Profile Manager to the Rescue

Categories: The Server Room
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Published on: June 9, 2011

I’ve talked a few times about what I’d like to see Google accomplish with device management from Google Apps, and it appears Apple has beat them to the punch. The following is the advertised Profile Manager features for Lion Server:

Profile Manager offers you simple yet powerful ways to set up and remotely manage computers running Lion and iOS devices such as iPad and iPhone. It also simplifies the creation of user accounts for mail, calendar, contacts, and chat; enforcement of restrictions; PIN and password policies; configuration of system settings; and more. Because it’s integrated with the Apple Push Notification service, Profile Manager can send out updated configurations over the air automatically. And it includes web-based administration, so you can manage your server from any modern web browser. Profile Manager even gives users access to a self-service web portal where they can download and install new configuration profiles, as well as clear passcodes and remotely lock or wipe devices that are lost or stolen.

In short, it’s the hoped-for iPhone Configuration Utility on Steroids™. Clearing passcodes alone is going to be huge for schools, as in two separate meetings that was the single biggest complaint from technicians managing iPad deployments. Apparently some kids think it’s hilarious to set a passcode on a shared device so the next class can’t use it, and the technician had to have the device in-hand to reset the device and clear the passcode.

Doing it all wirelessly is the single biggest feature. Having to plug them all in would have been a pain in the neck at best. Pushing updates and apps out over the air is critical in a multi-building or multi-campus district. We should have known it would only be a matter of time before this came around, and I’m thrilled to see it sooner rather than later.

I’m also excited because it looks like it will have the same ease of use and management as the current Workgroup Manager utility for user management. When I just want to tweak a few settings quick, I hate having to wade through option after option to find what I’m looking for (*cough*Active Directory*cough*). This also makes it much easier to delegate management and train end users when the time comes.

The low cost of upgrade and iCloud seal the deal. I’m waiting to hear if schools and businesses will be able to set up accounts on iCloud for managing their devices, but even without that, iCloud could be a tremendous advantage for students. For free, no less! I think this is a brilliant move on Apple’s part, and is a shot at both Amazon and Google.

Given I already have the Apple infrastructure in place, it’s looking more and more like iPads will be a no-brainer for my district.

Your move, Android.

Android and Malware

Categories: The Server Room
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Published on: June 2, 2011

I had hoped to be telling you how excited my teachers were to receive their new iPads by now, but due to supply and shipping issues, we have yet to receive them. Hopefully before long.

Meanwhile, news broke that Google has had to remove apps from the Android Market again due to malware hidden in the apps’ code. This is a huge concern for me with students with Android tablets, especially if I’m unable to limit or enforce the apps they can or can’t install.

I would prefer to keep things open, but the additional support burden of malware and other questionable apps could become a big issue in a small district with a one-man tech shop. If students are able to install from unknown sources (i.e., websites and vendors other than the Android Market), there’s no limit on the potential damage they could do to their own data/hardware or the network. With Apple I can be reasonably certain any apps they download will not be dangerous.

I’m also concerned about antivirus apps. It kills me that antivirus has to be constantly running and wasting resources on a PC, and doing the same on a tablet is only going to put a greater strain on the battery and waste time while a student is waiting on a scan instead of being productive. It’s one more thing to support and configure, and it would not shock me if it became an added cost to management.

How long, then, before some of these third-party management vendors start offering up servers and software for managing Android tablets? A custom Linux install could easily serve as a local repository for apps, profile data, and more.

Just like OS X Server 10.7 Lion may do for iOS devices.

I’m not expecting either Android or iOS deployment to be cheap, but support for malware issues goes beyond monetary costs.

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