Back in late 2013 I was tasked with figuring out a new solution to deploying and managing the Macs for my then role at Mind Candy. I initially posted this article back in 2015, so it's a little out of date but all the technology is still valid and widely used.
The whole project started life as small changes to our deployments which in turn evolved into an entire deployment/management suite, built out of varying open source and free technologies.
In the beginning Clonezilla was used for imaging the Macs and for asset management we solely used GLPI. Having come from a Windows background with a little bit of Debian and Red Hat experience, this lack of control and visibility of the machines you were supporting was completely alien to me. Soon after joining I was given the task of reviewing our imaging process and look to see what other technologies were available. Along came DeployStudio.
DeployStudio is a fantastic deployment tool which allows you to image and deploy Macs and PCs. As opposed to just creating and deploying images it allows you to create advanced workflows and fully automate your deployment from start to finish. In order to run DeployStudio you will need OS X Server for NetBoot deployments. We initially installed DeployStudio on a Mac Mini which ran fine but then set up another Deploystudio Server on a second Mac Mini as a replica for redundancy purposes.
We didn’t want to get into the habit of creating multiple images for different models of machines but instead have one vanilla image with varying workflows depending on the purpose of the Mac it will be deployed to. In order to create a vanilla image you download the latest Mac OS X installer via the App Store and then use AutoDMG to build a system image ready for use with the latest updates. Once we have our base image we can then look to create a workflow. This workflow will then apply all the changes needed over the top of the vanilla image such as localising the Mac, setting the computer name, creating the local users, installing necessary packages, running scripts and lastly it then runs software update.
We were then left with the problem of, how do we preload and manage software on all our Macs? DeployStudio can install packages but they then quickly become out of date and, you aren’t able to manage the already installed software on the machines on your network.
Munki is a package management system which allows you to distribute software via the use of a web server and client side tools. Using catalogs and manifests you can install and remove software on your clients depending on what manifest has been applied to what machine. Munki also rather handily collects information on the clients and stores it on the Munki server each time Munki runs such as the user, hostname, IP, failed Munki runs, installed software etc.
The problem we found is that while Munki works well, the software uploaded to Munki Server will soon become out of date and managing the repository of software becomes a task in itself, here’s where AutoPKG and Jenkins comes in. AutoPkg is an automation framework for OS X software packaging and distribution and Jenkins is a continuous integration server. AutoPkg uses recipes to download the latest create the relevant metadata ready for importing to the Munki server via Munki tools. Jenkins is then used to schedule the AutoPkg recipes and Munki import as builds everyday in the early hours of the morning. The end product is Munki containing the most up-to-date software that you’d expect on all of your clients e.g. Chrome, Firefox, Munki tools, Antivirus, Mac Office.
After playing with Munki and being really impressed with it I decided to see what else I could find that would potentially hook into it. After some search I found Sal which is the creation of a guy called Graham Gilbert. Graham is an active contributor in the Mac management world and I personally am a big advocate of his, you can find his GitHub page here. Sal is a Munki and Puppet reporting tool which helps give you, not only a broad overview of your Macs via a dashboard but also an in depth look at each client via the stats collected by Munki and Facter.
Once Sal has been configured on the client, each time Munki runs it triggers a sal submit script which gathers information and stores it on the Sal server. The highly customisable Sal dashboard uses plugins to display high level counters to then display for example which machine is running on which version of OS X or when the clients last checked in. There are custom plugins available on GitHub or you can even create your own. If you wanted to you could rearrange the order of the plugins and hide certain plugins if you had multiple dashboards. Due to the use of Munki and Facter it gives you the ability to drill down into an individual client and retrieve hourly status updates as well as static information about the machine.
In terms of Asset management not much has changed as GLPI is fit for purpose so we’ve had no need to replace it however, we do now use Meraki in conjunction with it.
Meraki is MDM tool which we initially used for our mobile devices but as Meraki grew their Mac and Windows management tools improved. By default now all machines are managed by Meraki as well as the other tools mentioned previously. With Meraki you can use their extremely powerful tools such as location tracking, remote desktop, viewing network stats, fetching process list, sending notifications etc. While on a daily basis they aren’t necessarily needed, they do come in handy for those odd situations.
Via all of the technologies above we now have an imaging process which takes up to 15 minutes with only 30 seconds of actual input. In that imaging process you have a DeployStudio workflow which images the Mac, configures it for the individual user, runs software update and installs Munki/Sal. Once booted Munki then runs and installs all the up-to-date software (thanks to AutoPKG & Jenkins) that the client’s manifest has specified. Going forward you then have monitoring (Sal) and management (Munki & Meraki) of that Mac which then gives you control and visibility of the machine.
The best part is this hasn’t cost us a penny! This is thanks to the ever passionate and generous open source community. See below for the fantastic folks who created the amazing tools I mentioned in the post.
- AutoDMG – Builds a system image, suitable for deployment with DeployStudio
- DeployStudio – Image & deployment system for Macs and PCs
- Munki – Package management for Mac
- AutoPKG & Jenkins – Automation framework for OS X software packaging and distribution and continuous integration server
- Sal – Munki & Puppet reporting tool for Macs
- Meraki – Mobile Device Management
- GLPI – Asset management
- Puppet & Facter – Configuration management utility and a cross-platform system profiling library