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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.

Although Apple pulled out the data center, it didn't stop developing its server platform. The company marketed the Mac Pro tower and the Mac mini as server options, including a specially configured Mac mini designed as a server. The focus, however, had shifted to the small business market and away from the enterprise. This was painfully clear when Apple released Lion and Lion Server during the summer of 2011.

After installing the low-cost Lion Server, which had become an add-on to Lion itself rather than an independent product, long-time Mac sysadmins were in for another shock. Server Admin, the advanced server administration tool in OS X Server, was effectively gutted; the new Server app that replaced Server Preferences was clearly intended to be the primary management interface of OS X Server.

Mountain Lion Server streamlined management further by removing Server Admin completely and building any functionality left in the Lion Server version of Server Admin into a more robust version of the Server app. Mountain Lion Server still supports Open Directory as an enterprise identity server -- it is a required service option when hosting some services like Profile Manager. The overall message, however, is clear: OS X Server is no longer destined for the enterprise data center.

Apple's light-handed approach to enterprise integration
With Lion and Mountain Lion, Apple began tobring iOS technologies and features to the Mac. There are a number of very visible examples of this cross pollination: full screen apps, integration with Apple's push notification service and Notification Center, multi-touch gestures, the Mac App Store, deep integration with Twitter and Facebook, and Game Center. A far less visible change was support for iOS-style configuration profiles, which Apple introduced in Lion alongside Profile Manager, a basic mobile device management service included with Lion and Mountain Lion Server.

Although Lion supported configuration profiles, their capabilities weren't as robust as in iOS and they didn't offer much in the way of enterprise identity or user account management. What they did offer was the ability to manage a range of settings and restrictions for individual Macs. They could be used to streamline the setup of multiple Macs using the new Profile Manager service, a third-party product, or by simply installing them manually. That last process is simple: opening the profile on a target Mac installs it and adds a System Preferences icon for managing it.

In Mountain Lion, the capabilities of configuration profiles expanded significantly. They gained the ability to manage virtually every facet of OS X or installed applications. The new abilities matched all of the options available through Open Directory and support for enterprise identities and user accounts, but in a much more lightweight fashion.


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