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By now, you might have experimented with Apple Configurator and found it to be sufficient for your family’s administrative needs. However, if you are the go-to tech person for your friends and family, and are responsible for offering support to non-iOS devices, you may find Configurator, at least by itself, to be inadequate.
As I previously mentioned, I do not recommend Configurator for app management. Mobile Device Management (MDM) platforms are available and they handle this task with aplomb, so there is no need to settle for an inferior solution.
Geared towards Enterprise IT, MDM products were initially designed to administer mobile devices. As they evolved, they began to incorporate support for traditional platforms (e.g., Windows, OS X), as well.
If you are interested in supervising iOS devices, you are still limited to the use of either Apple’s Device Enrollment Program or Configurator, but an MDM product will let you configure and deploy customized Profiles that are comparable to what you could create with Apple’s alternatives. App management, document management, inventory control, and numerous other features are also included in MDM products.
Best yet, these products operate wirelessly, i.e., there is no need to connect the managed device to a specific computer with a physical cable. In addition, they have cloud-based administration panels, which means that they are operating system-agnostic.
The downside of an MDM product is twofold:
- At present, iOS doesn’t allow an enrollment profile from a third-party MDM product to be password protected, unless you use Apple’s DEP. So, even if you install a restrictions profile that is password protected, a user can simply bypass the restrictions by removing the enrollment profile.
- Good MDM solutions are expensive, usually costing thousands of dollars a year, reserving their use for Enterprise IT.
However, there is an MDM wildcard that I’d love to talk about. I’ve been using it for months and have been pleased with it. The fact that it exists, works as well as it does, and is free is a fortunate fact for users that desire powerful tools, but do not have the luxury of an IT department budget behind them.
Cisco Meraki is a free MDM product that supports iOS, Android, Windows, and OS X-based devices. If you’re technically inclined and require a technology management solution for a heterogeneous environment, I don’t think you can do much better than Meraki.
Features, Features, Features
Meraki is comprehensive, so I am going to cover its substantive offerings, piece-by-piece.
Through their cloud-based interface, you can administer iOS, Android, Windows, and OS X devices. Regardless of which platform you’ve chosen for your personal computing, you will be able to manage your devices. Your dashboard is always there and up-to-date with the latest features the Meraki team decides to roll out.
In addition, they have two factor authentication, which helps ensure that your account, and the devices it is associated with, are secured.
Meraki makes it trivial to search for and add apps from both Google and Apple’s app stores, and even works with Apple’s Volume Purchase Program (VPP). For Windows and OS X-based machines, it allows you to deploy MSI and PKG files.
Via Profiles, Meraki enables you to enforce policies for your devices. You can protect and control devices, and their contents, with fine-grained security policies, restrict access to the app store or specific content, and selectively wipe the device of software and data that the MDM product has installed.
The dashboard can be used to track enrolled devices, and System Manager has built-in software inventory management, which makes it easy to analyze the kinds of software you’ve deployed for your network, and where it is installed.
Meraki is useful for pushing down WiFi and VPN settings. Wireless payloads let you specify SSD security and authentication settings, including certificates, in a centralized location.
For VPN payloads, you can pre-configure server information, tunneling protocols, and encryption settings, all from Systems Manager.
Getting devices enrolled with Systems Manager is easy. Mobile devices have two options. One, they can download the Meraki Systems Manager app from either Apple or Google, and enter your System Manager’s unique Web Enrollment code, when prompted. Two, they can utilize Web Enrollment via m.meraki.com.
Remote Live Tools
Meraki makes performance of mundane tasks trivial (e.g., clearing a device passcode, performing a selective wipe while retaining device enrollment, taking a screenshot). In regard to Windows PCs and Macs, remote desktop, remote reboot, and shutdown options are all available.
Devices can be monitored 24/7 via Systems Manager. Email alerts can be configured to notify the administrator of several key changes, including a device outage, app installation, or removal of the Systems Manager profile.
So far, all the features I’ve covered are available without any Meraki networking hardware. However, if you require more complicated solutions and you want to adopt their hardware for your network infrastructure, you can be sure that it will fully integrate with your Systems Manager setup.
Cisco Meraki is an excellent choice for a technical user that wants to be able to better serve friends/family or someone that wants to get their hands on sweet, enterprise tech without breaking the bank. I highly recommend that you give it a try.