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Open Source Tools to Manage Macs in the Enterprise

Open Source Tools to Manage Macs in the Enterprise

Open Source Tools to Manage Macs in the EnterpriseOpen Source Tools to Manage Macs in the EnterpriseMunki, Simian, and Cauliflower Vest: Three open source tools to help IT pros manage Mac computers in the enterprise.

Mac and Enterprise in the same sentence? Someone, quick, call the the Mythbusters! Well the far-fetched is turning into a reality.Gartner estimates enterprise penetration of Macs is currently hovering around five-percent.

As that percentage creeps up, enterprises need the right tools to configure, deploy, manage and support Macs.  Technology and media companies (such as Google and Walt Disney) have a large population of Mac users and their IT staff have been working hard to manage Macs with the same efficiency as their Windows counterpart. More platforms generally mean more cost; which is an issue for most enterprises -- not to mention the IT talent also required.

For budget conscious IT departments there are three open source tools every IT pro should gain awareness of when considering Mac in the Enterprise:Munki, Simian and Cauliflower Vest.


Munki is a python-based toolset that provides for managed software installation of OS X systems. It was originally developed by Disney engineer Greg Neagle. The software from an end-user perspective emulates the same look-and-feel as the built-in Apple Software update. On the administrator side, there are a set of scripts that are used to create catalogs of downloads (based on dmgs) that can be configured to be deployed to different groups (i.e., engineering vs. marketing).  Munki configuration allows for dependencies and auto-updates (for example new releases of web browsers, or internal apps). The installation can be set as unattended if a user is not logged in. 

If the user is logged in, an option appears to install now or later. A capability exists to remove software; for example, a company is switching vendors and mandates users to no longer use a legacy application. The munki admin (an odd sounding IT title) can set certain software to be optional for end-users, for example, not everyone will need certain graphics or scientific applications. The munki client communicates with a server repository to check if it has all the necessary software.  The repository (a mixture of dmg files and xml configuration) is also created with munki tools.

A web server hosting the repository includes catalogs (available software), manifests (software that should be installed) and actual packages. The self-hosted web server requirement is no longer the only option in deployment (see Simian).

If you’re ready to take the next step, there’s a 4-part series by the creator detailing Munki installation and usage.  Munki is open source and available on Google Code


Simian, developed by Google corporate engineering, provides a web-based admin interface for munki clients.Simian is a wordplay of munki, actually meaning “higher primate,” ergo the advancement of the munki product.

Simian provides a number of admin functions that were missing from a true enterprise class product, such as dynamic generation of the catalog (software to consume), web based tools instead of a CLI, reporting information (number of munki hosts, client versions, patch status, etc). Simian clients can connect anywhere (internal or external network) because the application is hosted by Google App Engine; whereas the common munki-only deployment usually was deployed in the intranet only. The SaaS Google Apps engine model also allows for all the same advantages of any cloud platform (scale, elasticity, price per consumption, etc.).

Dive into the Simian project page

Mikhael FelkerMikhael Felker

Mikhael Felker is an IT pro who has worked in Defense, Healthcare, High-Tech and Non-Profits. He teaches, writes, and speaks at numerous Southern California venues about technology. 

See here to check out all his Tom's IT Pro articles.

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