After Apple introduced its amazing M2 Mac mini, I caught up with one of the world’s biggest Mac mini customers, MacStadium, for some insights into how the company views the new systems.
“I’ve never been more optimistic for the Mac platform,” said Chris Chapman, MacStadium’s CTO. “When we first started, the rate of change for Macs was something like five to seven years per model. It was specific.
“Their proliferation into the business and enterprise market was still a little fuzzy because iPhones were new, and Macs were good for specific people,” he said. “This has changed — they are becoming the de facto standard for laptop, desktop, and phone and you’re really starting to see it become pervasive. It starts with the consumer but has grown to pervade business and enterprises everywhere.”
We agreed that this is another illustration of the need to keep enterprise tech consumer simple, but enterprise capable.
The pandemic drove many to switch to Macs for professional work, and the move to Apple Silicon accelerated that existing trend.
“It’s amazing how much cheaper and how much more performant these things are becoming, generation over generation, it’s providing an Incredible platform for us to build off,” Chapman said. (MacStadium last year supplemented its traditional Mac server offer when it began offering virtual Mac desktops.
Apple and the enterprise
Apple has a lot of room for growth in enterprise markets, which remain Windows based — though, perhaps, not forever.
After all, we already know employees will select Macs more often than any other platform if given a choice. And as Apple iterates its processors and delivers faster and more powerful machines at a consistent rate, many in the business world are realizing, probably belatedly, that Macs are for everyone.
There’s a strong business case to be made.
“I think there’s a massive opportunity for them in the business and enterprise market, and I think the way they’ve turned the tables on being the fastest, most energy-efficient computers out there mean the switch makes a ton of sense to business,” said Chapman.
With a strong, vibrant ecosystem of enterprise-focused, Apple-savvy service providers available to help businesses use Apple’s platforms, the migration is easier than ever before.
MacStadium feeds into this mix, as it means businesses can quickly provision global teams with virtual Macs and enterprise developers can hire the horsepower they need for rapid compiling and testing of code.
Mac Stadium doesn’t just offer its own services; it can also help companies move toward Macs from their existing systems. “We don’t just provide the tools but also the enterprise expertise to show how it fits into your business,” he said.
The bottom line is that in some business scenarios, provisioning is much easier using hosted Macs. The service also means any user considering a switch can try one or more remote Macs first for the cost of a month’s rental.
The last years of Intel Mac support?
Mac Stadium offers Mac as a service for developers, enterprises, hybrid-work setups and many other groups of users. These are proper Macs hosted in data centers that work like Macs. You can run Xcode and Mac apps on these virtualized desktops (with both Intel and Apple Silicon Macs available). Mac Stadium will deploy Mac mini M2 models next.
“We already have them ordered,” Chapman said They’ll be “up on the racks” as soon as they arrive, he said, predicting the GPU and CPU improvements in these models will deliver much better customer experiences.
“From a hardware perspective I think the new M2 platform trumps some of the best desktop PCs anywhere in a form factor that’s ridiculously small and supports all the monitors you need,” he says. “I think business and customers will gravitate to the platform.”
Mac Stadium continues to offer Intel Macs as a service, in part because developer customers need access to them as they must build on both platforms. But Chapman thinks the pace of Apple Silicon evolution and the steady migration across the Mac range means support for Intel Macs will fade out in the next couple of years.
“I think we’re reaching the end of the journey for Intel in terms of the support perspective,” he said, “as customers roll into Apple Silicon…. I think in a year or two there will be a very small percentage of Intel Macs in use in the Mac world.”
This suggests Apple will remove Intel support at some point.
Down on the (server) farm
It is interesting to note that fitting Mac minis into the standard enclosures used in data centers required some proprietary design. MacStadium had to build racks to accomodate their Macs that fitted the industry standard spaces provided by data centers.
(Apple’s Studio Mac is also rackable in this way, but “we can only get 48 of them into the rack, compared to 96 Mac minis in the same space,” Chapman said.)
One of the most important features of Apple’s M-series chips is their low power consumption, even at computational maximums.
That’s important to any business running multiple Macs. With something like 30,000 Macs on its racks, Mac Stadium’s experience seems worth sharing.
Chapman explained that data centers sell space by the square foot, and calculate energy costs within that calculation. However, the power efficiency of Apple Silicon means MacStadium doesn’t hit those energy expectations.
“They’re always calling us up to tell us we’re not using enough power for the space,” he said.
This low power also means less heat, which makes it possible to engineer the Mac racks to hold many more Macs in the space.
“Macs are just very, very power efficient,” he said. That’s going to make a real difference to any company chasing climate change targets, as reducing energy costs across their computing stack may help meet those aims.
“We want to use much less energy; we think that’s the best thing for the world,” Chapman said.
It’s perhaps the biggest illustration yet of the consequence of high performance at low wattage.
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