More action in the Mac management space: A new player, Fleetsmith, has arrived.

Is it time for more vendors and customers to take Mac management more seriously? I sat down with Fleetsmith CEO Zach Blum to get their take.

For many years, the Mac management space has been fairly quiet. Despite BYOD and consumerization buzz, as well the introduction of MDM for OS X in 2012, progress has been slow compared to the action around enterprise mobility management and Windows 10.

But more recently things have livened up. We learned that Jamf is growing like crazy and that IBM’s internal Mac deployment was very successful.

It was into this environment that a new startup, Fleetsmith, launched just a week and a half ago. Considering the context of the space, I wanted to find out more, so recently I went over to the Fleetsmith office in San Francisco to meet with co-founder and CEO Zack Blum.

The team of founders previously worked in IT and security at Wikia and Dropbox, and weren’t satisfied with current Mac management options. They said that open source options were too much effort for small IT departments, and commercial products (they wouldn't specify which ones) were either too time-consuming to set up on-premises, or had cloud-based offerings that weren’t secure enough. They also wanted to avoid lengthy enterprise sales processes.

I’ll talk more about how Fleetsmith fits in the landscape in a minute, but first let’s take a closer look at the company and product:

  • They’re launching with 12 employees and $3.1 million in funding.
  • Fleetsmith is a brand new cloud-based service that, like EMM products, assumes devices will be outside of the corporate network and that a simple user experience is key. It uses a traditional management agent, though, because there’s a lot that MDM for MacOS can’t do on its own. (This parallels the ongoing discussions we’ve been having about Windows 10 MDM.)
  • For identity, they’re starting with just G Suite (formerly Google Apps) integration.
  • They’re emphasizing a smooth onboarding process. Users are invited to install the agent, and when the device checks in for the first time, Fleetsmith can automatically associate it with the correct user.
  • Mutual TLS and certificate pinning are used to secure communication with the agent.
  • Fleetsmith can manage device encryption, do FileVault key escrow, and enforce firewall settings, among other policies.
  • Fleetsmith does app deployment, but for now it can only deploy about 20 or so popular apps that that they’ve built support for—so there’s no generic app deployment or MacOS App Store integration yet. The list of initial apps does not include Microsoft Office, but for now that aligns with their G Suite approach.

Obviously at launch they’re just concentrating on a particular subset of the market, and their main goal is to simply get customers started managing Macs as quickly as possible, not to address every single fine-grained feature. They’re targeting companies in the 50-1000 employee range (which could mean a traditional company with just a handful of rogue Macs or a tech company with hundreds of them). Licenses are $10 per month or $99 per year with a 50 license minimum.

One big question is what features they’ll support next. With the surge of Office 365 usage, support for Azure AD and Office app deployment seems like an obvious choice. They’re collecting feedback right now to help determine their roadmap.

Then there’s the question of how Fleetsmith will be competing with other vendors in the space. As I mentioned, they didn’t name their competitors directly, but Jamf is a huge presence, so people will certainly be comparing them. And beyond that there are many other vendors with various Mac management tools (both agent-based and with MDM), even if it isn’t their primary focus.

If we’re really at an inflection point for Mac management, there should room for multiple vendors to grow, however these other vendors may also be incentivised to address the same concerns that drove the founders of Fleetsmith.

Anyway, Fleetsmith is arriving at an opportune time. For one, despite the conventional wisdom that Mac users can take care of themselves, many probably should be managed. (I’ve seen plenty of users that can’t seem to keep Office running or that never do any updates.) Second, as companies start to sort out EMM, Windows 10, and their modern EUC strategy, they should certainly be thinking about Macs, too.

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