Independent research firm International Data Corp. (IDC) recently finished work on a report commissioned by Apple that focused on the company’s efforts in the scientific life sciences field. While the report was complimentary to many of Apple’s accomplishments over the past few years it also pointed out some pitfalls the company would have to watch in the future. This, said an Apple executive, is just what Apple was looking for.
“We wanted perspective for ourselves and our customers from an independent analysts group,” Liz Kerr, Apple’s Director Science and Technology Markets, told MacCentral.
Mac OS X
The two big reasons scientists are moving or considering the move to a Macintosh platform are Mac OS X and the G5 processor. A third reason cited is the PowerBook G4’s ability to run Microsoft Office applications and Unix-based scientific applications.
“Nearly every scientist we interviewed commented on the dual nature of Mac OS X — a great graphical interface, native access to Microsoft Office, and yet a full-blown Unix box underneath that can support legacy Unix codes as well as a straightforward port of open source applications written for Linux platforms,” said IDC in the report.
Scientists themselves have been very loyal to Apple over the years. Based on a comparison of 2002 end-user surveys in the life sciences with overall share of market based on shipments, the report concludes that, historically, life scientists have been two to three times more likely than the average computer user to use a Mac as a client computer.
Kerr said that unlike some markets, scientists do get a say in what systems they will use. But the wants of the scientists often conflict with the implementation mandated by IT managers. This, according to the report, is one of Apple’s biggest problems.
“While the Mac platform is regaining popularity among life scientists, Apple still faces challenges accommodating itself to a Microsoft-centric world,” the report said. “The challenges range from exclusion of Mac systems because of a commitment by the IT department to standardized desktops to challenges of integrating Mac clients with Microsoft Exchange in those organizations that do permit a variety of platforms on the desktop.”
Of course, Kerr was aware of the problem with IT departments, but said Apple was staying focused on the scientists’ needs.
“It is difficult,” said Kerr. “What we think about is value and interest to the scientists, not what we have to do to talk to IT people, but we need to work on balancing those messages. We are working on educating people that it’s not an either/or decision — they can have multiple platforms.”
The G5 Processor
The report points out that until recently 64-bit computing was the domain of high-end RISC workstations and servers, but the introduction of the G5 brought that power to Power Macs and more importantly, Apple’s 1U rackmount server, Xserve.
Advantages of the Xserve, according to the report, include 1U rackmounted form factor; Low heat dissipation and energy requirements; Low-cost, high-performance 64-bit processors; Dual Gigabit Ethernet communication ports; Remote management software; and Full remote monitoring of temperature and component health.
“The Apple Workgroup Cluster is competitive with Linux-based clusters, particularly on the dimensions of ease of deployment and cluster manageability. Users who have experience with both Linux clusters and Xserve-based clusters indicate a significantly reduced administrative load in moving to Xserve clusters,” the report said.
Dr. Stephan Bour, Ph.D., of The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said that scientists in his organization have the freedom to choose their client computer. While the administrative side of the business is mostly Windows-based, scientists are gaining ground with their Macs.
“Bour indicates although a portion of the Mac user base is made up of traditional Mac users, they are being joined by new users drawn to Mac because of Mac OS X. The fact that X is based on a Unix operating system makes this a strong platform for scientists accustomed to the power and flexibility of Unix and Linux,” according to the report.
Another reason for diversity is that, up to now, Macs have been immune to the large virus and worm attacks that have sometimes crippled Windows-based machines. Bour points out that the Unix core of the OS tends to be more secure from an architectural perspective. “Administrators spend less time helping clean viruses, adware and malware off of Mac machines, which is one reason Bour believes that the Mac clients have a somewhat lower cost of ownership.”
In making recommendations of where Apple can improve, Bour pointed to what he sees as a lack of education among traditional Mac users about the real power and flexibility now available through a Unix environment.
Overall a good report for Apple
While Apple was aware of most of the challenges brought up in the report, Kerr said Apple was happy with the results and that it reaffirmed the direction they were taking in the market.
“We learn a lot from the feedback,” said Kerr. “It gives us an update on where we are and where we need to look to in the future. We are pleased with the results and hope it brings more people to us in life sciences.”