In-Depth

IT Loves the iPad: Apple's iPad in the Windows Enterprise

The iPad was designed for and sold to consumers. But savvy IT pros and more than a handful of third parties are making the device a true enterprise force.

Analysts, vendors, pundits and other attention grabbers have been calling for an overthrow of the Windows PC regime for decades. Alternatives such as computers running Linux and the network computer never really took hold.

Out of left field came the iPad and now the iPad 2. While thin Web clients and Linux PCs are aimed at enterprises, the iPad has a decidedly consumer flair. So how did Apple Inc. succeed in the enterprise without even trying? Through ease of use, a lightweight form factor, impressive battery life and a native ability to connect to key enterprise systems, including corporate e-mail and business applications.

iPad Skeptics
Nearly two-dozen Redmond readers responded to our entreaties and detailed their iPad use. Three main types emerged -- those dipping their toes in the water, those moving ahead moderately and whose who are truly committed. None of the 20-plus readers, however, see the iPad or other tablets replacing PCs.

Joe, an IT manager for a large university, is on the less-aggressive side. In his group there are a handful of iPad users in the finance area, but no wide-scale rollout. "There are no corporate applications and none in the pipeline that I know of. We have a smaller number of mobile users, so we don't expect any tablet requests to really increase in our user environment," says Joe. "Currently iPads are purely supplemental, as they don't replace any mobile device. The apps are cool but they don't address basic business applications required by our users."

Redmond reader Rick McDaniel is likewise unconvinced. "We, like many organizations, are wrestling with the notion of an iPad being a business-productivity device. Even though some of our people are using iPads because they were the hot gadget or they got them as gifts, we're still struggling with, 'How is it better as a productivity device?' Because most of our workers work in Microsoft Office, an iPad seems to be forcing a misshapen puzzle piece into the mix," says McDaniel.

Early Adopters
Keith Gosselin, VP of IT at Biddeford Savings Bank in Portland, Maine, has a fair-size IT-backed rollout of iPads, having given 14 out of 75 employees the Apple device. The rollout, completed this past January, focused on the upper echelon. "All members of our board of trustees and executive management team have one. We've gone totally paperless with our board reports, which is saving money and time with regard to printing and snail mailing. We're using a great app called Goodreader, which allows the board members to search for certain keywords, highlight sections, insert notes and create bookmarks," says Gosselin. "We're working on our plans for the next six to 12 months of what to do next with these devices, but I have no doubt that they're here for the long term and will make us a much more efficient organization."

As it does with consumers, the iPad has a knack for creating true IT fans -- like Ron Rynbrandt. Rynbrandt, in his previous job, brought iPads to a number of hospitals. The selling point was running actual Windows apps, which were handled through the Citrix XenApp receiver. "The doctors are sick of clunky laptops, styluses and other hard-to-use doohickeys that cause inefficiencies, and really appreciate the design, reliability and usability of the iPad," says Rynbrandt, AAS CCA. "Combined with the Citrix client, you have a really slick delivery solution for Windows applications."

At the Cal State Fullerton College of Humanities and Social Sciences, iPads are generating great excitement. "We were all-PC, until iPads started showing up," says Andreea Martin, an IT consultant for the school. "Now people use their iPads for work a lot. The e-mail and calendaring functions are incredible; the Exchange calendars look so much better on the iPads than in Outlook that people keep their iPads on their desks with the calendar open all the time."

iPads are also used to access SharePoint and, through SharePoint, remote into PCs, Martin adds.

But it's not just end users that have the iPad bug at the college: "I'm a computer tech and I use it to remote into any of my computers or servers I support. I can answer a call while I'm in the food court having lunch! That rocks!" boasts Martin.

Senior consultant Roel Schreibers has a similar attitude. "Lots of my work is DMZ related. My laptop is occupied configuring DMZ components, while the iPad is used for testing and finding solutions to problems I encounter. I loaded the iPad with several PDF technical reference documents that could come in handy for reading, while my laptop does the configuring," says Schreibers.

As Rynbrandt explains, iPads seem particularly popular in hospitals. IT manager James E. Alcock is only piloting iPads with doctors at his hospital, but they're already a raging success. "It has become an indispensable tool for them to interact with our patients," Alcock says. "It eases the burden of implementing electronic medical records by making the electronic chart as easy to carry as a paper chart. Doctors can bring up diagnostic scans and graphical images of anatomy to aid patients in making medical decisions. They can place orders for prescriptions and medical procedures electronically without waiting to get back to a prescription pad or computer. It seems like every week an excited doctor is sharing a new use they've discovered with the IT department."

Some vertical corporate apps are also getting a workout on the iPad. "We're a small business in the hospitality industry promoting Nashville to the world. Our newly acquired mission-critical app, D3000 from Software Management Inc., works on the iPad -- and was a deciding factor in its implementation," says Kay G. Hopwood, IT director for the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Mobility is a key factor. The iPad has a built-in GPS. When salespeople are on the road and an appointment is canceled, they can look up other prospects or clients nearby and schedule a sit-down with them. "It gives us more bang for the buck on outside sales expenses," says Hopwood.

"The database also functions as their to-do and tickler file, and they can input data directly from the iPad without pulling out a laptop and searching for an outlet and waiting for it to boot. The iPad is unobtrusive so the salesperson can enter data without being distracting to the client they're meeting with," Hopwood concludes.

