What’s everyone else using? Popular support tools for Mac Sys Admins

When contemplating how best to support Macs in your institution, it pays to know what other System Administrators are using.  A recent post on the AFP548 blog shows the tools being most commonly used by respondents to their recent survey.

Additionally, it was assumed that respondents would be using Apple Server and Profile Manager for at least part of their support process.

If you’re new to Mac support, you may wonder what all these tools are used for. Here’s a quick run-through the tools listed:

NetBoot

Macs can boot to a Network Boot Image (NBI) using the NetBoot protocol, similar to PXE boot for PCs. These can be lightweight versions of OS X which enable you to restore a full OS X image, or other packages, to the host Mac – essential if you have to reinstall large numbers of Macs on a regular basis.

These images can be created using Apple’s System Image Utility, or using third party solutions such as DeployStudio or Casper.  

To host the NBIs and make them available over the network, you either need a Mac with Server installed, or use BSDPy on a Linux server.

If you work in an environment with multiple subnets, you need to add the server to the IP Helper list on your Cisco switches, or set it up as a DHCP Helper.

DeployStudio

DeployStudio enables you to image a Mac ready for deployment to end users, using workflows which include being able to add a name, add local users, apply updates, install software, run configuration scripts, bind to active directory.  These workflows can include:

  • deploying a previously uploaded “snapshot” image of an existing Mac, for instance with all your common software and desktop environment included,
  • a “vanilla” image created with tools such as AutoDMG or createOSXinstallPkg,  
  • just adding configurations and software to an existing installation, for instance on a brand new Mac, where re-imaging the OS is pointless.

You can also repartition the disk and create dual- and triple-boot environments (e.g. Mac/Windows/Linux).

DeployStudio runs on a Mac, though its image repository can be on any file server. Typically, you load the DeployStudio runtime program into a bootable image, which can either be a NetBoot image (see above), or a bootable USB stick. Both are easy to create using the DeployStudio assistant.

Access to different workflows can be restricted to different groups (which can be Active Directory groups), so that self-service workflows are possible.

Munki

Munki combines a simple web repository, in which you store packages (which can be packaged software, configurations or files), and a client app which, once installed on clients, provides an environment similar to the Apple App Store and Software Updates service, where users can gain access to the third party software you have stored in the repository.

The beta Managed Software Center in Munki 2

The beta Managed Software Center in Munki 2

The client app, named “Managed Software Center”, allows users to install and uninstall software from your repository without admin rights. Other software can be mandated to be installed on clients.  Once software is installed, any updates are advertised to users in the same way the Apple Software Updates works.

The Munki tools enable you to import software into distributable packages. AutoPkg integrates well with Munki, and makes the importing and updating of many common freeware titles simple and automatic. 

Casper, Absolute ManageFileWave

These software suites are enterprise solutions for managing Macs. They include tools for creating and deploying OS X images, methods for distributing and advertising software, and configuration / profile management.  They also include support for iOS – an advantage over free tools like Munki and DeployStudio. Costs are generally per-client per-year.

Reposado

Apple Software Updates are by default downloaded from Apple’s servers over the internet. Where bandwidth is a problem, you can cache updates on a Mac with Apple Server, and point your clients to that server instead. Reposado is designed to replace the Apple Server for this service, and allows you to store the updates on a different platform, such as a Linux server.

Munki/Reposado Reporting Tool (MWA, MR-PHP, Margarita, etc)

Web services have been designed for Munki (and Reposado) in order to allow you to monitor enrolled devices, to check that updates have been successful, check FileVault status, and other audit tools.  All run on web servers.

MunkiReport-PHP is simply a reporting tool for Munki.

MunkiWebAdmin is also a reporting tool, but also allows manipulation of the Munki repository.

Margarita is an interface to Reposado.

Puppet

Puppet is a configuration and reporting tool, primarily for Linux. Mac support has increased in recent times, and more people are starting to use it to distribute configuration scripts, and even software  and images, to Macs, as an alternative to Apple Profile Manager, and instead of or in addition to the use of Munki.

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