The enterprise has long enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with its vendor community. New products are developed specifically for complex data environments, and the feedback following their deployment drives the next generation of development.
It hasn't always been this way, but more on that in a moment. The more crucial issue confronting the industry today is, what would happen if a new breed of technology were to suddenly remake enterprise architectures but the company behind it couldn't care less?
This isn't just idle speculation anymore as Apple continues to make strong headway into the enterprise space by default. As more users turn to their iPhones and iPads to boost productivity, enterprises are struggling to incorporate these devices into their infrastructure with little or no guidance from Cupertino. So far, calls for Apple to institute an integrated enterprise environment have fallen on deaf ears. The company seems content to present its technology on a strict commodity/consumer basis and let users devise the best way to incorporate them into their daily lives.
At the heart of this conundrum is the fact that data users don't function in isolation. Indeed, that's the whole point of the mobile/collaborative revolution. As more of these devices interact with the enterprise, both the complexities and vulnerabilities of data infrastructure increase. Already, a number of serious malware breaches have occurred resulting from Apple devices, according to IT security firm Sophos. More than half a million Macs were infected with the Flashback virus earlier this year, while a more recent threat called OSX/Dockster.A acts as both a keylogger and a Trojan virus.
But as I mentioned, we've been here before. InfoWorld's Bob Lewis notes that in the early PC days, Microsoft was considered the dangerous outsider interfering with tried-and-true enterprise practices by appealing directly to the masses. Back then, distributing computing power to individual users was considered heresy by many IT gurus, who felt that workers lacked the smarts to effectively handle a computer and that it would expose enterprise data to theft and viruses. In the end, however, Microsoft saw the benefit of playing nice with the enterprise and started to tailor its products toward more integrated environments, and thus was born Windows NT, Windows Server and, recently, Hyper-V.
Is it possible, then, that Apple might one day see the light? There are glimmers of hope. Key insiders are starting to make noise about working more closely with enterprise-friendly formats, such as multicast DNS and DNS-Based Service Discovery (DNS-SB), through the Bonjour implementation of the Zero Configuration Networking Standard. The move would allow Safari, iTunes and other platforms to discover shared services on multiple networks and subnets that typically exist within educational and corporate environments. It's a small step, but at least it shows that some people in Apple are starting to realize the benefits of developing products for groups, not just individuals.
To gain real momentum, however, this kind of thinking will have to permeate the top levels of Apple hierarchy, which, at this point anyway, shows no sign of budging. Apple has long been hard-nosed when it comes to its bottom line, and the fact is that its current consumer-oriented business model is proving to be one of the most successful in history.
Apple may one day warm up to the enterprise, but it won't be due to a suddenly altruistic change of heart to help the rest of the business world adapt to its products. It will only happen if it proves to be the best thing for Apple's profitability.