FileWave launched a new free app called Lightning this week. The new app makes quick and easy work of deploying Mountain Lion (and Lion) to multiple Macs, particularly recent Macs with Thunderbolt. It can be used to roll out existing master images that a business or school has already created as well as a base OS X install that can be customized with a range of files and applications.
Mass deployments of new Macs or deployment of a new OS X release to existing Macs can be one of the more challenging projects that Mac IT professionals need to handle. For many large organizations, mass deployment can be accomplished pretty quickly if multicast network tools like Apple Software Restore can be used. The downside to using multicast for deployments is that data being streamed to Macs over the network will flood the local network or subnet with multicast data packets and can overwhelm any other devices trying to connect to resources over the network.
Point-to-point network deployments are also an option and they won’t flood a network with multicast data. The challenge with these types of deployments is that they can be significantly slower the multicast deployments. Even worse, because each Mac uses a discrete connection to the server or device hosting deployment data, there comes a point where the entire process for all Macs begins to slow down as additional Macs connect.
The remaining deployment option is to deploy OS X locally. This is often done using a series of external hard drives that are bootable. Connect a drive to a Mac, boot from the drive, start the deployment tool of choice. Then move on to the next Mac… and the one after that… and the one after that and so on – effective as a workflow but tedious.
Lightning changes up the local deployment option a bit. The typical workflow, shown in the video below, is to build image sets using the Lion/Mountain Lion installer app as a base. After adding the installer app, you can drag additional apps and package files into Lightning. Those apps and items contained in your selected package files (apps that require support files, software updates, and packages of user documents or configuration files that you’ve created) are added to the image set. You can also create a local user account with username and password as part of the image set. Lighting will store configurations for later editing and use.
Once you’ve got everything added to one or more image sets, you simply use Target Disk Mode to connect other Macs to the Lightning host Mac. Lightning supports deployment to Macs connected by Thunderbolt and Firewire, though Thunderbolt is preferred because of its faster performance. It can also deploy to internal and external hard drives. The process can be somewhat automated through an option to deploy automatically to any drive (or Mac in Target Disk Mode) that is connected.
Lightning is a great tool that is incredibly easy to use. It isn’t ideal for larger enterprises that need to deploy thousands of Macs, but is a viable options for small to mid-size companies and schools, particularly if the majority of Mac systems are notebooks and thus easy to connect to a host Mac. It’s also worth considering in larger environments that are predominantly Windows based and have a limited Mac population.