Dave Schroeder, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Volume Number: 23 (2007)
Issue Number: 08
Column Tag: MacTech Spotlight
MacTech Spotlight: Dave Schroeder
University of Wisconsin-Madison
What do you do?
Senior Systems Engineer. My role is designing and supporting systems that support primarily research and enterprise environments at the university. Many of these systems are based on Mac OS X and Mac OS X Server, and incorporate other Apple technologies, like Xserve RAID. Another cool part of my job is just keeping current on all the latest developments in the Apple and Mac universe, which means access to a lot of the newest Apple gear and gadgets as a part of my job. And I get paid to do it!
How long have you been doing what you do?
I have been working professionally in Macintosh system administration since 1991, when I went to school at the University of Michigan - a big Apple campus - for four years. I have been in the central IT organization at the University of Wisconsin-Madison since 1995. UW-Madison is a great place to be in general, and we have around 15000 Macs in use on campus.
Your first computer:
A Macintosh 128K in January of 1984. It's still in my office at work today, along with a 20th Anniversary Mac, a Motorola CHRP box, a NeXT cube, a PowerBook Duo 2400c with Duo Dock, my first 20 MB - yes, megabyte - hard drive and various other historical items.
Are you Mac-only, or a multi-platform person?
Multi-platform. Mac is my primary platform and my primary job, but it pays to keep abreast of other platforms and technologies as well, especially in an environment as mixed as a big research university.
What attracts you to working on the Mac?
It's really Apple's attention to detail, design philosophy, and tight integration of the hardware and software. Apple really benefits from this marriage between the two worlds. For a long time, it was because Mac OS "wasn't Windows", but in the past few years, it's been because Mac OS X brings the best of a UNIX-like environment and melds it with a usable productivity OS. Today, Mac OS X has a great appeal for many researchers and typical UNIX users, who also want an OS they can use for their day-to-day work, but still do scientific tasks - and now they can, even when they're on a plane or at a conference.
What's the coolest thing about the Mac?
The transition to Intel has been the single biggest benefit in the enterprise education and research markets. Most new Mac users are moving to the platform because they have an interest in Mac OS X, but now know they can easily run Windows, Linux, or pretty much any other x86 OS seamlessly on one nicely designed hardware platform. Under Steve Jobs, Apple has really done a lot of things right that make Mac really appealing to new users, or those returning from long ago.
If I could change one thing about Apple/OS X, I'd:
I'd make Apple finally take a real plunge into the enterprise marketplace, instead of just the accidental visitor. As primarily a consumer company, it might be a difficult commitment for Apple to make, but a real commitment to the enterprise market and its needs has the potential to pay off big for Apple.
What's the coolest tech thing you've done using OS X?
An IP cable television distribution system using Xserves and QuickTime streaming, called the Digital Academic Television Network (DATN, pronounced "Dayton" after the street our building is on). We deployed it for a fraction of the cost of any other alternative solution, and our project was featured as a session at WWDC three years in a row (<http://datn.wisc.edu/about/).
We deliver television channels and other content using QuickTime, and wrote custom applications that allow a TV-like interface, searching of closed captioning data, thumbnails, and video archives, almost like a central "TiVo". The system has been up and running at the university for about four years now. We're looking forward to switching to even higher quality H.264 video soon.
Other cool Apple-related happenings at UW-Madison include a 200TB array of Xserve RAIDs <http://alienraid.org/article.php?story=200TBatUW>, and even Xserve RAIDs at a research station at the South Pole <http://alienraid.org/article.php?story=icecuberaid>! Unfortunately, I didn't get to travel there to, er, "help set it up".
Where can we see a sample of your work?
You might see me in many places...Slashdot and other forums, various interviews and articles here and there, and Apple and MacEnterprise.org mailing lists. You might also have used various tools such as the original Grants.gov client for Mac OS X, or visited web sites like alienRAID.org and ipodbatteryfaq.com.
The next way I'm going to impact IT/OS X/the Mac universe is:
I hope to continue expanding the use of Apple products in enterprise and research environments at the university where they are a good fit, and expanding Apple use in datacenter and server environments, alongside more traditional server hardware from IBM, Sun, and Dell, and traditional server operating systems like AIX, Solaris, Linux, and Windows. Mac OS X Server has grown into quite a nice general purpose UNIX server. There is a bias against Apple in many areas - sometimes warranted, sometimes not - but Apple has many offerings in these areas that deserve a second look.