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How Jamf is managing Apple devices during quarantine

Managing Apple devices remotely has been made easier through cloud-based products and administration software.

Modern software tools such as Jamf Pro have made it possible to manage Apple devices through a pandemic that has demanded remote work.

Apple's devices differ significantly from those that operate on the Microsoft and Android operating systems, but industry observers said most endpoint management software now accommodates iOS as well.

Allen Houchins, director of IT at the Apple device management software firm Jamf, said some IT pros accustomed to Android and Microsoft products may find keeping tabs on employee Apple hardware easier.

Allen HouchinsAllen Houchins

"With Apple, you have a handful of MacBooks in certain [hardware] configurations [and] a handful of iOS devices in certain [hardware] configurations," he said. "On the Microsoft and Android side of things, there are just so many variables there -- even when it comes to the manufacturer of your device."

Based in Minneapolis, Jamf faced the same issues as other firms when quarantine restrictions went into place. Houchins credited Jamf Pro, the firm's product for configuring and administering MacOS and iOS devices, and a cloud-first mentality in ensuring the company's smooth transition to enforced remote work.

Taking Jamf remote

"We're a globally distributed company, and we don't necessarily have IT resources in every single one of our locations," he said. "We've built everything, from the ground up, with the concept of everybody being remote in mind."

Such a situation has informed the company's choices when it comes to managing devices, which includes providing employees access to corporate resources when they're working remotely and opting for cloud-based products, Houchins said.

"Nothing has changed for our IT team. We're still doing things the same way that we've always done them, including communication, collaboration and onboarding new employees remotely," he said.

Jamf Pro, he said, is a cloud-based enterprise device management tool the company's IT team was using, enabling its IT admins to log in from anywhere in the world -- a must when the office shuttered.

The transition has not wholly been without issues. The move out of the office has caused a spike in second factor authentication prompts when employees logged into such services as Slack and Salesforce, surprising users who were not used to the requests.

"If you're logging in from a Jamf-Pro-managed device, you get to bypass certain security hurdles because we trust that the device is in a specific state of protection," Houchins said. "A lot of our conditional access policies are also based off the location you're logging in from. If you're logging in from an office IP, you're also bypassing some of those security hurdles."

When employees left the office and started logging in from home, Houchins said, they started seeing authentication prompts they weren't used to -- driving several new help desk tickets.

Handling Apple devices remotely

Andrew Hewitt, an analyst at Forrester Research, said Apple has worked to make its devices easy to manage by building a management framework into its hardware.

Andrew HewittAndrew Hewitt

"From that perspective, it's pretty easy to go and enroll a Mac device, get up and running and get access ... as long as you have a [mobile device management] or [united endpoint management] provider in place," he said.

Hewitt noted that many of the major endpoint-management companies, including Citrix and VMware, now have options in place to manage Apple products.

Mark BowkerMark Bowker

Mark Bowker, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, said modern businesses and IT organizations must be prepared to manage all devices, including those from Apple. Organizations with policies and management software already in place, he said, likely had an easier transition to remote work.

"The majority of organizations that had any type of business application on an Apple or an Android device likely had work-from-home taking place already," he said. "So, it's really just a matter of being able to scale."

Houchins recommended that those IT pros facing issues consult their peers. One way to do that is through Jamf Nation, an online discussion board for Apple administrators that's available to anyone at no charge.

"Find the resources out there," he said. "You're not alone in this. There are plenty of free resources to help you get through this time."

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