Review: Casper Suite 7.2 Keeps Macs In Line

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JAMF Software’s changes to its Casper Suite bring Mac systems under central control, helping IT managers to track inventory and license compliance

IT managers looking to streamline Mac management should check out the new polish JAMF Software has put on the latest version of its comprehensive Casper tool suite. With modules ranging from inventory and imaging to patch management and remote control, the Casper Suite brings legacy PC control to Mac systems.

Incremental changes in Casper Suite 7.2 add wizards and greater control of individual configuration settings on Mac systems with a ballpark price of around $100 (£67) per managed system (discounts are available for nonprofit and educational institutions as well as volume buyers).

The Casper Suite comprises a central management server and individual modules that handle client management functions, including inventory, imaging, patching, software distribution, remote control, settings management and licensing. The suite is licensed per managed Mac client system; there is no separate charge for the central management server or administrative console access. Version 7.2 became available March 10.

The collection of functions in the Casper Suite are typical for a client management system and should be familiar to IT client management staffs. Managers of Mac client systems likely won’t have much trouble getting up to speed on the Casper Suite, since JAMF mandates a two- to four-day on-site visit from the company’s JumpStart team to ensure proper server configuration.

Windows client staff members who are looking for a way to manage Mac systems would do well to consider the Casper Suite. Another option is to consider the work of the Enterprise Desktop Alliance, a group of traditionally Windows-oriented toolmakers who are advocating for Mac adaptations to their tools.

Cut and Paste

Client management suites always have a bit of Frankenstein essence, and JAMF’s Casper Suite 7.2 is no different. The components are wielded nicely together, however, and new wizards make the disparate tools less painful to set up. I installed the Casper Suite on my Apple Xserve running Mac OS X Server 10.6. The documentation is easy to follow, and quick-start lesson plans are remarkably clear. I’m accustomed to convoluted “solution accelerators” and mile-long procedure lists when setting up Windows-oriented client management suites. Everything about JAMF makes its Frankenstein seem young and fresh. I was up and running in a matter of about 4 hours without the help of a JAMF JumpStart team.

My Mac test environment consists of a single Xserve, a Mac Pro, a Mac mini and two MacBook Pro systems. The small number of systems didn’t allow me to test the scalability of the Casper Suite, but I did tour its functional areas and was impressed with the fit and finish of the management platform. The new policy assistant wizards made straightforward work of creating automated management tasks such as installing or removing software packages and running scripts. I probably would have benefited from the JumpStart team’s experience during my policy creation testing. After several hours of tinkering, I was able to create a policy that installed the Mac version of Microsoft Office on selected test systems.

Casper Suite 7.2 takes a benevolent, enabling approach to end-user management, and that is especially true of the enhancements made to the Managed Preferences module. I imported various preference manifest files from the Manifest Destiny project, which was offered as a choice for preference file sources to control everything from secure trash file handling to the position of the dock on various Mac systems. Experienced Mac administrators should have little trouble creating and using the Managed Preferences templates and settings in the Casper Suite.

Much of the Casper Suite remains unchanged from the previous version. Application and operating system packaging and distribution tools worked as expected. The remote control system was easy to use. The inventory module was accurate in monitoring both the physical characteristics of my various Mac systems and the software installed on those assets.

The suite also provides software license monitoring and usage, showing how many instances of various applications are running and when and where the applications are used. The Casper Suite wraps up the whole operation with a neat reporting module that makes all this information available to authorised users.