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Enterprise iDevice Management with OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion Server

📄 Contents

  1. What's Required to Build the Infrastructure?
  2. Creating and Deploying Settings Profiles
Unsure of how to integrate Apple devices (be they of the iOS or OS X variety) into your Microsoft- or Linux-based network? You’re not alone. IT expert Tim Warner shows how you can centrally manage iDevices in any corporate network environment with minimal cost and learning curve.
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I dare say that the vast majority of systems administrators I know haven't the first clue how to integrate Apple devices (be they of the iOS or OS X variety) into their Microsoft- or Linux-based networks. To be sure, it appears that many Windows systems administrators feel intuitively that Apple "doesn't play well" in a mixed-platform environment.

Having managed networks that include both Apple- and Microsoft-based hardware and software, I must conclude that this conventional wisdom is in large part correct. That is, Apple certainly has failed to focus its products correctly at businesses. Instead, Apple has aimed its offerings at the lucrative creative professional, academic, or casual consumer markets.

The problem that currently faces (plagues?) Windows administrators today is that the success of iOS-based mobile devices such as the iPhone and iPad has created pressure on IT managers to incorporate these devices into their existing infrastructure.

How much does it cost to integrate iDevices into an Active Directory (AD) domain? What new hardware and software is required? How big is the learning curve? What support and training issues are we faced with? These are all common and quite valid questions asked by Windows systems administrators who find themselves in this situation, either by choice or by default.

The good news is that we can centrally manage iDevices in any corporate network environment with minimal cost and learning curve. You heard me correctly! As you will learn, building the back-end to support thousands of iDevice users can be accomplished for less than $1,500 in most cases.

Now that I've whet your appetite, let's begin!

What's Required to Build the Infrastructure?

At one time in the no-so-distant past, Apple sold dedicated server hardware called Xserve (shown in Figure 1). The Xserve platform ran dedicated server software called (what else?) Mac OS X Server.

Figure 1 Apple Xserve

For a variety of reasons that remain a mystery to many Apple systems administrators, Apple removed Xserve from the marketplace in late 2010.

Nowadays we find that the OS X Server bits are de-coupled from the client operating system. The workflow is that we start with an installation of OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, and then purchase the OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion Server bits from the Apple Store for $20. After you simply install the server services on top of the client OS, you've got yourself a new server!

With respect to hardware, the prevailing Apple wisdom today is that you can support up to 5,000 iOS users with a single $999 Apple Mac mini computer (shown in Figure 2).

Figure 2 Apple Mac mini

Creating the "Magic Triangle"

The metaphor of the "magic triangle" refers to an OS X or iOS client device that is bound to two directory services simultaneously: Microsoft Active Directory and Apple Open Directory (OD). One of the first decisions you need to make as a Windows systems administrator is whether you want to separate your iOS devices from AD, or to integrate them within it.

The details of OD/AD interoperation are well beyond the scope of this article. However, let me give you the compressed overview of the procedure:

Figure 3 Use Workgroup Manager to add Active Directory user accounts to an Open Directory group named Sales Folks

When all is said and done, you will have one or more OD groups that populated with AD user accounts. In the "magic triangle" configuration, user account authentication is handled by AD; OD can then use the AD accounts as security principals.

If you decide to separate OD/iOS device management from AD management, then you can use Workgroup Manager or the Server app to create OD user and group accounts (called Local Network Users in the Server app).

We don't need to worry about Mac or Windows computer accounts here because we are concerned only with iOS devices such as iPhones, iPads, or iPod touches.

Basic Mountain Lion Server Configuration

The Server app is the central management utility in OS X Mountain Lion Server. OS X and iOS device management centers upon the creation and deployment of profiles. Profiles are nothing more than Extensible Markup Language (XML) files that are deployed to and ingested by managed Apple client devices. The profiles specify custom preferences and restrictions that you define as the systems administrator.

The Profile Manager Web application is where profile management takes place. Before we get to Profile Manager, however, we need to configure Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption and authentication certificates on our Mountain Lion Server. This can be accomplished by visiting the Settings page in the Server app, shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4 Before we can configure iOS device profiles, we need to install an SSL certification on our OS X server

Also, make sure to visit the OD page to ensure that your Open Directory Master is operational. You should also re-check the Users and Groups pages to verify your OD and AD accounts.

Finally, navigate to the Profile Manager page, shown in Figure 5. The first time you enable the service you'll be walked through the setup, including creating an Open Directory Master if you have not already done so.

Figure 5 Setting up Profile Manager

I've marked up Figure 5 for your convenience. We enable the service with the big slider switch (1). We select our SSL digital certificate (2), and then optionally rename the default configuration profile (helpfully named Settings for Everyone - 3). Finally, we click Open Profile Manager (4) to open the Profile Manager Web app.

Incidentally, the configuration of SSL digital certificates on the OS X Server is particularly important because this is how your iOS client devices trust and securely communicate with the Mac management server.

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