12 valuable tools for managing business Macs

Organizations looking beyond Apple for Mac support will find a wealth of third-party tools to fill the enterprise Mac void

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.

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