Mac attack!

It's little things like the small silver Apple logo on CIO Dale Frantz's crisp white shirt that signal the sea change in the works at Auto Warehousing Company.


Over the next 60 days, AWC will begin systematically pulling the plug on all Windows-based PCs in its cavernous auto processing shop and power up Macs to execute virtually all of its revenue-generating operations.

The move comes on the heels of a quiet wholesale replacement of Windows-based servers for data storage and Web operations, which are now running on Apple's Xserve RAID machines.

"This is not a vengeance case," Frantz says, referring to his 2006 tangle with Microsoft over threatening letters from the vendor that made false accusations about unlicensed software.

Bite the Apple: Temptation follows disenchantment

AWC CIO Dale Frantz's disenchantment with Microsoft dates back to spring of 2006, when Janet Lawless, a Microsoft manager, notified Frantz that AWC appeared to be licensed improperly.

Confident that there was a mistake, Frantz informed Lawless that he keeps extensive records of all software purchases, licenses and registration codes. Lawless, in turn, threatened to turn up the heat and notify a company officer at AWC of her suspicions.

That's when Frantz - who is so passionate about accurate software licensing that he made it a condition of employment when he took the job at AWC nearly 10 years ago - contacted AWC's attorney. As it turned out, Lawless was trying to sell consulting services to AWC by misleading and intimidating Frantz. After this story was reported in Computerworld, Frantz says the hounding abruptly stopped.

The entire episode left Frantz with bad feelings toward Microsoft. But that's not the primary reason he started exploring software alternatives and ultimately opted to switch to Apple, he says.

Other key factors in his decision include the ever-rising costs of Micro­soft's Windows operating system software upgrades, Windows security vulnerabilities and, most important, the need to safeguard systems availability, since AWC depends on a single monolithic application -- VIPS -- for virtually all of its revenue-generating activities.

Frantz notes that he always has been especially leery of so-called phone-home capabilities in Microsoft software when it is purchased under an open licensing agreement with the vendor. That feature is a built-in trigger that shuts down the software if a user is out of compliance, Frantz says.

"If all of a sudden, all of the computers directing traffic for our jobs went down because the computers couldn't talk to Redmond, that's just terrifying," he says. "I don't want Microsoft to have that degree of control over my business."

Instead, AWC's new strategic enterprise technology plan is the direct result of proof-of-concept testing that indicates that the company can cut costs, increase system reliability and security, and provide expanded IT support services by porting a major portion of its IT infrastructure to Apple. Extricating itself from its exclusive dependence on Microsoft is simply the cherry on top.

For Apple, which declined to comment for this story, the move represents a feather in its enterprise computing cap. It also gives the vendor a toe in the door of the Microsoft-heavy automotive industry. AWC is the largest full-service auto processing company in North America, with 23 sites across the US and Canada.

"As a mainstream, big platform, we haven't seen a lot [of Apple] in automotive," says Gartner Inc. analyst Michael Silver. "Apple is still very niche-y. Its niches are in the media creation and the scientific communities."

AWC's plan, to be announced at a July 29 managers meeting, calls for the retention of some Microsoft technology. AWC's main client/server software, Vehicle Inventory Processing System (VIPS), will continue to run on Microsoft SQL Server on the back end. "The SQL server runs well; it's a solid product. There's no business case to change that," Frantz says.

But function by function, AWC will rewrite all VIPS client software in Java 6.0 or higher so it can run at the front end on Apple Macs. VIPS currently runs client software on Windows XP, which AWC will not upgrade to the newer Vista operating system.

"From what I've observed, Windows Vista is the same [as XP], but with prettier icons and a little prettier user interface," Frantz says. "At the end of the day, our users are not going to do their work any differently with Vista than with Windows XP."

But it will take 12 to 18 months to rewrite the VIPS client software to run on Macintosh machines, and Frantz doesn't want to delay the cost savings and efficiency enhancements tied to the migration to Apple hardware. So in the interim, AWC will continue to run VIPS on Windows using software from Renton, Wash.-based Parallels Inc. that lets Macs run Windows applications in a virtual environment.

The road to here

AWC's IT staff has been testing this configuration along with integrating Apple servers into its Windows-based network for the past four months.

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