world are now asking for them, and "we're seeing organizations having to say 'yes' to these folks." In fact, Silver added, "Saying 'no' could be a career-ending decision."

Ellen Messmer is senior editor at Network World, an IDG publication and website, where she covers news and technology trends related to information security.

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