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Are Macs really cheaper to manage than PCs?

Editor’s Note: The following article is reprinted from CIO.com. Visit CIO’s Macs in the Enterprise page.

Macs in the enterprise aren’t just cheaper to manage—they’re a lot cheaper, according to a new survey released today by the Enterprise Desktop Alliance.

Keep in mind that Enterprise Desktop Alliance is a group of software developers who’ve bandied together to deploy and manage Macs in the enterprise. The group surveyed 260 IT administrators in large U.S. companies with both Macs and PCs who are involved in some degree with IT cost calculations. Enterprise Desktop Alliance members include Centrify, Absolute Software, Group Logic, Web Help Desk, and most recently IBM.

[ Another Enterprise Desktop Alliance survey shows two out of three companies buying Macs this year, which will bring integration challenges for IT admins, CIO.com reports. ]

The survey found that Macs were cheaper in six of seven computer management categories: troubleshooting, help desk calls, system configuration, user training and supporting infrastructure (servers, networks and printer). Nearly half of the respondents cited software licensing fees as roughly the same for both platforms.

A whopping 65 percent of respondents said it costs less to troubleshoot Macs than PCs, 19 percent said they spent the same on both computers, and only 16 percent said they spent less to manage PCs than Macs.

Even more impressive, a majority of the respondents citing the low cost of Macs in nearly all categories said Macs were more than 20 percent cheaper to manage than PCs.

With Macs dominating in almost every cost category, why would 16 percent claim they spent less troubleshooting PCs? “It might be an [issue] of expertise of the IT staff,” says Tom Cromlin, spokesperson for the Enterprise Desktop Alliance. “They’re probably more comfortable troubleshooting PCs.”

Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Jon Oltsik has another reason. He says top execs often prefer Macs, and thus supporting those machines take on more importance. “It’s not about managing [Mac] systems, which may be easier than Windows” on a machine-by-machines basis, Oltsik explains. “It’s when the CEO wants IT to install software on his or her Mac, which will need immediate attention and take time away from other tasks.”

The cost of management appears to be a key driver for Macs in the enterprise. Nearly half of respondents said they brought in Macs mainly because of their low total cost of ownership and ease of technical support.

In fact, many small companies with limited IT resources told CIO.com that they moved to Macs after getting fed up with costly PC support issues. “Mac owners tend to do a lot of problem resolution themselves by communicating with other users,” Oltsik says.

One of the flaws of the survey is that it doesn’t factor in the cost of the PC or Mac itself, only the costs associated with managing the computers. Macs, of course, cost more than most PCs. However, many companies told CIO.com that the low cost of managing Macs more than makes up the cost difference between the computers.

Many, but not all. “You can buy a PC for $400, while the cheapest Mac is over a thousand,” Jon Graff, director of IT operations at A&E, told CIO.com last year. “In the real world, you’re spending a lot more on a Mac.”

While managing Macs may be cheaper than managing PCs, Macs pose their own special challenges as companies get up to speed supporting a Mac-PC environment.

According to another recent Enterprise Desktop Alliance survey, chief among those hurdles are: security and file sharing between operating systems, client management, backup and data recovery of Mac files, Active Directory integration, application compatibility, configuration consistency, cross-platform help desk and knowledge base support, and standard management utilities for both Macs and PCs.

Ben Hanes, senior systems administrator at Children’s Hospital of Oakland Research Institute, has been working through these issues for years. On the troubleshooting front, Hanes only recently adopted a help desk system that lets his team troubleshoot Macs remotely from a PC.

There also might be hidden costs when managing Macs, warns Oltsik. “In the past, you generally needed specialized tools to manage Macs,” he says. “If this is the case, then you will have redundant tasks and management systems. Another issue is skills, as you may need to hire or train a PC administrator on the Mac platform. A Mac administrator may cost more than a PC administrator.”

Tom Kaneshige is a senior writer for CIO.com in Silicon Valley. Send him an email at tkaneshige@cio.com. Or follow him on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline.

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