How Businesses, Schools Get Help With Apple Deployments

Third-party vendors like Jamf offer deeper tools to replace Apple administrative tools that may not be adequate for larger users.

Jamf, Apple administration, iPads, schools, Apple device management, Jamf Pro, Chromebooks

MINNEAPOLIS—With some 20,000 Apple laptops being used around the world by employees of business processing outsourcing company Concentrix, the built-in Apple device management tools, such as Profile Manager, often can't keep up with the deeper needs of growing enterprises.

To solve those limitations, businesses often must find and deploy targeted administrative tools from third-party vendors, which are more scalable and more efficient at configuring and maintaining Apple devices for workers anywhere around the world, said Brent David, the North American IT lead for Apple products at Concentrix. That's what brought David here to the Jamf Nation User Conference, where he talked to eWEEK about what he was learning about the latest Apple management tools from Jamf, which today provide help for his company's Apple machines.

The problem with Apple's own Profile Manager, he said, is that "it's not fully scalable in the ways that Jamf is scalable." As his company moves to a global device configuration and deployment standard for all of its Apple laptops around the world, it becomes important for Concentrix to have better tools, he added.

Apple's standard management tools are focused on small businesses and on home offices, where there might be a maximum of 20 to 30 devices, said David. "When you get to where you have 500 devices, [Apple Profile Manager] works, but there are better ways to do it."

The basic Apple tools are good for small operations, but their shortcomings show up when larger businesses try to use them, he added.

Concentrix began working with Jamf's Apple device management tools following the recent acquisition of business services vendor The Minacs Group by Concentrix parent Synnex. About 4,000 Apple devices so far are being used with Jamf 9.9.6, while a global rollout of the upcoming latest Jamf Pro Version 10 edition (pictured) will follow later, David said.

By using Jamf applications, the company will be able to reduce IT labor costs for deploying and configuring Apple devices because it will be done through the air, rather than by physically modifying individual machines one by one, and that's huge for Concentrix, he said.

"We're trying to get out of the logistics game" where companies have to image laptops, prepare them, store them in warehouses and then send them out as needed, he said. Instead, users will get their machines, and the needed configurations and settings will be installed automatically the first time they fire them up, using Jamf tools.

Other Apple administrators shared similar stories here at the Jamf conference.

Elizabeth Langer, director of technology training and development at the Northside Independent School District in San Antonio, Texas, told eWEEK that her district is moving to Jamf tools because as they add more Apple devices for its teachers and students, its configuration problems and costs have been rising.

The district has about 106,000 students and about 8,100 teachers and administrators who are supported by the IT team. The district had been using Apple's own device configurators to prepare iPads for distribution to teachers and students, but the process was time-consuming and inefficient, she said. A 50/50 mix of iPads and Chromebooks is planned for the district.

"The iPads, we knew, we couldn't continue [to configure] in the way we had been" managing the devices using the Apple configurators, said Langer. "It was eating our lunch," and as the district looks at expanding the distribution of iPads to students, it became clear that the IT team "would be doing nothing more than constantly updating them and adding apps" without using the Apple tools.

That's why the district is now preparing to use Jamf to configure and administer its iPads when they start going out to students through 2017, said Langer. "With Jamf, the changes will be over the air without a visit," she said.

Meanwhile, in the Cape Henlopen School District in Delaware, Jamf Apple administration tools were brought in two years ago to replace a previous vendor's tools that didn't fill the district's needs, said Rob Jennings, a technology specialist with the district. The district had brought in about 1,300 Apple iPads for each of its high school students and needed more robust tools than were found in the standard Apple offerings.

"We tried another brand, but it just didn't do what we wanted," said Jennings.

Those shortcomings were resolved through the use of Jamf products, which brought scalability, patch management, profile administration and the ability to turn features on and off for users on the fly, said Michele Ritter, another technology specialist for the district. "All of those were not available or good enough with the Apple tools," and had to be done manually, she said.

Overall, the changes for the IT department in how it administers Apple devices today have been massive, according to her co-worker, Jennings. "We're so far past [the old manual processes] that once we found the good stuff, we don't want to remember the past."