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Imaging for Intel Macs Part 1: Why Intel Macs Increase an Administrator's Workload and How Best to Manage Their Deployment

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Deploying Intel Macs can add extra work for administrators because they require completely different Mac OS X releases and system images than Power PC Macs. Although it is possible to cobble a universal Mac OS X image together, is doing so really the best choice? In this first article in a two-part series, Ryan Faas looks at some of the specific challenges that relate to developing deployment strategies for Intel Macs and some of the ongoing issues if you opt to deploy a dual-platform environment using Mac workstations.
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The transition from Power PC to Intel Macs presents system administrators with unique opportunities and unique challenges. The most obvious opportunity is the capability to create a cross-platform network of Mac OS X and Windows using only Mac workstations. This can be a boon to education and other markets in which there is a need or desire to provide access to both platforms because it no longer requires that two sets of computers be bought. However, it creates both challenges of developing efficient deployment strategies and new concerns for ongoing workstation support and data management.

This two-part series looks at some of the specific challenges that relate to developing deployment strategies for Intel Macs and some of the ongoing issues if you opt to deploy a dual-platform environment using Mac workstations. In this first article, you’ll focus first on the unique challenges posed when deploying a Mac environment that contains both Power PC and Intel Mac hardware. Part 2 will tell you how to meet the challenges of deploying and supporting a dual-platform environment.

Disk Images and Deployment

There are a number of deployment tools available to Mac administrators, but most of them focus on disk-image deployment—creating an image from a preconfigured workstation’s hard drive and then using one of several tools to copy that image onto the hard drive of all the target workstations to be deployed. Although the tools might vary, the technique is typically the most efficient manner for deploying new workstations (or whole offices, classrooms, or labs), rolling out large updates, and even as a support option for a single Mac experiencing a number of operating system or application problems.

The approach works very well because Apple has engineered Mac OS X to be quite portable, which is to say that a Mac OS X installation created on one Mac model will typically be able to power a slightly different machine (provided that the target computer is not a newer model than the release of Mac OS X installed on the source computer). Although it is typically best to use a disk image only on similar hardware, you can usually deploy images to similar (but not identical) Macs without issue. This capability is especially helpful when working with Apple’s NetBoot and NetInstall technologies because it enables you to work with a single or limited number of NetBoot (or NetInstall) image sets—thus simplifying the number of NetBoot images and servers displayed to users and reducing the server resources needed to support them.

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