MINNEAPOLIS – At an IT conference hosted by a company that makes device management software for Apple products, you expect to encounter a fair amount loyalty, fandom and praise for the Cupertino tech giant.
And while that's certainly the case at the JAMF Nation User Conference (JNUC) taking place this week, there's also a resulting picture of utility. For the companies that use a majority of Apple devices in the workplace, they do so because the products simply work better and satisfy the needs of their business. Or so they tell me.
Take Pixar and National Geographic, for example. The IT heads for both organizations were on hand at the JNUC to explain how their companies deploy, manage and utilize Apple products throughout their organizations.
Since Apple doesn't offer any scalable, custom-built device management tools purely for the enterprise, Pixar and National Geographic turn to companies like JAMF to fill in the gaps. For the most part they use JAMF's Casper Suite, the company's keystone mobile device management platform, to handle the bevy of MDM tasks required on a daily basis.
One would think that given Pixar's CEO ties with Apple (Steve Jobs was chairman of Pixar in the early days, eventually becoming CEO, and was an instrumental figure during the Pixar/Disney acquisition) that the animation powerhouse would have enjoyed preferential treatment when it came to technical support. But according to Chris Lasell, head of desktop and infrastructure within the Pixar studio team, that wasn't actually the case.
"We have had a long relationship with Apple, for various reasons," Lasell said. "Early on when we had to reach out with questions they would tell us they couldn't help us. But our relationship with Apple, in terms of enterprise support, has improved vastly over the last 12 years. Now they are starting to see the enterprise is a real thing. They reach out to us a lot more."
Lasell credits JAMF and the Casper Suite with pushing the Apple enterprise agenda along, as they've given large organizations the tools the manage Macs at scale.
"As the JAMF user base has grown, Apple has come to recognize what that means," he said.
Lasell said nowadays Pixar runs with a mixed shop of hardware, but that the brunt of the work is being done of Apple machines. For Pixar's 1,200 employees there are roughly 1,600 Macs in use for a range of work including content creation and general computing. There are about 1,000 Linux machines used for movie making, and about 300 to 400 Windows machines used mainly in the finance department.
In terms of how JAMF is used for device management, Lasell said Casper has become key in securing devices and provisioning software and apps. Pixar uses Casper to enforce Passcode on Apple devices, as well as for the management of settings and preferences and things like email accessibility.
As far as iPads, Lasell said while there are some custom built tools for the tablets, they're not heavily used beyond educational and classroom settings.
"We are starting to look for more niches where iPads could be useful, but it's definitely more about iPhones and Macs."
Jehan Aziz, the Apple service manager for National Geographic, said there are approximately 1,100 Macs and 800 iOS devices currently in use throughout National Geographic — and that trying to manage all of those devices with the PC-centric tools that were available was an obvious problem.
"Once the population got to critical mass, having a tool tailored toward Mac management was needed," Aziz said.
So in March of last year, the company deployed the Casper Suite and now uses it for management of all Apple devices used within the organization, whether they're IT issued or brought in by the employees. With the help of the MDM solution, Aziz said the company is now able to handle tasks such as installing VPN software, monolithic imaging and issuing revocable Photoshop licenses.
But that part about employees bringing in their own devices highlights another critical fact that Aziz pointed out: For the most part, the growth of Apple devices within National Geographic has largely been an employee-driven phenomenon.
"It really started with executives getting the Apple products and just evolved into employees bringing in their own iPads and iPhones," Aziz said, adding that the days of company-issued BlackBerrys are also long gone.
Aziz attributes the popularity of Apple devices to the ease of use of the Mac platform, particularly for an organization with such a heavy focus on content creation, design and multimedia.
"Maybe it's a creative mindset kind of thing and that the way Apple works just goes with how creative people think and use their tools," Aziz said.
In the end …
It's a contentious topic, Apple in the enterprise. Prognosticators hail from all ends of the spectrum, predicting everything from a windfall of enterprise success to a failure of epic proportions.
But there are few that question Apple’s penetration amongst consumers – and it’s through that avenue that the Cupertino tech giant is making enterprise gains. As the enterprise workforce becomes more saturated with Apple users, the enterprise workplace does as well, creating the need for device management tools, which, at least for now, are provided by third party vendors that know how to get it right.