We’ve recently featured some companies that have implemented iPads into their businesses on AMW – such is the power of the new platform that enterprise customers are backing its success despite being only months old. But what about Apple’s other, more mature, platform – the Mac? It turns out organisations are still switching to the Mac, despite Apple having recently killed off the Xserve.
One particularly interesting organisation that recently made the move is Tasmania’s Department of Police and Emergency Management – which encompasses the state’s Police, SES and Forensic Science Service. Over the past year, the organisation has replaced each and every PC with a Mac, so we wanted to ask them what prompted the switch, and how the changeover has gone. DPEM manager of information technology services Murray Lawler answered our questions.
AMW: Why was the initial decision made to switch to Mac?
ML: The move to Apple forms one part of a comprehensive infrastructure and application upgrade for Police, SES and Forensic Science Service Tasmania, or the Department of Police and Emergency Management (DPEM).
In June 2009 the DPEM decided to transition from a leased computing fleet arrangement to a purchase arrangement. Moving to a purchasing arrangement provided a cost benefit over the existing lease arrangements.
In July/August 2009, DPEM opened a tender with the objective of identifying a Computing Appliance Provider who would replace our existing leased contract provider in the Desktop Space. The term of the new contract was four years.
Apple was selected as the successful tenderer for the four year computing appliance contract because:
- Apple provided a far superior tender response to other vendors, paid attention to detail, and took the time to get to know the business. This is something we wanted from an emergency services perspective. While other vendors were just interested in putting boxes on desks, Apple took the time to find out how DPEM worked before it offered a solution.
- Apple displayed a greater overall value – it just provided more value within the platform and came with “more in the box”.
- It had low recurrent licensing costs, and it was obvious that moving to Apple made it possible to begin transition planning to further enable the reduction of infrastructure and application costs.
- During field testing the unibody MacBooks demonstrated that they were rugged and could withstand the rigours of operational policing.
- The Macs were not as susceptible to malware as windows machines, and in general provide a higher level of security than Windows.
- They integrated well with our current infrastructure environment.
- They were easier to use.
- The pricing that Apple offered was as competitive and in most cases better than the majority of PC manufacturers who responded to the tender.
What became obvious from the tender process was that a move to Apple was more than just an exercise in who could provide the cheapest boxes to put on desks. Instead, a move to Apple is an entirely new value proposition and does require a significant shift in your thinking. In my opinion this revolution in thinking, and in general doing things differently is what a lot of Enterprises and IT Departments are getting stuck with. After 20 years of inertia, it’s difficult to blow off the cobwebs and get things moving again. However, if Enterprises and CIOs achieve this revolution in thinking then it opens up a gateway to new possibilities, not the least of which is the ability to reduce overall IT costs by investing in low cost, common standards based infrastructure and application development environments other than the defacto standard.
AMW: Are all Windows PCs being replaced? How many Macs are being purchased across the organisation?
ML: All Windows desktop and laptop machines are being replaced. We are in the process of deploying approximately 1000 iMacs and MacBook Pros.
AMW: Have you run into any troubles in the transition process?
DPEM: It’s no secret that we have a lot of legacy systems and no matter what platform we were transitioning to whether it was Windows 7, Linux or Apple, there would have been some types of issues. Irrespective of this, there have not been any major technical issues transitioning our environment from Windows to Apple Macs to date. I could say that I was surprised at how smoothly everything was transitioning given our legacy environment but, I also realise that there has been a lot of assistance from Apple and hard work from my team to ensure that the transition has been smooth.
Before we adopted Apple we had to do our research and ensure that every application we currently had would work in our environment and that the Macs would fit in well with our existing infrastructure.
If I had to mention some issues that stood out, they would primarily revolve around misinformation and fear rather than anything valid or technical. There was a lot of misinformation, fear and raw emotion generated once the move to Apple was announced. Staff were concerned that Apple equipment would not work in the Enterprise and that Apple equipment on the desktop or in the server space would in some way affect interoperability with other government systems; as a consequence they wouldn’t be able to get through their daily tasks. Some of our external partners were also concerned that the move to Apple would in some way cost them more in order to ensure ongoing service provision with our department.
