Adopting Apple into the enterprise? You might want to think again

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The launch of the Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPad and its spectacular sales numbers, everyone is talking about what the consumer product means for the enterprise. Same goes for the release of the iOS4, which brings new enterprise-friendly features such as encryption, better device management and (selective) multi-tasking to the millions of iPhones already on the market.

Once again, users are clamoring to integrate their iPads and iPhones to the enterprise network, either to access their email, connect to Intranet systems, or even demand that management provide the technical support for using their new iOS gadgets to access the various IT systems.

So are Apple products ready for the enterprise?

It's an age-old debate, and one that can get very heated and emotional at times. Indeed, I don't believe this argument is one where a satisfactory conclusion may ever be reached. If you're on the verge of integrating the iPad or iPhone into your enterprise though, you might want to read further before making such a decision.

Not the first implementation bug with EAS

A development last week may have some people rethinking plans to integrate Apple hardware into an enterprise network. The recently released iOS4 came with a bug, which affects how it interacts with Exchange using the Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) technology Apple licensed from Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT). As a result, email, calendar and contact entries may not sync properly, and on the back end there was a dramatic increase in the load imposed by each iPhone connected to the server.

You can read more about the issue in "Bug in iOS4 Exchange ActiveSync hammers Servers," though you might be interested to know that even Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), who licensed EAS in order to support EAS clients on its Gmail service, was also affected. In fact, the initial surge of traffic from users immediately after they upgraded iOS4 devices overloaded the Google Sync servers for all devices--the issue has since been resolved after engineering teams rushed to add more resources to the service.

I was able to catch up with the senior support engineer of a large hosted Exchange provider, who told me that every major release has introduced "something bad" for Exchange. This surprised me, since I have a personal interest in how the Exchange ActiveSync protocol works and it's not something I've heard about or seen mentioned in any of the updates released by Apple.

Anyway, I was emailed a short list to substantiate the assertion, which ranges from a bug causing subfolders not to sync in the first release of the iPhone, to users being unable to sync their inbox with the release of the then iPhone OS3. This was subsequently rectified in iPhone OS3.1, which ironically introduced another bug that caused problems with some Exchange servers, depending on their specific configurations.

Lack of focus on the enterprise

Where the above-mentioned bugs are concerned, my source told me, and I quote his exact words: "I believe they don't pay much attention to QA [quality assurance]."

I think, Lee Dumas, director of architecture for Azaleos, a company that offers managed Exchange services summed it up best. Speaking to Computerworld, Dumas noted, "They don't have a vested interest in the load on an Exchange server. The iPhone is not meant to be an enterprise device, and this is a side effect of that."

So, is it merely a lack of quality assurance, or does it reflect a posture of poor quality and less stringent standards when it comes to the enterprise--since the iPhone was never positioned as an enterprise device anyway. It's hard to tell, but while the relative simplicity of the bug makes me inclined to think of it being a QA issue, the root of the problem could be that EAS is never a primary sales driver for Apple either.

The bigger question though, is whether the current lackluster approach is how Apple works to address a problem that could have an adverse affect the enterprise. As it is, while a configuration profile patch has been released that mitigate the problem somewhat, there is still no news of when a final solution will be ready. (The last bit of information came from a blog entry by Microsoft Senior Technical Product Manager Adam Glick, since the support page from Apple makes no mention that a further update is needed)

So let's put things into perspective here: There are 1,000 users on the iPhone hooked up to your Exchange Servers, and you now have to explain to your CEO how it's not your incompetence (really!) that you have to temporarily disconnect his iPhone from Exchange so that everyone can continue using it. And having explained this point, tell him that you have no idea when this issue can be remedied. So tell me, is Apple ready for the enterprise? - Paul Mah (Twitter @paulmah)