Whether IT administrators like it or not, it seems that most of them will give in to users’ demands to use non-Windows machines over the next few years.
Many of course, already support such users. There have, after all, always been pockets in some organisations where users have insisted on Apple Mac computers or open-source desktops running Linux. But these users have been the exception and Windows has remained the clear standard for businesses, covering some 90 percent of desktops.
That situation is changing fast as devices from Apple – including desktop computers, but more obviously the iPhone and iPad – continue to make big inroads into enterprise IT.
In December 2011, the Enterprise Device Alliance published a survey of 277 IT professionals, which illustrated this speedy advance. Just 6.7 percent of those surveyed said employees in their organisation use Mac desktops but the number is expected to grow to almost one in ten (9.6 percent) by the end of 2012. Most striking, however, was the growth of Apple mobile devices. Use of iPhones was expected to grow from 14.2 percent to 20.2 percent of users this year, while iPad use was expected to grow from 4.6 to 9.8 percent of those users during 2012.
It’s all down to ‘bring your own device’, or BYOD, schemes – and the huge popularity of Apple devices among consumers. The trend, however, poses significant challenges for IT administrators which they need to address as soon as possible.
For a start, many lack the skills and knowledge needed to support Macs. Until recently, a good working knowledge of the corporate Windows ecosystem was all that many required.
There’s also the issue of enterprise applications, since most are designed to work exclusively on the Windows platform. Some fancy technological tinkering, most often using client hypervisors, is required to run apps on other desktops.
IT administrators need to be able to secure non-Windows platforms – but the enterprise security tools that the IT department relies on are overwhelmingly Windows based.
But perhaps the most difficult challenge to non-Windows device deployment is integration with Active Directory, which the IT team use to manage user identities and credentials so that employees have access to the applications and files that they’re entitled to use, but no others.
What they’ll need is a way to secure and configure non-Windows desktops through Active Directory’s group policy management, as well as handle processes like software patching and file sharing.
Fortunately, more peripherals and software are emerging that are capable of working with different operating systems. But this is an issue that IT teams need to get to grips with fast, if they want to keep pace with employees’ demands to use the device of their choice.