A world of conferences beckons for the Apple sysadmin

Which is right for you?

Signs on the Metreon, across the street from San Francisco's Moscone West, in preparation for Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference

Unlike most of its rivals, Apple is primarily a hardware company which also happens to make the operating system and application delivery platform, taking a cut from the sales of software and media that others create for its platform. Mass laptop and desktop management is not really what Apple does; it lets others fill this void.

This Apple-sized hole is growing bigger, with the iPhone and iPad dominating the enterprise market for mobile devices.

Apple has  always been strong in the education sector and now its laptops and desktops are proliferating in business – often unofficially. Anyone reading this article is probably well aware of the headache caused by colleagues, many in senior management, who buy their own MacBooks and expect them to “just work”.

Birds of a feather

Mac users wait for the vendor’s official yearly gathering to see what new products have been released, but it tends to be focused on consumer rather than business products.There is little nerdy talk of new functionality that would benefit administrators. So where can admins get their geek on?

Fortunately, there are one or two sites where system administrators can converse and discuss such issues with others who have already been there. And there are some conferences specifically for Apple system administrators, although you may need a travel budget to attend.

In Gothenberg, Sweden there is MacSysAdmin, a four-day conference scheduled this year for 29 September to 2 October. The organisers say it is the forum for Mac and iOS Administrators to “gain knowledge, meet colleagues, make acquaintances and exchange experiences”.

Then there is the JAMF Nation User Conference in Minneapolis in late October, which JAMF describes as “one of the largest gatherings of Apple systems administrators in the world”. About 90 per cent of the 1,000-plus attendees are users of the company’s Mac management software, Casper Suite.

The company stresses this is not a sales expo or a trade show. It says: “Instead, it is a welcoming, three-day rally of user and community presentations, hands-on labs, developer training, and practical information and instruction you can take back to your organisation and use to make a difference right away.”

July is the hottest month for Mac conferences, with MacAdmins – “the premier East Coast conference for anyone who deploys and manages Macs and iOS devices” – invading Pennsylvania State University from 7-10 July, and MacIT – the world’s “premiere event for deploying Apple in the enterprise” – in Santa Clara, California from 14-16 July. Delegates fly in from across the globe for these conferences.

An honourable mention must also go to X World 2015, held at the University of Technology in Sydney from 9-10 July. It is aimed at people who manage or administer Mac OS X and iOS installations in either a support, lab manager, network technician or systems administration role, say the organisers.

Linux lineup

Those lesser mortals who can’t afford the fare (or can't their expenses signed off) to an Apple conference just have to make do with the many Linux conferences that pop up in just about every major city, and where you will often see Macs dotted about in the sea of laptops.

Speakers at the VMware User Group meetings often run up Macs to do their presentations

Many virtualisation admins use MacBooks and speakers at the VMware User Group meetings often run up Macs to do their presentations, using tools such as the VMware Fusion client and the ever popular Keynote application.

At the enterprise level, Apple infrastructure can effectively be split into two streams: the iPads and iPhones in one and then the Mac laptops and desktops we have come to love.

iPads and iPhones are quite well served by conferences such as Mobile World Congress, where vendors present solutions for mobile management of Apple devices.

Mac conferences aimed at enterprise computing lean more towards the applications and technology underlying the operating system. For example, a number of Linux and Unix people tend to be Mac users who administer Linux and Unix server infrastructure.

It should come as no surprise that Unix guys like the Mac, as it is very similar under the hood to Linux. Usenix, which has been going strong for 40 years, is one of the most popular Unix conferences around, .

These conferences often focus more on technical methodology than implementation; topics can include fun items such as Hadoop management, Unix containerisation and the like. These conferences are for really hardcore Linux/Unix nerds. You have been warned.

Star of the show

Unfortunately, Apple has done itself a disservice by aiming to control everything. Conferences are at the core of a vibrant ecosystem. Without a free exchange of information, user groups and goodwill towards vendors wither on the vine.

Conferences also give vendors a chance to show their latest products. Without them, even the best vendors face an uphill battle to get their products out in front of the right people. After all, from a vendor's perspective a conference is a room full of potential buyers.

I would like to see easily accessible conferences that just appeal to Apple admins in the same “look, prod, try out” fashion as you see at the plethora of Wintel events.

Anyone who opens a new event with premium sponsors within the Mac world may be onto a good thing as the Mac market is growing bigger every quarter.

The only fly in the ointment may well be that as the main vendor, Apple more than likely won’t want to share its allure with other Mac-orientated companies.

Apple admins, what conferences and websites do you recommend? ®


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