CIO Michele Goins of Juniper Networks decided to try an experiment — one that could prove costly in the end. She chose Mac as the platform of choice for a test group of 600 employees. From her perspective, “If the support costs aren’t too high, let’s open the floodgates and ‘go Mac.'” As she says, “If we opened it up today, 25 percent of our employees would choose Macs.”

Oddly enough, Apple isn’t beating down her 6,100 person user base door. Possibly because Apple recognizes it’s key market — consumers, graphics designers, and educators — and has chosen to stay within that market. But the same thing that keeps hordes of Apple salespeople from Ms. Goins’ door may be one of the drivers of its success.

In the first quarter, Mac sales were beyond what the company anticipated. Sales went 51% beyond the previous year, more than three times the rate for the personal computer industry. With the sales of other consumer goods such as the iPod and iPhone in the mix, and Apple’s total sales have seen a definite upswing form $5.2 billion in 2002 to $24 billion last year. It would appear that Apple has found a winning formula.

But oddly enough, the desire for a Mac in the workplace originates from the employees themselves. Juniper CEO, Scott Kriens is currently sporting a MacBook laptop. He states, “Everybody told me I should get one. It’s not anything to do with negative perceptions about Microsoft, it’s just that Macs are cool.” He may be right. IBM and Cisco Systems are running tests on whether to let Macs in the office. Google has allowed employees to pick their machine for years. According to Dimension Data’s Mark Slaga, Chief Information Officer, “Steve Jobs doesn’t need a sales force because he already has one: employees like the ones in my company.”

The place where business has a rough time integrating the Mac into its current infrastructure is in support. Most companies with a primarily Windows/PC user base don’t really have the support specialists in place to manage a mixed environment. Macs are different from PCs. In the iMac line, you have a flat screen monitor that appears to be a bit thicker than your typical flat screen. And then you realize that the monitor houses the entire computer. The Mac Book series of laptops is similar to, but not the same as a PC laptop. And then there is the operating system.

The Mac is certainly capable of running Windows either in a partition or in a virtual machine using any of several popular tools. Boot Camp is standard to the Leopard installation if you are thinking to dual boot. But for companies thinking of going Mac, this is going to be a support desk challenge. They will need to consider if a potential new-hire is “bi-lingual,” and offer additional training to existing staff. But many who have made the switch to Macs say that you really don’t need a team of IT Support guys to keep a Mac environment running. The stability, they claim is, so much that you really only need one or two Mac savvy employees to keep them running.

Still, Microsoft continually tries to improve its Mac support, making its more popular Windows products available for OS X. And third party vendors recognize that the Mac in the workplace is becoming more common.

Could Mac be the next business trend?

More information:

The Mac in the gray flannel suit (BusinessWeek)

Piper Jaffray addresses 15 more “unanswered Apple questions” (Apple Insider)