In addition to launching Mountain Lion Server last week, Apple rather quietly released a Mountain Lion Server version of Workgroup Manager – the traditional Mac management tool included in previous releases of OS X Server. The move was unexpected after Apple released the Advanced Administration guide for Mountain Lion Server, which implied that administrators would need to begin an almost-immediate shift to Mountain Lion Server’s Profile Manager.
The move is good news for many organizations that have an existing investment in OS X Server and Mac clients. Although Mountain Lion Server’s Profile Manager is arguably a more modern and enterprise-friendly solution, it only supports Macs running Lion and Mountain Lion. Any schools or businesses with clients still on Leopard or Snow Leopard would be out of luck if Profile Manager were the only available option.
While the move is good news, there is very real probability that the Mountain Lion release of Workgroup manager is meant to offer a stop-gap measure for organizations that still rely heavily on Managed Preferences. Given that Workgroup Manager isn’t mentioned in Apple’s advanced admin documentation and the emphasis that the company is placing on Profile Manager and configuration profiles, it seems likely that Apple won’t provide Workgroup Manager and related features in whatever OS X Server release follows Mountain Lion Server.
Apple’s move to an annual release cycle for OS X (and presumably OS X Server) means that Workgroup Manager and Managed Preferences could be gone for good within a year. Following the cancellation of the Xserve and what could be called the consumerization of OS X Server since the release of Snow Leopard Server three years ago, many organizations dependent on OS X Server, Open Directory, Managed Preferences, and other enterprise-focused technologies have wisely begun to consider their options moving forward.
Lion Server could be seen as a nudge to prompt organizations to seriously consider if a release of OS X Server more oriented to small businesses or workgroups would meet their needs and to evaluate and implement alternative enterprise solutions if it isn’t.
Mountain Lion Server, with its more polished and production-ready capabilities certainly poses that same question and it should motivate Mac IT professionals working with OS X Server to really look at the release and the management capabilities of Profile Manager as well as third-party alternatives. That investigation will likely lead to developing a strategic plan for Mac management and/or support that extends further than the next six to twelve months (at least).
It’s worth noting, however, that Mountain Lion’s focus on configuration profiles has led mobile management vendors to add Mac management as an option right next to iOS, Android, and other mobile platform management tools. Mobile management vendor AirWatch, for example, already supports Mac management and rival MobileIron plans to integrate Mac management into a seamless administration console and workflows. That gives Mac IT pros more choices than ever before as they consider what solutions will be best for their organizations going forward.