This is an interesting topic that I think does not get a lot of attention. I think Apple has a lot of potential here but there needs to be a huge upfront investment. If you’re going to ask companies to invest upfront, you have to start with yourself.
I’ve worked in mostly Microsoft/Cisco shops and it works really well. Microsoft has an array of product suites to address almost any need. More often than not, using a Microsoft product, rather than a better or cheaper alternative actually costs less (TCO). I think Microsoft has done a great job of addressing TCO especially in enterprise environments.
Apple would need to invest a lot to even begin to compete, but the stage is set. Apple enjoys excellent marketing, like it did in the 1980’s. I remember reading about why most schools and college campuses used Apple computers: they were easy to use and learn and competitively priced. Seeing Apple computers in places of learning was very common place and expected. Not so much today. Part of the reason for this is that schools had to grow out of Apple products in favor of “industry standard” PC’s. If you use a Microsoft system at work, you’ll want that system at home and so schools should also be teaching that (in general).
Apple needs to invest in certifications like Microsoft and Cisco. There should be a Apple Macintosh Certified Associate (AMCA) or something similar as the basic certification. From there, more advanced certificates for different technologies could be offered. AXCA for the Xserve platform? This allows organizations to hire technicians that are familiar with Apple products. Right now, there’s really no way to tell how good your Apple skills are.
Apple also needs to invest in a good user identity platform (like Active Directory) and email services (like Exchange). Finally, system management is too important for admins. As stated in the blog post comments above, admins need a way to set security policies and controls that are easy and that work! Apple’s Remote Desktop 3 is the closest tool to Microsofts SMS and can probably manage a campus full of Macs. I’d love to see it in action.
Actually, all the same goes for any Linux platform. The problem for Linux though is trying to get the community to rally behind a few products (one would be better but Linux enthusiasts try to preserve choice) to address these needs.
The advantage for Apple is that it can set standards on its own technology and it doesn’t have to create all those products itself. They can be contracted out or Apple could provide API’s or similar technologies to 3rd party vendors who already specialize in similar products for Microsoft.
One example of this is a company called Shavlik which provides patch management solutions for Windows. Although Microsoft already provides WSUS for free and SMS for more advanced patching, I found many enterprises still use Shavlik or similar 3rd-party tools. Why not allow Shavlik to create their products for Apple Macintosh and Apple server products?
It doesn’t seem like these things would be hard to do. The question is if Apple cares enough to do it. Is the demand really there?