12 valuable tools for managing business Macs

Which one is best for your organisation will depend on your needs and existing infrastructure.

The knock on managing Macs in business environments has long been Apple's ambivalent attitude toward providing significant enterprise support. Apple does, of course, offer tools for deploying, configuring, and managing Macs. But to move Macs beyond a departmental setting, IT will often find it necessary to look to third parties for help.

One of the biggest issues with Apple tools in enterprise environments is scalability. This has become a larger concern now that Apple has moved out of the enterprise hardware market and has refocused its Mac OS X Server on the small-business community.

[ For more tips and tools for managing an enterprise Mac fleet, download InfoWorld's free "Business Mac" Deep Dive PDF special report today. | See InfoWorld's slideshow tour of Mac OS X Lion's top 20 features and test your Apple smarts with our Apple IQ test: Round 2. | Keep up with key Apple technologies with the Technology: Apple newsletter. ]

The good news is that there are some very good and significantly more scalable solutions to fill the void. Some specialize in providing specific enterprise features, such as client management, mass deployment, and patch management, while others offer a more integrated set of tools for one-stop shopping. Which one is best for your organization will depend on your needs and existing infrastructure.

Here we have gathered 12 tried-and-true Mac management tools for IT organizations looking to maintain Macs in a business environment. Be sure to also check out InfoWorld's IT guide to managing Macs in the OS X Lion era, as well as our overview of 22 essential Mac tools for IT admins.

Mac support tool No. 1: JAMF Casper Suite

Casper Suite is an Apple-specific solution that integrates with Apple's global enterprise support services. It offers complete lifecycle management, including inventory/asset management, system deployments, software rollouts and patch management, software license auditing and control, and remote control for end-user support needs.

JAMF also offers iOS device management features that leverage the same inventory and user management capabilities of its desktop suite.

Mac support tool No. 2: Centrify Direct Control

Centrify Direct Control is an alternative to Apple's Active Directory plug-in. A free version known as Centrify Express is available, but the real power lies in the commercial edition that integrates with Active Directory to safely extend the schema to allow administrators to apply group policies to Macs and Mac users.

The policies available mirror those offered by Apple's Managed Preferences and are as scalable as any other group policies. Direct Control also provides smartcard support for Lion, which Apple has deprecated (previous releases of OS X offered some degree of native smartcard support).

Mac support tool No. 3: Thursby's ADmitMac

ADmit Mac provides another alternative to Apple's Active Directory plug-in. It offers a number of advanced features, including smartcard support for Lion and DFS browsing support for Macs running earlier releases of OS X.

ADmitMac also offers administrators the ability to tap into Apple's Manager Preferences architecture without OS X Server or schema modification by hosting client management data on a network share.

Mac support tool No. 4: FileWave

FileWave is a software deployment and management tool that supports Macs and Windows PCs. FileWave makes it easy to install and remove applications from a central management interface, thereby streamlining license management and reclamation. It functions similarly to package-based installations but with the ability to easily update and remove software as needed.

Mac support tool No. 5: LANDesk

LANDesk is multiplatform systems and lifecycle management suite. It supports Windows, Linux, and OS X, and it offers inventory/asset management, software distribution and discovery, centralized security and antivirus services, patch management, and help desk functionality. It also supports cloud solutions and some mobile device management capabilities.

Mac support tool No. 6: Flexera

Flexera offers software and license management solutions. For Mac systems, it supports software distribution, auditing, and license management. It also supports these and additional features in Windows and Unix environments, including Windows 7 migration and virtualization tools.

Mac support tool No. 7: Puppet

Puppet is a multiplatform IT automation suite. For Mac management, Puppet offers remote discovery of Mac systems and configurations, as well as centralized system administration and software update distribution. It also offers public/private cloud management and policy compliance solutions.

Mac support tool No. 8: Faronics Deep Freeze for Mac

Deep Freeze is a well-known product for ensuring consistent configuration of systems by reverting PCs to a specified state at each reboot. The Mac version doesn't include a centralized administration solution, but can be managed remotely via SSH or remote management tools such as Apple Remote Desktop or the remote management features of other suites in this list.

Mac support tool No. 9: Dell's Kace

Kace offers a range of network appliances that support Windows, Linux, and OS X. These appliances can be used for network-based system discovery and inventory/asset management, software distribution and patch management, and some limited policy management. Kace appliances also include a help desk module.

Mac support tool No. 10: Quest

Quest provides a number of enterprise management solutions for technologies such as Active Directory, Exchange, server and cloud virtualization, and network security. Quest offers a Group Policy for Mac feature that, like Centrify's Direct Control, extends Active Directory and the standard group policy tools to include Mac-specific policies based on Apple's Managed Preferences architecture.

Mac support tool No. 11: Symantec's Altiris Client Management

Part of Symantec's broad range of enterprise IT management suite, Altiris Client Management supports Windows, Linux, and Mac end-user systems. For Mac systems, it supports system discovery and inventory/asset management, monolithic system imaging, software distribution and patch management, and remote control of systems for end-user support.

Mac support tool No. 12: Absolute Manage

Absolute Manage is a suite that focuses on complete lifecycle management for PCs, Macs, and iOS devices. For Macs it offers inventory/asset management, monolithic system imaging, software deployment and patch management, license management, and security/system change management.

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