Apple and the New Enterprise

Arthur Cole

To conventional thinking, it would seem that Apple has lost its collective mind when it comes the enterprise. Piece by piece, the company is shedding the large, centralized components that make up IT infrastructure in favor of the end-user devices that provide the human interface.

It's almost like running a fast-food enterprise that sells only french fries, but not hamburgers or fried chicken.

But as I said, this is only true for those stuck in conventional thinking. Surely, anyone who gives up on the major iron in the data center gives up their ability to control or even influence the direction of IT development? Not anymore.

The latest word on the street is that Apple is about to discontinue both the Xsan and the Final Cut Server, essentially the last two pieces of what could be considered traditional enterprise infrastructure. This comes just weeks before the last XServe rolls out the door and amid still further rumor that the OS X Server platform will be put out to pasture completely once OS X Lion rolls out.

What Apple seems to recognize more so than most, however, is that the heart and soul of enterprise infrastructure is rapidly shifting away from in-house hardware and software platforms and more toward productivity and collaboration. Under this view, success won't be determined by who provides the most robust private data environment, but by who can access and interact with the enormous public infrastructure that is rapidly coming to the fore.

To that end, the company has placed all its energies into personal mobile devices like the iPad and iPhone with an eye toward leveraging its strengths both as an innovator in consumer design and as a developer and facilitator of engaging applications. According to's Jeff James, the company stresses only a few criteria when it comes to placing the Apple label on a product: simplicity, connectivity and interoperability -- just enough to tap into online content and share it with others.

That's part of the reason why Frost & Sullivan pegs the deployment of mobile devices in enterprise environments at about 70 percent, with nearly half using them as the primary communication endpoint. And perhaps most telling, only about half of enterprise users say their mobile devices are integrated into their enterprise communications systems and applications, meaning there is still a ripe market for technologies linking internal and external infrastructures.

None of this is to imply that the need for massive enterprise systems is at an end. Whether public or private, infrastructure has to reside somewhere, and the need to scale up and out continues unabated. But when it comes to directing the future of enterprise development, power is shifting from the major platform providers and the IT executives who support them to the users who now have the capability to create their own working environments as they see fit.

It seems Apple is the first to realize this. We'll have to see how long it takes the rest of the industry to catch on.

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