Deploying a large number of Macs with a full load of software can be a challenge for any organization. There are, of course, tools that help ease the process of both initial roll outs as well as software installation or updates.
If Mac users also need the ability to run Windows apps,however, there’s an extra layer of complexity. IT departments need to to get Windows onto each Mac, configured, and joined to enterprise systems in an efficient manner. Adding to the challenge Windows on Mac deployments add to the good amount of additional data that needs to be deployed – more than doubling it in some situations.
As with running Windows on a personal Mac, businesses have the option of creating dual-boot scenarios with Apple’s Boot Camp. While there are a handful of situations where Boot Camp can be effective in a business environment, virtualization tools often deliver a better experience because users don’t have to reboot Macs to run Windows apps. Also, Boot Camp supports only Windows 7 at this point, while virtualization allows a much wider range of Windows releases (including Windows Server – which can be useful for testing and training purposes) and OSes.
The overall deployment process is also simpler when using one of the virtualization options. For initial deployments, you can simply setup a virtual machine as part of the Mac image that gets deployed using tools like Apple Software Restore, Deploy Studio, or JAMF Casper Suite. After all, a virtual machine complete with configuration settings and a disk image file is nothing more than a series of files.
Deploying Windows and Windows apps to Macs in the field after an initial rollout can be a more complex process. You need to configure the virtual machine and install any needed updates and software as well as the virtualization tool that will be installed to run Windows.
Parallels has done a pretty good job of making these processes easier. In addition to volume licensing, Parallels For Mac Enterprise Edition includes tools to handle masse deployments and remote installations of Parallels itself as well as virtual machines.
The company uses that the standard Apple package (.pkg) as its primary enterprise deployment mechanism. Parallels provides a base package that IT departments can download with instructions for modifying that base package to create an efficient install and setup.
The process for modifying that base package is relatively straightforward and Parallels offers excellent documentation (PDF link) – even IT professionals new to the Mac will have no problems following along.
The process includes providing a volume license key for Parallels itself, creating configuration instructions to customize specific Parallels settings, and providing the actual virtual machine files. Once the deployment package is created, it can be deployed using and of the Mac deployment tools on the market like Casper Suite, Apple Remote Desktop, and munki (see our earlier coverage of Mac mass deployment and management for more details on deployment tools).
It’s also worth noting that in addition to the various network deployment tools available, the Parallels deployment package can be installed locally as well. Simply put the package on an external hard drive or even a flash drive and open it on any Macs that need to have Windows installed. Like any other package file, this will launch the OS X Installer utility and deploy Parallels, any configuration choices, and the virtual machine. As with a mass deployment, the virtual machine and Parallels will be pre-configured and ready to use once the package is installed.
Creating Windows virtual machines for mass deployment is also pretty straightforward. Create configure the virtual machine as needed within Parallels on a Mac or configure an actual PC and then import that PC into Parallels as a virtual machine using Parallels Transporter. In either case, the process involves pre-configuring Windows for mass deployment. That often includes joining a PC to an Active Directory domain, installing patches and software, and so forth. As with other Windows mass deployments, you may need to run Sysprep before finalizing the image so that each copy of the virtual machine will have unique Windows security identifiers (SIDs).
Under the default settings for Parallels, users should be able to access all network resources from Windows or Windows apps. If Windows is joined to a domain, all group policies for security and management will be applied and enforced as they would be to any PC.
Overall, Parallels Enterprise doesn’t so much offer new or different deployment mechanisms compared the standard set of tools used for managing Mac deployments. What it does do, however, is offer tools and guidance that streamlines the process. That’s actually a great approach because Parallels doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel with its own proprietary processes. Instead it relies on established solutions. By using Apple’s package format, it gives IT departments immense flexibility when it comes to the actual tools used to complete the deployment process.