I recently attended the Jamf Nation User Conference, known colloquially as JNUC. Unless you’re an IT admin or Apple consultant, you probably haven’t heard of JNUC before, but it’s the largest Apple IT-focused conference out there, with 1500 attendees from around the world converging on Jamf’s home city of Minneapolis. Unlike more general events like MacTech Conference, JNUC focuses almost entirely on a single product, Jamf Pro, a hosted or on-premises device deployment and management solution solely for Macs, iOS devices, and Apple TVs. Jamf also makes Jamf Now, which is a cheaper, stripped-down device management solution for less technical admins. Jamf Now used to be called Bushel, and Julio Ojeda-Zapata reviewed it in “ITbits: Bushel Helps Small Companies Manage Apple Devices” (31 March 2015).
Full disclosure: Jamf has sponsored TidBITS in the past, and the company invited me to attend, paying for my flight and hotel. I don’t use Jamf Pro or even Jamf Now, but I was curious to observe and report on a slice of the Apple world that most TidBITS readers may not be aware of. Other conferences, like MacTech Conference, MacAdmins, and MacSysAdmin, cover the Apple IT space, but from a more general perspective and for fewer people (for a full list of Apple conferences, see “32 Conferences for Mac and iOS Professionals in 2017,” 15 May 2017). So how did a conference that focused on a single product attract 1500 attendees for 3 days of sessions?
The first thing you need to understand about Jamf Pro, and thus about the conference, is that it occupies a different layer of the Apple experience than most users ever consider. Most of us think about what people do on their Apple devices — the apps they run, the Web services they use, the peripherals they employ.
In contrast, Jamf Pro doesn’t much care how devices are used. Its agent software lives one layer down on the Mac, relying on Apple’s mobile device management (MDM) framework and leveraging three other Apple services, the Device Enrollment Program (DEP), the Volume Purchase Program (VPP), and Apple School Manager. Plus, Jamf Pro integrates with numerous other enterprise systems, such as corporate directories, patient information systems, and enterprise-focused backup and data protection services like Backblaze and Code42. Without something like Jamf Pro, large organizations would never consider buying massive numbers of Apple devices. Here’s why.
Imagine you’re an IT admin in a large organization. You’d like to buy 1000 Macs for your users, but you can’t just pick them up from the local Apple Store, hand them out to users, and hope that everyone will follow your configuration instructions for accessing Wi-Fi networks, setting up email, using strong passwords, turning on FileVault, and so on. Many people won’t, and they’ll come back to you for help, which will likely overwhelm your support staff and result in unhappy users who aren’t getting their work done.
Instead, when you buy the 1000 Macs, you do so through Apple or an authorized reseller that supports the Device Enrollment Program. Through DEP, all those Macs become associated with the organization that owns them. Then, using Jamf Pro, you create a profile that contains all the necessary settings. When the users unbox their Macs and turn them on, the Macs automatically know, from being part of DEP, to configure themselves as specified by your work in Jamf Pro. That’s zero-touch deployment. Jamf Pro also enables ongoing management, ranging from installing designated apps (purchased in bulk through Apple’s Volume Purchase Program), installing operating system and app updates, collecting inventory details so you know the status of every device you manage, and much more.
This is tremendously cool, and it becomes all the more so when you hear about the kinds of solutions it makes possible. For instance, some hospitals are starting to rely on iPads and Apple TVs to provide patient information and entertainment. At Jacobs Medical Center at UC San Diego Health, every patient is issued an iPad that provides access to personalized medical records and details of their patient care team, along with control over room lighting and temperature via Crestron. Apple TVs in each room provide entertainment options, and AirPlay screen mirroring lets all members of a family review the patient information on the iPad. Thanks to DEP, VPP, and Jamf Pro, an iPad can be wiped clean automatically as soon as a patient checks out and then reconfigured for the next patient and room automatically.
That’s just one example. The Bungie Foundation, the charitable arm of game maker Bungie, is doing something simpler in children’s hospitals, providing iPads with age-appropriate apps to patients to help distract them from, well, being in the hospital. At Seattle Children’s Hospital, a fine institution to which I had the ill luck to bring Tristan with breathing problems back in 2000 when he was 2, the Bungie Foundation’s iPads for Kids program has served 123,000 children. The foundation hopes to expand to 8 more hospitals and help another 126,000 patients in the next year.
