Is your business getting the most out of Apple?

So many of the smaller businesses that I consult for have barely scraped the top of what Apple could/should be offering on their network.

Whether a printing house with 15 employees, or an Online Education Provider with 100 users, there is so much that Apple can provide to maximise efficiency and productivity in your network.

Gone are the days where Windows dominated networks as the preferred desktop/laptop/server Operating System platform.

The last 10 years saw Apple’s OS X (pronounced “OS 10”) creep

into networks, mainly in the design, artwork and production departments.

The last 5 years have seen the number of Apple products in almost every industry increase exponentially.
And in the last 2 years, iPads have made an impressive impact on the way that businesses  and users supplement their daily duties with mobile technology.
So what is it that Apple can be doing for your network, and is it the right choice for you and your users?
Let’s talk about Hardware first.
One of the biggest points that Windows fans bring up when discussing implementing Apple hardware into their business is the upfront costs.
Apple has always been more expensive than most vendors for their hardware like the iMac, MacBook Pro, MacBook Air and Mac Pro.
These margins have been reducing year on year though, making them every more attractive.
The thing that always catches the IT Director’s attention though, is the lower Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).
Yes, the hardware is marginally more expensive than other products with the same specs.
However…
The support costs are so much lower for Macs than Windows machines. 
So many Administrators that I speak to that deal with mixed networks, can’t compare the support they do for the Windows network vs the Apple network.
Stuff just works“, I hear a lot.
No Blue-screens, little to no application hanging. Machines don’t slow down after 6 months of intense usage. Machines aren’t being formatted twice a year to fix a problem or speed the computer up.
All these items need support, and more importantly support staff. Even small support teams mean big $$
One last note on the hardware aspect. 
What’s the average life span of the machines on your network?
If I can count the number of Windows users I know that use their laptops/desktops for more than 3 years because they want to on one hand, it will probably be over-exaggerating. 
Usually it is because it is too expensive to replace the entire machine, and new OS and all the bells and whistles that go with it.
Many Mac users I know get a new laptop at least every year. But these are the exceptions to the rule.
I would happily put a number of 4 to 5 years on any Apple product and it will just keep on working like a trusty plough-horse on a farm. A little bit or memory does wonders on the old gals.
I know of a company that is now donating their older machines because they can’t use them anymore. These machines are 8 years old, and are no longer eligible to upgrade to the newer Mac OS X 10.7 and the latest 10.8. There is nothing wrong with the machines after 8 years!
So what about the productivity software?
So yes, you still need to get a productivity suite for the nitty gritty day-to-day work. 
The cool thing is that you are not pigeon-holed into using Microsoft’s Office suite.
Office 2011 is indeed available for the Mac, and is great package for the productive users. It is pretty much Rand for Rand the same as 2010 or 2013 for the Windows users, so not much saving there.
But what’s the alternative? 
Apple’s iWork suite.
The iWork suite contains Pages, Numbers and Keynote.
Pages is the equivalent to Word, Numbers is the equivalent to Excel, and Keynote is the answer to Powerpoint

Pages is a fantastic Word Processor that will give Word a run for it’s money any day of the week.
Keynote is by far more superior than PowerPoint in pretty much every respect.
One thing that I will admit to though, is that Numbers is not quite as feature-rich as what Excel is.
Give Numbers to a CFO or FD, and they will give it about 20 minutes before switching back to Excel.
So in short, unless you are a serious number-cruncher or function-creator, then Numbers will be fine for you.
“But Office 365 is now in the Cloud” you say?
Well so is iWork. 
Just announced 2 weeks ago, iWork in the Cloud is coming with the release of the new OS X Mavericks in about 2 months or so.
This means that you will be able to use all 3 products, in a web browsers, with all the features. Even on a Windows machine. 
See what Apple did there?
What’s the best part of iWork? Each of the 3 products only costs $20 each.
Yes, you don’t have to purchase the whole suite, just what you want to use.
And what about mobile access? 
Yip! iOS has versions available of ALL 3 products, costing $10 for each. 

These already support Documents in the Cloud, a cloud storage solution for Apple Native apps, including iWork. This means that your content is wherever you are, provided you have internet access.
And email?
Well, you could purchase Office 2011 if you are an Outlook die-hard fan, or simply use Apple Mail.
Of course it doesn’t have all the fancy bells and whistles that Outlook does, but it is a really good alternative to the overly-bloated Microsoft email client. Costing? Free, built in.

