Last week I visited JAMF Software at the MacIT Expo (MacIT = Macworld’s companion conference for IT pros). JAMF’s Casper Suite manages Mac desktops in all the ways that SCCM does for Windows. I spoke on video with Blaine Mattson, Business Development Manager at JAMF Software, to find out more about why and how businesses should manage Mac desktops. The article continues below.
Looking at the Casper Suite feature set, we see a lot of different capabilities—their list includes inventory, imaging, patch management, software distribution, remote control, settings and security management, licensing management, and usage management. They’ve been doing this since 2002, long before BYOD Macbooks became the hot thing to talk about, and they can boast 1600 customers with 1.3 million devices under management. (So this means that when a user asks for a Mac and IT shrugs and says "we can't support it," it doesn't mean that it isn't technically possible, it means that the company doesn't know how to or that they chose not to. :)
JAMF isn’t alone in managing Macs. Quest Software has Management Xtensions—an add-on to SCCM that allows some (but not all) SCCM tasks and features to work with OS X (and other platforms, as well). Symantec’s Altiris CMS checks off many of the same features as the Casper Suite. And from Apple directly, Lion Server incorporates fine-grained controls of users with its Profile Manager feature.
There’s also Munki, an open-source application distribution tool set for OS X. When combined with the features of Lion Server Profile Manager, Munki makes the “free alternative to Casper Suite,” as a Mac admin that I met at MacIT put it.
It’s not possible for me to do a complete, fine-grained comparison, but a quick run-down of the feature lists for these various solutions shows that JAMF does check off more boxes than the others. Altiris comes close, but JAMF has the advantage of being built from the ground up exclusively to manage Macs—they note that they can jump on OS X and iOS changes faster, and that their focus make Casper Suite more robust. So take your pick: a solution integrated with the same control panels that are used to administer Windows desktops, or a more refined (but seperated) experience dedicated just to Mac clients.
Casper Suite can run on a wide variety of back-end platforms, including Windows Server, so there’s no need to have Apple hardware in the datacenter. This is good considering that with the discontinuation of the Apple’s Xserve server product line last year, the only other option would be something kludgy like putting a couple of Mac Minis on a shelf somewhere. With the Casper Suite, IT can instead just fire up another Server 2008 VM and be done with it.
Casper Suite can do some other cool things, too, like compose modular images. (Think of it as desktop layering, but for OS X.) Also, it should be mentioned that Casper does plug in to SCCM, using the JSS Conduit feature. The plug-in supports transferring hardware and software inventory information.
Okay, cool. But why?
My first question was, “Why should we even be managing Macs in the first place?” For example, Brian, Gabe, and I are all Mac users, and we all have local admin rights; joining the domain doesn’t even really do anything new for us (though it would be nice to be able to use our network printer). We’re fine with this arrangement, as I’m sure are many Mac users in the business world. True, there are industries that require strict controls, but it’s unlikely that they would have allowed local-admin Mac users in the first place—they’d already be using JAMF or one of the other solutions.
So is native management the way to deal with Macs in the enterprise? The desktop vitalization answer would be to say “no” and just provide a remote desktop client. However, managing more devices, even with a new platform, is certainly an easier step than rolling out VDI.