Casper is a Mac and iOS management system developed by JAMF Software. I’ve been using Casper since version 1.0, watching its features and capabilities grow with the company. To date, it’s the most complete Apple product management solution available providing administrators:
- Hardware and software inventory management
- Computer maging
- Software deployment
- Device management
A Management Framework
Casper is a “management framework”, which means it puts in place all the necessary components to maintain routine communication with devices and deliver instructions from the administrator. It builds on what’s already in the operating system without employing a standalone daemon running in the background. Communication and activity are handled by native system processes already running on the device.
Casper vs. Open Source Solutions
Casper costs money and can have a steep entry fee. Enterprise customers pay an intial fee per managed client and then an annual maintenance fee every year afterward. Education customers only pay for annual maintenance. Both are required to also purchase an OS X or iOS JumpStart or both.
Open source alternatives are free but are not distributed as a comprehensive solution. For example, you can use Iceberg to create installer packages, DeployStudio to image Macs and Munki to manage Macs. You can add Simian to the mix to extend Munki.
Which solution is right for you? Your answer needs to take into consideration the level of support you need using these products. Casper is developed by a company and its cost includes telephone and email support as well as a dedicated account representative. It offers a one-stop support solution that’s going to be very responsive. Open source alternatives are developed by individuals working collaboratively and releasing their work for free to the community. Support also comes from the community, which is generally mailing lists, online forums and/or IRC channels.
If you can afford the initial entry costs and need access to immediate product support specialists then Casper is a good choice. If you have little to no money to spend and plenty of time to learn disparate products then open source solutions are right for you.
Parts of Casper
The full version of Casper includes a server along with a handful of Mac applications. The Mac applications are only for Mac management. iOS management needs no applications.
JAMF Software Server (JSS)
The JSS is the central repository for all Casper information. It runs using the Apache Tomcat application, which stores its data in a MySQL database. The JSS centrally stores device inventory, device administrative credentials and device settings and preferences. It can connect to external services for more information such as directory servers for users and groups, Apple’s Global System Exchange (GSX) for warranty and purchase details and the Apple Push Notification Service (APNs) for issuing immedate administrative commands to devices.
Before an administrator can manage his Macs, he must put them into Casper. Recon is a tool for taking already deployed Macs and enabling Casper management.
Composer is a packaging tool. A “package” is a collection of applications, files and scripts collected into a single file for deployment to a computer. Most software already comes in Apple Installer package format, which Casper natively accepts. We’ll use Composer to create packages for those items that don’t come from the developer in Apple Installer package format.
An administrator uses Casper Admin to put his packages into Casper. He can then deploy one or more packages to Macs or he can create a “configuration”, which is a list of packages to install onto a Mac.
Casper Imaging utilizes the configurations that Casper Admin created. Its purpose is to prepare Macs before deploying them to users. The imaging process can include installing the OS X operating system, applications, printers, preferences and binding to a directory service.
After imaging and deploying a Mac into production, an administrator uses Casper Remote for immediate Mac support issues. With it, he can deploy one or more packages, install system software updates, install printers, run maintenance tasks and even reboot Macs. He can administer just one or multiple Macs simultaneously.
Casper’s power shines by allowing users to perform adminstrative tasks without having to be an administrator. Self Service enables users to install software and printers, run maintenance and even apply available system software updates. It includes a plug-ins area too for including bookmarks to common websites and detailed application information. All of this is controlled by the Casper administrator and he can enable options based on user or computer.
This iOS app is the controller for the Casper Focus feature. Teachers use Casper Focus in the classroom to “focus” iOS devices on specific applications or websites during instruction. When devices are focused, students cannot switch to other apps. The teacher can also allow a student to display his device on an AppleTV that’s joined to Casper as well.