So what about the network then? How will the IT department benefit?
Most importantly, OS X has its own Server platform.
Currently OS X Mountain Lion Server is the newest kid on the block.
What does it cost, and what can it do for me?
Here’s the best part. ANY user that wants to run OS X Mountain Lion will only pay $20 (~R200) for the complete operating system.
Want the server edition too? No problem.
No, you don’t need to purchase a special “server edition” of Mountain Lion, you just purchase an App on the App Store.
OS X Server now costs $20 (~R200).
Combine these 2 costs, and you have an enterprise-level Server platform that can serve your network independently, or even integrate into a Windows network to get the best of both worlds, for a mere R400.
Licensing per user that connects to my Mac server, like other popular Server platforms we all know?
Nope. No user or device licensing fees. Just the cost of the Server App.
Okay, it’s cheap. Real cheap. But then it obviously can’t do all that Windows Server can do, compared to how much I paid for it. Right? Right?!

Wrong!
OS X Server is equipped to manage a network of pretty much any size.
If you are not technical, feel free to scroll down to the bottom, as it may get a little techy now.
Some of the basic services that the Server offers are things like DHCP, DNS, Software Update and Time Machine.
What about the over-complex roles and features from Windows? 
Like Routing and Remote Access (RRAS) to allow my corporate users to connect to my network when they are away from the office? Yes, we call it VPN.
What about Internet Information Services (IIS) to host my very complex web server internally and externally?
Yes, we call it Web.
Okay, so what about Windows Deployment Services (WDS) to deploy hundreds of fully configured machines in my network?
Yip, we simply call it NetInstall. Catchy right?
Well what about a Directory service where I can centrally store all my users, computers and groups accounts, as well as providing Single Sign On (SSO)? You call it Active Directory, and we call it Open Directory.
Okay, so then what about communications. Specifically, Microsoft Exchange.
Let’s be honest, Exchange is an amazing piece of software and hats off to MS for it. However…
Exchange is incredibly complex to setup, maintain and support. It requires it’s own server with it’s own resources.
It costs around R8000 to R15000 to purchase, then Client Access Licenses (CALs) are required for every single user or device that connects to and uses the Exchange server.
Apple’s alternative?
Well they have a built in Mail server.
No, it does not have the amazing plethora of features that Exchange has, but it’s fully functional email server. Cost, Free.
This then integrates beautifully with 2 more services, Calendar and Contacts.
Allowing users to store their calendars and address books on the Server, as well as shared Calendars and shared contact lists. Kind of like a Global Accounts List.
Costing? Free.
Okay, so what about that new buzzword, collaboration?
Microsoft offers Lync Server and client for unified communications, and Sharepoint for Intranet services.
Dont get me started on the pricing for these 2 products, or the skills required to set them both up, or the fact that their resource-footprints are so large that they usually require their own servers.
Apple hosts a simple Messages service that provides Instant Messaging, video conferencing, file transfer and iMessage integration for chatting to iOS users on the outside of your network.
For the answer to Sharepoint, Apple provides the famous Wiki Service.
It sounds strange, but it is a highly functional server for hosting wiki sites.
Wikis are collaborative websites that can be used and shared amongst the users of the network, and even the public realm on the outside too.
So I think we covered all the major services. Anything else from Apple?
Built-in to the Server app, there is still a sweet little FTP service that is highly functional.
A built-in interface to any XSAN solution from Apple, with no 3rd party software required.
A Caching server, that not only caches applications purchase from the App Store, but also apps that are purchased from the iTunes App store. So when any user wants to purchase/download an app that somebody else already did, they will get it exponentially quicker and save a bucket-load of bandwidth too.
Oh, and one more thing…
Profile Manager.
I’ll drop a second little buzz term here, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD).
Profile Manager has the features to actively manage Apple devices on your network. 
By Manage, I mean that the administrators can not only lock or wipe a device should it be compromised (stolen if you live in SA), but they can also push settings, configurations, content and even apps to Apple devices. 
These devices include all Macs AND iOS devices. iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch.
This means that you can truly adopt a BYOD policy that can be controlled by IT, without locking users out of their own devices, while still securing the intellectual property of the company when a device falls into the wrong hands.
Installation costs? Licensing Fees? Setup fees? None whatsoever.
As an Apple Trainer, I could go on and on about the technical efficiencies that Apple has implemented into their OS’s and hardware over the last few years, but that is not the point here.
The goal behind this article is to illustrate to companies, small, medium and large, that Apple is no longer the red-headed step-child in the corner that is too different to play with anyone else.
It is now a real competitor in the corporate network space, and IT administrators can no longer keep their heads in the sand about it.
I look forward to few interesting comments below 🙂
Enjoy!
P.S. Apologies to you if you are indeed a step-child with ginger follicle pigments that may also have suffered from social anxiety. This was not intended at you and by no means meant to be generalised. Thanks 

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