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Apple and the enterprise: A complicated relationship

Ryan Faas | Aug. 21, 2013
It's been one step forward, two steps back over the past 15 years for Apple and enterprise customers.

The scalability advances, which continued to improve in later OS X and OS X Server releases, were only part of the advantage Apple gained by deprecating and eventually discontinuing NetInfo. The other was a move to open standards, including LDAP and Kerberos, the technologies at the foundation of Active Directory. As a result, Apple was able to offer Active Directory integration on Macs running Panther and later releases.

Out of the box the integration was pretty limited. Apple's Active Directory plug-in for Open Directory only mapped three attributes for user account records (username, password, and home directory), but Apple offered three ways to deepen that integration: extend the Active Directory schema to include the new records and attributes used by Open Directory, map the Apple-defined records and attributes to existing but unused Active Directory counterparts, or use what was called the magic triangle. That involved Macs that were joined to the Active Directory domain for enterprise identity and user authentication and to an Open Directory domain for Mac client management.

Apple also allowed third-party companies to produce their own Open Directory plug-ins to support additional directory types like Novell's eDirectory or provide new capabilities when using Active Directory. Centrify, an enterprise identity management developer, was one of the first companies to offer more powerful Active Directory integration. Its Direct Control for Mac, which is still on the market, allows Active Directory admins to manage Macs using group policies stored in Active Directory without modifying the schema. Group Policy options are available for virtually every Mac client and user management option available from Apple.

Leopard changes everything
2007 was a big year for Apple. It introduced the iPhone that summer and it OS X Leopard that fall. Leopard was among the most feature-packed OS X releases to come out of Apple and boasted more than 300 features and improvements. The most notable enterprise identity change in Leopard was that Apple finally phased out NetInfo, which was until then still used for storing local user accounts on Macs.

Leopard Server, on the other hand, included key features that would eventually determine Apple's current place in the enterprise. The first was a new option for joining Macs and Mac servers to an Active Directory domain. To streamline Mac integration with Active Directory, Apple created a new type of Open Directory mechanism known as augmented records. It essentially simplified the magic triangle approach. A user's Active Directory data still managed his or her enterprise identity and authentication, but Leopard Server could automatically include just the Apple-specified records needed for OS X Server services or client management. Everything else was passed to Active Directory.


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