LinkedIn. Not Just Your Ordinary Network.

In the business world, relationships matter, and no company understands this better than LinkedIn. Co-Founders Reid Hoffman and Jean-Luc Vaillant created the premier professional social network to help people open doors to opportunities using the business relationships they have already established. LinkedIn’s secret is the six-degrees-of-separation philosophy, which helps people connect to a broader network, find each other and be found. The approach is clearly working. Today, LinkedIn is an online network of more than 40 million experienced professionals around the world, representing 150 industries.

A no-nonsense site with little visual fluff and few distractions, LinkedIn provides the perfect venue for busy professionals who have little time to spare. Behind the scenes, a team of talented engineers and software developers work to keep the site streamlined, responsive and as useful as possible. To equip technical staff with a powerful development environment and the high-performance hardware necessary to write, debug and deploy code efficiently, LinkedIn has a standard policy: all development is 99 percent Java and 100 percent Mac.

Every new engineer who joins LinkedIn automatically receives a new Mac Pro with dual quad-core “Nehalem” CPUs and 12 GB of RAM, as well as a MacBook. The only tough decision: engineers must choose between two 23-inch or one 30-inch Apple Cinema Display. LinkedIn actively advertises the fact that engineers are always equipped with Mac systems and, according to Vaillant, the Mac factor is a huge draw and an effective recruiting tool.

“For our engineers, we have standardised on the Mac across the board”, says Chief Technology Officer Vaillant. “Most of our engineers come from UNIX backgrounds. Mac OS X, being UNIX-based and supporting Java and open source development tools, equips our engineers to be productive right away. Engineers also have the convenience and flexibility of using VMware Fusion to boot Linux alongside Mac OS X and develop code for Linux on the Mac”.

A rock-solid development environment was just one reason for standardising on the Mac. LinkedIn engineers also need to interact with web and graphic designers, product managers and others within the company at a moment’s notice. “The Mac supports all of the standard applications and formats, like Adobe Creative Suite and Microsoft Office, making interaction among engineers and others a breeze”, says Vaillant.

Mac OS X Leopard and Leopard Server also offer built-in tools for collaboration. A favourite among engineers is iChat, which enables engineers to conduct remote meetings on the spot. Says IT Director Mike Jennings, who is responsible for LinkedIn’s heterogeneous mix of Mac OS X, Microsoft Windows and Linux operating systems, “Even if they are working at home in the wee hours of the morning, engineers are constantly on iChat because they can take a quick screen shot of a page, share it, and chat about it instantly with other engineers who are working late”.

To integrate Macs into the company’s mixed environment, Jennings and his team took advantage of Open Directory in Mac OS X Leopard Server to provide directory services for Mac users. Today, directory information is centralised in one place for easier IT maintenance, and Mac and PC users alike enjoy the convenience of single sign-on for accessing services such as email and calendaring. “Mac OS X Server builds in support for Microsoft’s Active Directory services, so the Mac works with Active Directory in much the same way Windows clients do”, says Jennings.

Because the Mac is completely compatible, everyone can seamlessly share files and print to the same print servers. In addition, WiFi works effortlessly across the entire heterogeneous network. “The bottom line is there’s not a lot we had to do modify our environment to accommodate Macs”, Jennings explains.

Use of the Mac at LinkedIn extends far beyond the engineering department. Employees from product managers to executives can, upon being hired, choose which platform they prefer to use. More than half of them choose Mac. Sixty-eight percent of employees overall use the Mac, a significant percentage considering that the company’s substantial call centre operations are PC-based.

“For those who have a choice, close to 70 percent of our employees choose the Mac because they prefer its quality and elegance”, says Jennings. “We often point to the Mac and say, ‘Now this is something that is really, really well done’. It serves as an example of excellence at LinkedIn, where mediocrity is never an option”.

The Mac is used for everything from email and iChat communications, to designing websites and conducting standard business functions such as operations, marketing and sales. Employees can also watch streaming video that relays news and technical information — called Tech Talks — on the company intranet using their Mac desktops, laptops, iPods or iPhones. Even signage in the receptionist area and throughout the company runs on Mac minis.

Apple tools are not only used on the desktop, but also for vital back-end operations. Several Xserve systems provide storage, serve up media assets such as Podcasts, and run QuickTime Streaming Server to stream live Tech Talks over the intranet.

According to Jennings, administering the Mac is painless. Using Apple Remote Desktop, IT staff can support company-wide client systems centrally with minimal IT resources. Any issues with client systems can be addressed quickly and easily without support staff needing to leave their desks, enabling everyone in IT to work more efficiently. LinkedIn is also using JAMF’s Casper Suite to image, update and maintain existing Mac computers or set up new ones.

For LinkedIn, the Mac is an essential part of a heterogeneous mix that provides the technical and collaborative tools employees need to do their best work. At the same time, making it all work is no sweat for IT. “In terms of low overhead and support, the Mac is an IT manager’s dream”, says Jennings. “I’d like to see a Mac on every desktop at LinkedIn”.