Apple Ups the Ante on iMac for the Enterprise

Datamation columnist John Welch takes a look at the iMac G5 and what it can do for the corporate enterprise.
Posted October 17, 2005

John Welch

John Welch

Well, as of October 12, we have a new iPod, a new iMac G5 and new features from the iTunes Music Store. Of the iPod, I'll leave that to the rest of the Mac Web -- there's little there that interests me as an administrator.

The iMac G5 however, is a computer that more companies should take a look at as a desktop machine. It's not the cheapest model around, but it's a solid value, perhaps the best value in Apple's lineup. The Mini is a cheaper machine, but if you need something with a fast CPU and good graphics support, the iMac G5 is the better choice.

Outside of that, there are a few things to recommend the iMac G5.

For one, it's a ''consumer'' machine with Gigabit Ethernet support. This isn't new to the October model. It's been an iMac G5 feature since May of 2005. Gig-E support, while not a requirement for most corporate use, is one of those features that means you don't have to worry that your desktops will lag your network anytime soon.

With the per-port costs of Gig-E, especially on unmanaged switches coming down to the realm of even small businesses, the ability to increase your network speeds by a factor of 10 with relative ease is a big consideration. While most of us may not transfer huge files, the day-to-day time savings seen by the increased penetration of Gig-E, multiplied by however many machines you have, can add up.

For example, in my real job, my Macs and laptops are backed up by an Exabyte 1U VXA-2 loader. The uncompressed data rate in that is listed as 21.6GB/hr, which is about 50Mbps. Since my network connection speeds are anywhere between 6 to 100Mbps, (this is a 100Mb Ethernet network, with some wireless), that means the tape speed is the limiting factor in my backups. However, should I decide to upgrade to, say, LTO, at that point, my network speeds, even the Ethernet speeds are now going to limit my backup speeds, so that 93GB/hr capability of the drive will be wasted. A 100Mbs Ethernet network is barely faster than even VXA-3/VXA-320 drives, which are brand new.

With a 100Mbps network, your backup window is not going to be able to be improved to the extent the new hardware should, simply because the network won't let it be. If you move to a Disk-To-Disk-To-Tape system, the network is even more of a limiting factor, since discontinuity between backup media speeds and network speeds is even greater. That's just an obvious use.

If you spend a lot of time working off of servers, that extra bandwidth is more than just a neat toy.

Apple putting that in the iMac G5 is not just a cool point, it's a feature that can help save time in a dozen ways every day.

The iSight being built into the iMac G5 is another feature I think is leading a curve. Meetings, especially ones you have to travel to, are expensive. While Apple, with Mac OS X 10.4, allowed for multi-point video conferencing, it meant you had to buy the iSight. And if there's a way to lose a small, removable, expensive peripheral, users are frighteningly inventive at accomplishing it.

For Workers on the Road

By bundling the iSight with the iMac G5, Apple has created a great video conferencing solution. It doesn't require extra hardware, it doesn't require expensive software. It just requires an iMac G5, a decent Internet connection, and iChat on the Macs or a current version of AIM on PCs. While it's not a panacea for all offsite meetings, the ability to quickly and easily set up a video conference in under five minutes has the potential to reduce the number of offsite meetings, or allow for more 'face-to-face' interaction between remote sites.

And for traveling executives who may have a Powerbook with iSight, being able to quickly set up a video conference with staff back at the office -- including file transfer over a securable link -- is not something to be sneezed at. If Apple were to include some kind of white boarding/file markup software in a future version of iChat, along with easy logging features, then you would have a slam dunk for corporate needs.

The support for Bluetooth 2.0 EDR, (not new -- this was introduced in May 2005), allows for speeds of up to 3Mbps, over twice as fast as Bluetooth 1.0. As anyone who has tried to actively use Bluetooth 1.0 for anything but small data transfers can tell you, Bluetooth 2.0 cannot come fast enough.

More importantly, Apple includes the headset profile with the iMac G5's Bluetooth implementation. This allows for the use of wireless headsets with things like iChat, making iChat's audio features nicer to use. (While finding the right Bluetooth headset can indeed be a chore, once you use them with cell phones or iChat, their value is instantly obvious and compelling.)

What I see the new iMac G5 representing is potential delivered today.

It is a solution that while not expandable in the traditional slots 'n' card sense of the term, is quite flexible, and gives a company a platform that is relatively inexpensive, and can easily survive a three-year replacement cycle with little pain during that time. It is a platform that can handle any task you can throw at it today, and most of the ones you'll be asking of it three years from now. (With grid computing on the rise, and Apple's xGrid implementation, along with new Linux xGrid clients, having a building full of underutilized G5 processors will not stink.)

Networks are being used to carry more than ever before, both in terms of quantity of data and types of data, and the iMac is a great example of what a modern hardware implementation is capable of.

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