Some of the biggest Microsoft fans are rooting for the iPad. Consultant Schreibers calls himself a dedicated Microsoft customer. In fact, his first smartphone was a Windows Mobile device, which he used to access Exchange. Now Schreibers is scoping out the iPad. "With the introduction of the iPad, we decided to try one out and see how we could incorporate this appliance into our business. The first thing that appealed was that I actually started to read my e-mail using the device. Today the iPad accompanies my Windows 7 machine. I only use Outlook to create elaborate e-mails. The iPad has become a third and independent display on my desk," he says.

The iPad, which can be always-connected with a 3G wireless data plan, also seems to fit into today's lifestyle, where people do a lot of their work outside of the 9-to-5 confines. "On the road or in the evening, the iPad is about the only appliance I use. Most of the time it's the independent 3G Internet connection that comes in very handy," Schreibers says.

As the iPad takes hold, it may not supplant the PC, but it will run more and more critical enterprise apps. "We just signed up for corporate packages for iPads and are still at the elementary stage of things," says reader Marsorry Ickue. "We have the standard stuff working -- e-mail, VPN for file access -- but that's it. We're looking at implementing SAP Business Objects to do BI. Once we can push that data to iPhones and iPads, they'll start to justify themselves in the office."

So what made Ickue's organization look at the iPad? "The 'cool' factor and getting up to speed with the new trend in technology," Ickue explains. "It's difficult to deny what people want to use to consume data, both personal and corporate -- smartphones and tablet computers. Instead of IT driving this need, our organization was forward-thinking in beginning to cut down on the use of paper, have access to data from anywhere securely and make use of that data while on the move."

Once iPads made it to the enterprise, many IT pros found them a snap to set up. "It was so easy even a fifth grader could do it," Hopwood says. "We can even print from iPads, making them true business tools. They boot fast and work well."

Seizing on Citrix
While there's a growing array of iPad-specific apps, there aren't nearly enough to make the device a widespread enterprise tool. That's where virtualization software, such as the Citrix Receiver, comes in. This software turns an iPad into a thin client capable of running Windows.

Rynbrandt is a Citrix administrator, and as such was easily able to show off how the iPad could pretend to be a PC. "I was able to leverage the Citrix Receiver for iPhone and iPad and other existing Citrix technologies to create proof-of-concept environments for further testing and deployment," Rynbrandt says. "The Citrix Receiver [client] for iPad allows access to all Windows applications published on a XenApp server, which means you can pretty much have any Windows application delivered to your iPad, including Flash-based ones."

The experienced Rynbrandt found the setup easy. "Provided you have a Citrix infrastructure in place, the Citrix Receiver is straightforward to configure," he says. "You only need to supply a custom URL, username and some relevant network settings within the Citrix Receiver. The Citrix admins will need to configure what was formerly called a Program Neighborhood Agent server to facilitate app delivery to the iPad," Rynbrandt explains, adding: "Apple now has a utility -- the iPhone Configuration Utility -- which also works on the iPad and can help manage device settings for multiple devices."

IT manager Alcock also finds virtualization a huge iPad selling point. "The biggest positive of the iPad is its form factor. Married with a product like Citrix or VDI [Virtual Desktop Infrastructure], it might make the ultimate thin client. Using the iPad as a thin client mitigates some of the security risk by ensuring that no confidential data is stored on the device itself. It can be carried around and used anywhere once you get used to its strange keyboard layout," Alcock says.

Citrix software handles diversified tasks for IT pros like Redmond reader Rob Blankers. "Through Citrix, I've published apps for managing Active Directory consoles, the VMware client, Terminal Services client, and console access to physical servers through an IP KVM [kernal-based virtual machine]," says Blankers, a network engineer for Lockton Affinity. "All of these work pretty well, and it's nice to be able to unlock a user's account or reboot a VM [virtual machine] without needing to power up a laptop. For the most part, the iPad is just a terminal for my use. All of the real IT tools are running on other machines that I access through the iPad."

Blankers originally ran Citrix apps and Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) on his iPhone, "but the screen is just too small for them to be really useful." Setup on the iPad was simple, he says. "We were already running Active Directory, a Citrix farm and a VMware virtual infrastructure, so setting up the iPad to access these environments was easy -- but getting the whole environment accessible to begin with is a full time job, literally," Blankers explains.

However, there's a downside to running Windows on an iPad. "The applications that I'm accessing weren't designed for the iPad, so there are challenges when working in a Windows environment," complains Blankers. "In most circumstances, I don't have access to a right-click. And sometimes it's annoying to have to bring up the virtual keyboard and lose half of the screen real estate when typing."

iPad Advantages
The iPad was roundly criticized before and shortly after it shipped. Once it gained millions of fans and gobs of credibility, the hate died down. There's an awful lot to like, Redmond readers say. "It's a closed device; it can't easily get viruses, and should always be a more secure platform than an open one," Rynbrandt says. "It has an accurate touchscreen that doesn't require a stylus. It's made of glass and aluminum without a real keyboard and can be easily cleaned."

Size also matters. "The iPad is so much lighter than even a netbook and doesn't require a brick power supply. Battery life is superior to the laptops we have in use, as well. Our laptops have wireless and Bluetooth, but don't have cellular service, which is a big plus on the iPad," says Hopwood.

Because they run on solid-state memory, there's no measurable boot time. "The iPad is 'instant-on, instant-off,'" says Blankers. "It's extremely portable and it doesn't feel like a commitment to pull it out. I can use it for two minutes and put it down, whereas with a laptop it would take me that long just to boot up and be ready to log in."

The iPad has clearly garnered IT fans, and set a high bar for Microsoft. It's your turn now, Microsoft!

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