Healthcare and K-12 education, two of the largest markets for managed devices, differ from how large companies often end up with managed Apple devices these days. Back in 2005 or so, the BYOD — bring your own device — trend started, with users bringing their personal hardware to work. That took off with the release of the iPhone and iPad, and it was a major headache for IT staff. When users owned the devices they were using, that made it difficult for IT to ensure minimum security standards, protect confidential corporate data, make sure software licenses were honored, avoid issues with untested operating system and app versions, and troubleshoot problems.
More recently, businesses have been switching to a “choose your own device” model, something that’s been more common in the more fluid environment of higher education for a while. These user-choice programs allow employees to pick the computer they want to use, under the philosophy that users will be the most productive when using hardware they like. That has proved to be a huge boon to Apple since surveys and past user-choice programs show that somewhere between 50 and 75 percent of users will pick a Mac over a Windows PC if given the option.
To give you an idea of the growth due to user-choice programs, Jamf has more than doubled its number of customers since 2015, going from just under 6000 to 13,000 today. Those numbers are hard to evaluate until you realize that those customers are using Jamf Pro and Jamf Now to manage over 9 million Apple devices. That’s an average of almost 700 devices per customer, but some are much larger.
Thanks to user-choice programs, German software company SAP has 13,000 Macs and financial services firm Capital One has 12,000 Macs (and the guy who made that happen previously introduced user-choice programs at Expedia and Nike, growing their installed bases to 6000 and 14,000 Macs, respectively). Walmart has 7000 Macs without a user-choice program; if the company does launch its planned program and sees the same switching percentages as other companies have, it could end up with 100,000 Macs. These are mind-bogglingly large numbers, and in an age when most attention is focused on the individual consumer, it’s worth keeping in mind just how many Macs — and iPhones, iPads, and Apple TVs — are purchased in bulk for use by massive organizations.
The common refrain for why this is happening comes down to total cost of ownership, or TCO. No one disputes that Apple gear is more expensive than equivalent Windows PCs, Android smartphones and tablets, and other streaming video boxes. But nearly everyone I talked to — even beyond on-stage panelists — said that the total cost of ownership of Apple devices was lower than the competition once you factored in fewer support calls, reduced maintenance, and higher resale value.
Regardless of the hows or whys, it was fascinating to be in the midst of a such a large and bustling conference, among attendees whose concerns are so very different from the average individual user. For instance, my friend Tom Bridge of Technolutionary had just finished a Wi-Fi network installation in the Anthem, a major concert venue in Washington, D.C. In one of its first real-world tests, his network managed to serve 3300 simultaneous users thanks to a gigabit Ethernet backhaul and access points that could be mounted like spotlights to provide 30-degree cones of coverage on the wide-open floor below. (Just in case you need Wi-Fi while listening to the likes of Bob Dylan.) That’s a far cry from wondering about the best Wi-Fi router to replace an aging AirPort Extreme in an apartment, and it’s a great reminder of just how far we’ve come.
I want to leave you with a few last thoughts. First off, though I’ve talked about Jamf Pro and Jamf Now here for obvious reasons, they’re far from alone in the device management field. Other companies with similar solutions for Apple devices include Addigy, Filewave, SimpleMDM, and Solarwinds, and still others might be acceptable alternatives.
Second, the JNUC 2017 iOS app was by far the best conference app I’ve experienced. It’s based on the CrowdCompass app from Cvent, and it was massively useful. It provided a session schedule, list of presenters, maps of the venue, session surveys, and more. Unlike other conference apps I’ve seen, it wasn’t just a collection of Web pages. Once you logged in, you could track which sessions you wanted to attend, and whenever you checked your schedule, the app would display the next presentation. For anyone running a conference, it’s worth checking out.
Third and finally, Jamf deserves kudos for acknowledging during the conference keynote that the company had promised Jamf Pro 10 for the first half of 2017 and then failed to ship until 31 October 2017 (yes, after the conference, since so many Jamf employees were at JNUC). As an apology, Jamf created this fabulous video that’s a hilarious takeoff on Adele’s “Hello” video. (Be sure to watch the original for comparison’s sake.) Apparently, it’s a lot harder for ordinary folks to lip sync than Jamf’s marketing team initially anticipated. You can even get a glimpse of Take Control author Charles Edge at 3:48 into the video.