Software Update Server and client-side update tools form the core of the patching model.
Apple is slowly introducing
client and server software elements that wrangle together all the disparate
Apple hardware and software installed across the network by giving
administrators control over what applications and patches are presented to
users for installation.
Mac OS X Server already
provides administrators centralized control over what software updates are
presented to Mac clients, and it seems a sure bet that the same software
platform will logically extend to the Apple iPhone. Add some support for Apple
applications on Microsoft Windows PCs, and it would not be beyond the realm of
possibility to find companies of all sizes suddenly adding a few Apple servers to
their data centers.
Back in 2005, Apple added
the SUS (Software Update Server) to Mac OS X Server 10.4, which allowed
companies to host a local patch and application repository (similar to Windows
Server Update Services). Mac clients could then be configured to check with the
local repository for available installation packages. This allowed the company
to use less bandwidth (since the files needed to be downloaded from the
Internet only once) and enabled administrators to centrally control when updates
would happen while enforcing a level of software standardization across their
client computer base-as long as those clients were Macs.
The next version of SUS
(that came with Mac OS X Server 10.5) took it a step further, offering updates
for Apple's Windows applications-such as iTunes or QuickTime-but only for
Windows XP or Windows Vista installed on Apple hardware via Boot Camp.
Assuming the Windows via
Boot Camp updates work as advertised (which seems to be a big "if,"
as I could find no documentation for how to reconfigure the Boot Camp clients
to check with a local SUS and very little discussion of the feature online),
there seems little reason why Apple could not extend that support to Windows
installations on non-Apple hardware, save for Apple obstinacy.
Many Windows PCs already
have Apple client update software installed, since the application has been
installed automatically with iTunes for the last several months. Users became
all too aware of this update applet recently, when Apple started offering the
Safari 3.1 browser as an opt-out "upgrade"-even if the browser was
not yet installed on the PC.
But this version of the
client update software does not appear to be configurable to point to a local
repository. I've combed through the Windows registry and file system, and I
have not been able to locate where the address for the update server is defined-suggesting
Apple has hard-coded it into the application somewhere. Whether this will be
remedied in future revisions is simply speculation at this point.
Also in the realm of
speculation is the role an SUS could play in the corporate use of the iPhone.
The next major revision to the iPhone software will introduce a number of
enterprise-friendly features to the mobile platform-including Microsoft
Exchange ActiveSync, Cisco VPN, remote wipe, digital certificate support,
application installation and policy-based configuration.
Apple has even started a
$299 Enterprise iPhone Developer Program-enabling
developers to create what the company calls "proprietary, in-house
applications for iPhone and iPod Touch." But little has been said to this
point about how the configuration policies and these homegrown applications
will be deployed to iPhones in an enterprise setting. SUS would be a logical
platform for that kind of deployment.
However, SUS has some
serious limitations for this kind of deployment. For instance, you cannot have
different software distribution policies on the same SUS server. If you want
different versions of applications available to different clients, then you
need to have another SUS iteration available with the different policy.
This may be adequate for
applications on a computer-Apple representatives would argue that the majority
of IT departments want to keep software versions consistent-but this would
definitely not be the case for a mobile device. Different departments would
require specialized applications-so a one-size-fits-all application package
would be a poor fit indeed.
There can be no doubt that
Apple is courting the enterprise to the iPhone. There can also be no doubt that
Apple is releasing tools to help administrators control the sprawl of Apple
software in an organization. But we can only hope the two themes will
intertwine to provide administrators a single solution to rein in both Apple's
hardware and software footprint on all devices.
eWEEK Labs Senior Analyst Andrew Garcia can be reached at