Mac Policy Management for Modern Networks

Written by Vince Lujan on May 7, 2019

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Is there a Mac® policy management solution available? More specifically, is there a Mac policy management system for macOS® systems that is similar to GPOs (Group Policy Objects) for Windows® systems in Microsoft® Active Directory® (AD) environments?

The short answer is, yes, the JumpCloud® Directory-as-a-Service® platform offers cross-platform GPO-like Policies for Windows, macOS, and Linux®. How does Mac policy management with JumpCloud compare to Active Directory GPOs for Windows? Let’s take a closer look at policy management for computer systems below.

System Policies: What’s the Big Deal?

System policies control how a given workstation will operate in a particular environment. For example, if you consider a laptop, system policies can be used to determine how much time will elapse before the display automatically locks, if the USB ports are functional, and whether or not full disk encryption (FDE) is enabled.

Essentially, policies enable admins to customize the settings for the systems in their environment in order to meet organizational requirements. Yet, while configuring policies for one system can be done locally and with relative ease, the challenge arises when admins have cross-platform fleets of systems spanning multiple locations—all of which need to have system policies configured to meet company standards.

How Policy Management Traditionally Works

Historically, IT admins have leveraged the Microsoft Active Directory platform to provide policy management capabilities for Windows systems. AD enables admins to configure policies for groups of Windows systems at once. They can also manage them remotely from one centralized location. This is achievable through the use of what Microsoft calls Group Policy Objects, or GPOs for short.

GPOs are prescribed commands and scripts that are used to configure Windows system policies. One of the most powerful functions of the AD platform, GPOs have served IT admins in Windows-based environments for years. The challenge with GPOs in traditional AD environments is that Microsoft’s Group Policy functionality is primarily for Windows-based systems.

So, how do you manage system policies for Mac?

How to Set and Manage Policies on Mac

In the past, IT admins have had a few approaches to Mac policy management.

Manual Mac Management

The manual approach basically means that IT admins must configure Mac policies individually on a per system basis. It’s not automated, nor does it scale, but it can be done for a small number of Mac systems.

Of course, the challenge with this approach arises as more Mac systems enter the network, or when you have a fleet of Mac systems spanning multiple locations. In this case, IT admins often require a more automated and centralized Mac policy management solution.

Apple Open Directory

Another approach is to leverage Apple Open Directory (OD) to manage Mac policies at scale. OD is basically the Apple version of Microsoft AD for macOS, although the remote system management capabilities are not as robust and are primarily focused on password settings.

Apple OD might be the way to go if your organization is an all Mac shop and you aren’t interested in policy management. However, similar to AD, the issue with this approach arises when other platforms such as Windows or Linux come into play or if you need more powerful Mac policy management functionality. Further, it isn’t clear where Apple is headed with Open Directory as they deprecate major pieces of functionality within their macOS Server platform.

Mac Policy Management with Active Directory Add-Ons

For cross-platform system environments, another common approach has been to integrate Macs (and Linux) with AD. This can be done through the use of third-party identity federation services that are designed to extend AD functionality (e.g., system policies) to non-Windows platforms, such as macOS.

With the dominance of Microsoft and Windows-based solutions, it often makes more sense for admins to add on to their existing AD infrastructure to support Mac systems. However, this approach can be challenging for smaller organizations and startups that don’t have AD in place and are trying to achieve a cloud-forward model.

Ideal Mac Policy Management

IT admins should be able to leverage an automated Mac policy management solution that prevents them from having to manage Macs independently. They should be able to manage policies for macOS, Windows, and Linux systems, and all from one centralized location.

A cloud-based policy management tool would enable IT admins to leverage an automated policy management solution that didn’t require heavy investment into on-prem AD, third-party add-ons, and ongoing maintenance. The ideal solution would be a standalone directory services platform in the cloud.

Full Control for Mac: A New Chapter in Mac Policy Management

Mac systems have historically been self-managed. Without strong tools to integrate them into an organization’s infrastructure, Macs have been treated as second class citizens—especially in heterogeneous environments.

cloud directory services

With Directory-as-a-Service, admins can have the same control and management for Mac systems that Windows devices have enjoyed with AD. Now, through JumpCloud, all three major platforms (i.e., Windows, macOS, Linux) can be controlled and managed centrally with full task and policy execution capabilities.

If you would like to learn more about how Directory-as-a-Service can support your Mac policy management requirements, say hello. We’d be happy to talk to you about it.

Vince Lujan

Vince is a writer and video specialist at JumpCloud. Originally from the horse capital of New Mexico, Corrales, he has lived in Boulder, Colorado for three years. When Vince is not developing content for JumpCloud, he can usually be found at the Boulder Creek.

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