Will OS X Lion roar in the enterprise?

Despite changes to Apple's new OS, deployments need not be problematic

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Apple basically expanded Profile Manager beyond its iOS roots to serve as a client management tool in Lion Server. Using it, with or without other Lion Server features or a service like Active Directory, admins can define a powerful set of configuration options for Lion as well as a slate of user restrictions.

Profile Manager

Apple has expanded Profile Manager to serve as a client management tool in Lion Server. (See full visual tour.)

End users can enroll their Macs using a Web interface or administrators can define enrollment as part of the deployment process. Administrators can update managed settings at any time and have those changes propagate to clients via a push notification, regardless of whether the device is online when the change is made.

Client management isn't new (for either Macs or IT), but the ability to enact it without requiring a central directory system is a novel concept. The ease and simplicity certainly has an appeal for small and medium-sized organizations, but it also offers some new options for larger enterprises -- particularly in that permission to a central directory isn't needed to implement it or to make changes. This can simplify the setup of management policies, reduce the cost of managing Macs to $79 -- the cost of Lion plus Lion Server -- and even move some of the management burden off IT and onto individual departments or managers. The self-enrollment option allows employee-owned hardware to be managed without binding the devices to a directory or even requiring IT to configure them.

As the role of IT continues to evolve and support for employee-owned devices becomes more prevalent, Lion Server's Profile Manager looks like a worthy investment.

The Mac App Store and software licensing

One of the big complaints about Apple's iPhone and iPad in business is that the devices are tied to a user's iTunes account for activation as well as for purchasing and installing apps. With Apple moving to an App Store model with Lion, there's bound to be hesitation about how this will play out in business.

So far, it's too early to tell how the Mac App Store will affect larger organizations. As it stands now, the App Store is one option for purchasing software, but it is decidedly consumer-focused. Given that Lion supports the same set of deployment options as earlier OS X versions, this doesn't seem like an immediate concern. Organizations can continue to volume and site license most software directly with manufacturers or vendors, side-stepping the App Store completely. Microsoft's Office for Mac isn't even available via the App Store.

The exception, of course, is Lion itself and other Apple software titles: iLife, iWork, Aperture, Final Cut Pro X, Motion, Compressor and Apple Remote Desktop. In these cases, businesses can make volume purchases from Apple and receive redemption codes for the Mac App Store. Those apps can be deployed using conventional techniques or installed on individual Macs via the App Store using those redemption codes.

Apple has also recently begun to allow volume licensing of iOS apps for businesses using a similar model; redemption codes are distributed to employees. I wouldn't be surprised to see Apple extend that model to third-party software in the near future.

For now, outside of Apple software or applications from small developers whose only presence is in the Mac App Store, IT will have a choice of using the App Store or sticking with conventional ways of installing software on users' hardware.

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