I've had a few questions about some of the tools available to deploy and manage Macs, so I thought I would provide a brief overview and my thoughts on some tools that I have personally used. If you have thoughts on these tools or others you have used such as Munki or Puppet feel free to post them.
OSX Server - The Server.app available for $20 for a Mac provides several features, some most people will never need, but others are quite good and useful:
- Caching Server which is kind of like WSUS for OSX and iOS, except it can also "cache" apps from the Mac or iOS app stores. It is fire and forget, so has limited customisation. This is it's main weakness.
- File Sharing works pretty well and is used for sharing images, packages, and scripts for both DeployStudio and Casper Suite. It also can be used for sharing SMB or AFP shares to Mac and Windows clients. I have found that File Sharing in OSX 10.6 works better for Windows clients than the more recent versions however.
- Profile Manager is the management tool for Macs and iOS devices (MDM). It works quite well especially for smaller environments.
- Wiki Server is a quite good easy to deploy Wiki for schools with a relatively intuitive and easy to use interface. Quite useful for schools that want to have class-based Wikis or for small departments.
DeployStudio (DS) - Netboot, partitioning of drives, monolithic imaging, directory binding, PKG deployment, self service (DS runtime). DS is primarily an imaging tool for mass deployment of monolithic images (similar to Fog or other Windows imaging tools). It does this very well and very fast, including dual-boot or triple-boot images. DS can also push out individual packages, but there isn't as much customisation or flexibility in this in DS as there is in Casper Suite. This is why DS i usually used for monolithic images. The downside to monolithic images is that you need one for each build and you will have to update the entire image anytime an app is updated or the OS requires an update. You could just use individual updated packages for apps over top of a base image in the short-term, but over time you would need to update your image itself. DS does what it does extremely well and is very easy to setup and use. I highly recommend it for anyone just starting out with mass imaging. The online tutorials are good and it's dead easy to use for an experienced tech. CS has a much bigger learning curve, but it can also do a lot more. You will need a Mac to act as a "server" with DS and you don't require this with CS. More on this later.
DeployStudio: Heavy-duty imaging software for OS X | Ars Technica
Apple Remote Desktop (ARD) - The very powerful, and relatively inexpensive remote management and mass configuration tool provided by Apple. It blows the doors off of MS Remote Desktop in many ways. ARD takes off where DS leaves off and can do Inventory and Reporting, package deployments, Remote management/assistance, run automated tasks in the background (a "Task Scheduler" can be installed on a Mac server so that tasks can be pushed from a client ARD by an IT technician with no further need to leave ARD open or their computer even on as these tasks will run on the copy of ARD on the server). One of the very neat things is being able to do a Spotlight search of multiple clients for a file or app (which can be automated if you have software that you want to remove if found, etc.) or push unix commands to multiple Macs.
Apple - Remote Desktop 3
Casper Suite (CS) - Inventory and reporting, Imaging, Patch Management, Create custom packages, Self Service, Remote Management, Policies (like custom-built GPOs, very flexible), Usage monitoring, GSX integration (warranty info), License Management, Software Restriction policies, Profile Management for Macs, and MDM for iOS. It basically can do the job of OSX Server, DeployStudio, and ARD all in one integrated system. It can be installed on either OSX or Linux (VM or physical). There are only two things that aren't built-in to the basic suite, which are Netboot and Caching Server. You either need to configure Netinstall on an OSX server or use the NetSUS Linux VM provided by JAMF for this purpose. NetSUS provides ASUS, but not Caching Serve. I have tried NetSUS and the reason I stopped using it was that everytime they update it, you had to redeploy the whole VM. I think they have fixed that now, but we use Caching Server and have a Mac server so there wasn't any point. With CS though, you don't actually have to have a Mac server of any kind to image and manage Macs and iOS devices. If you have a good virtualised setup, you can do it all with your existing backend.
Using JAMF Casper Suite and Winclone Pro to Image a Lab of Dual-Boot Macs
So, either the combination of OS X Server, DeployStudio, and ARD (for the whopping cost of $99, minus the cost of a Mac Mini or other box to use as the server) provides a very powerful Mac and iOS management framework. Casper Suite can do everything this combination can do and then some, but it isn't free and the learning curve is somewhat steep. I recommend starting off with OSX Server, DS, and ARD to start with particularly for smaller to medium-size environments. Casper Suite doesn't come into its own unless you have at least 100 Mac clients.
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