All of these concerns of course were unfounded and probably based on a perception of Apple and networking from the early 1990s. However, because of the range and volume of concerns, and in order to validate Macs as an Enterprise option, the Department had ITS (our Information Technology Services division) and Apple undertake a post-tender, three stage pilot process through which we had to scientifically and conclusively prove that the Apple machines would work in our environment. At each stage of the process the Macs easily met all the required performance criteria. Obviously the playing field had changed since the early ’90s and Apple was now an Enterprise game changer.
Many staff members were also afraid of change, moving from Windows Operating systems, which they had used to for approximately 20 years to OS X Snow Leopard seemed insurmountable to them. However, we had anticipated this issue and planned a solid, targeted training program for all users. For the majority of users, once they pass through the training they no longer fear Apple computers and in fact most are quite fond of them. I certainly couldn’t take any of the new Macs away from staff without significant protest and I had a huge number of volunteers for the pilot-testing program.
User training is sequenced to occur before their business unit roll-out and we are approaching the Mac deployment on a business unit by business unit basis, where computer types and departmental images are allocated and assembled according to operational need rather than the one-size fits all traditional models for the enterprise. This has provided significant operational benefit as each business unit actually obtains the computer form-factors and application images optimised for their daily business. In addition, it cuts the enterprise into manageable deployments based on functionality and I believe this is much easier for administration. Apple equipment is particularly suited to this type of deployment.
AMW: What sort of training was needed for the IT division, and the rest of the organisation, to transition to Macs?
ML: A company called Key Options provided all IT staff with targeted Apple training relevant to their work requirements. This training ran for approximately six weeks. Key Options delivered a high standard of training and provided exceptional trainers; we held all the Apple Technical training onsite.
For DPEM staff in general, ITS created a one-day training program, with additional supplementary programs provided upon request or as part of our regular training program for people that may want a refresher, or for power and advanced users who want more in-depth instruction. Training updates and refresher courses are also offered on an annual basis.
Apple and Key Options have also provided us with extensive training resources and we have found the Apple online training resources at http://www.apple.com/findouthow/mac/ to be a good basic training supplement for new-to-Apple users to review prior to their training.
AMW: Are you running Snow Leopard Server, and on what equipment? Has Apple’s decision to discontinue the Xserve left you high and dry?
ML:We are running a number of instances of Snow Leopard Server on Xserves, and a few Mac Mini Servers primarily to support collaboration. We have support arrangements for these servers for many years to come, and I have complete faith in Apple that they will continue to provide services and full support in the Enterprise space.
In the interim, between the old Xserve line and a new hosting solution or whatever emerges in the Enterprise space I don’t really mind using Mac Pros; they have a slightly higher standard of performance compared to the XServes, (albeit without LOM and dual redundant power supplies), so if I need any additional infrastructure in this space I would be happy to purchase a Mac Pro.
However, ultimately I would like to see Apple or a third party provide a solid Enterprise class computing solution to cover the Xserve void similar to that with the Promise RAID, although I do feel that Apple is pursuing a new computing paradigm for the Enterprise and users in general, so I would like to get a feel for what they are developing in this space before I commit to a future direction.
AMW: Is Tasmania Police using other Apple gear – iPhones, iPads, etc?
ML:DPEM is using iPhones in the Executive and some operational areas. Trials are looking into the deployment of iPads; Apple has provided an Executive Briefing to Senior Officers on iOS, iPad in the Enterprise and iPad in Education for Academy staff. We have developed a select few operational application prototypes in the iOS space and are assessing their potential and viability. In my opinion the iOS class of devices seems to have extraordinary potential for operational policing and emergency management and personally think that augmented reality is the Policing “killer app” of the future.
I receive several requests a week from users across Police, the SES, and Forensic Science Service Tasmania interested in having ITS deploy specific operational applications for the iPhone and iPad – users can already envisage how iOS devices can supplement their operational effectiveness. It seems iOS has struck a chord with users and demand is growing exponentially.
It takes a lot to contain user enthusiasm in order to apply the right Enterprise controls in the emerging iOS space, but I think we are moving at the right pace to keep the users happy and address administrative detail.
AMW: You noted that Apple ended up offering a cheaper alternative than many other computer companies. How is Apple to deal with on an ongoing basis?
ML: Apple has provided exceptional support in an Enterprise space and in my experience far exceeds anything provided to me by Dell or HP. I would recommend Apple to any CIO or IT Manager. I can always reach my Apple account representative when I require him – he is always available over the phone or through iChat, problems or issues are solved quickly (not that there are many) and Apple product always turns up when expected.