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Imbibing macs in the enterprise: Apple Mac shops share their secrets for success

Forrester has found that IT organizations struggle in building a support and management strategy for Macs that works

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Chances are that you have employees using Apple Macs at your firm today, and they’re doing this without the support and guidance of the infrastructure and operations (I&O) organisation. IT consumerisation has put an end to the days of one operating system (OS) to support. For I&O pros, this change carries new concerns about security, potential information loss, and unexpected support needs, to name a few. Forrester has found that IT organisations struggle in building a support and management strategy for Macs that works.

Fortunately, there are many firms who have blazed the trails and figured out how to support both employee-owned and company-owned Macs for their employees, and we've assembled our findings in the latest document on managing Macs. Hint: Leave the Windows PC management tools and techniques in the toolbox. It’s easy to understand why I&O professionals sometimes apply the same techniques and tools they are familiar with in the Windows world for managing Macs, but the reality is that they are different animals, and what is a best practice for one is irrelevant for the other — and can even cripple worker productivity.

Some of the firms we spoke with actually have a policy of "non-interference" with their Mac user community, which means that any tool used to manage their Macs must not disturb user productivity in any way. No heavy management agents, no forced reboots, no pop-up dialogs in the middle of a slide presentation, and a general policy of trust for people. Dr. Kaoru Ishikawa, founding member of the Japanese quality movement, author of 647 articles and 31 books on company culture, quality, and innovation observed: "We make people untrustworthy by not showing them enough trust." Indeed, a culture of trust may well be the most important hallmark of firms supporting Macs effectively.

There are also some surprises in the research. Mac admins are divided on whether antivirus offers them any value on the Mac. Their reasoning: Mac viruses are infrequent enough that they are not a problem for them to deal with. When they do see one, it's usually a trojan and difficult to eradicate with antivirus tools anyway. They also see antivirus tools as both heavy to manage and impactful to end user productivity. Many feel that patching tools, a regular and fully automated backup program, and a strong recovery toolset are more effective in dealing with the risk than antivirus software.

Top-Level Recommendations:

  • Set up a parallel Mac management infrastructure. When we set out on the research, we started with the hypothesis that setting up a parallel Mac management infrastructure instead of using Windows management tool extensions was unnecessary and a bad idea. However, the research with customers did not support the hypothesis. As a result, Forrester recommends that purpose-built, best-of-breed management tools be used for the Mac environment.

  • Avoid Windows-centric management solutions for Macs. The management of any platform, Macs included, requires a lot of last-mile functionality — scripted automation, packaging automation, and inventory scanners that know how to recognise Mac applications correctly, just to name a few. We found that tools developed for managing Windows PCs and extended to include support for Macs don’t go far enough, so customers are left to find alternatives or script their own solutions. Two companies — JAMF Software and Absolute Software — have strong Mac-specific functionality and content, with JAMF's Casper Suite being the most common tool we ran across in our research. 

  • Invest in Mac management expertise. Regional Mac experts like Tekserve have long established practices for adoption and management. Companies we spoke with also had good experiences by bringing a Mac management expert on staff once they hit 120 to 150 Macs. Regional Mac experts are great for strategic planning and act as great tactical hired guns for project work, but Forrester recommends building in-house Mac experts who know your business and employee needs — something that can get lost when hired guns rotate through. Incidentally, the ratio of Mac admins to Macs in firms we spoke with is roughly 1 admin for every 300 Macs.

  • Modernise your enterprise application portfolio. Whether it be Macs or PCs, corporate-provisioned or employee-purchased, you can make your life easier in trying to provide a more flexible offering for your workforce by examining your overall application portfolio. This is a good time to begin looking at alternatives for business applications such as email, collaboration, file sharing, and software-as-a-service (SaaS)-based enterprise applications to remove legacy OS and browser dependencies.
Macs can make good corporate citizens in Windows-centric environments, with built-in support for Exchange, open Internet standards such as SMTP, IMAP, CalDAV, CardDAV, UNIX, HTMLv5 client support, and Active Directory integration. Indirect support for Windows-based applications and Internet Explorer can be achieved with client virtualisation such as Citrix XenApp, XenDesktop, and VMware View for hosted virtual desktops, or tools like MokaFive, Parallels, and VMware Fusion for local virtual desktops, while Centrify and GroupLogic ease integration with Windows file sharing and Active Directory Group Policy.
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