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Post: Fleet adds Windows support to its Apple-first MDM software



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Open-source multi-platform device management vendor Fleet recently introduced Windows support to its existing software, which already enables IT to manage Linux and Apple devices within a single console.

The multi-platform upgrade comes as many companies continue to manage their way through the impact of Broadcom’s acquisition of VMware, a move that appears to be generating challenges for some admins. I spoke once again with Fleet CEO Mike McNeil and Customer Solutions Architect Brock Walters about what the company is doing.

Apple’s enterprise ascendancy is no fable. In the US, it is grabbing huge chunks of share in what was once a Windows-dominated part of the market.

“There is no question that Apple is growing in the enterprise,” said Creative Strategies President and Principal Analyst Carolina Milanesi, recently echoing analysts across the board. In particular, Apple is clearing up the high-end laptop market there, particularly with its super-powered M3 MacBook Pro.

The proliferation is a big opportunity for mobile device management (MDM) vendors. The growing number of MDM tools shows there’s more room in the market than people once thought. After all, if anyone had asked how many MDM products the market needed a decade ago, you’d probably have said two.

The move toward multi-platform IT is also prompting some consolidation among veteran firms in the space — hence the Broadcom/VMware event. But not everyone seems happy with that move, yet, according to McNeil. “We’re hearing stories from admins following the purchase, they’re looking for other places to go.”

Is it Fleet you’re looking for?

Fleet could, he argues, be that place. The company has an open-source vision for multi-platform MDM solutions for enterprise and education admins. The idea is to lean into open-source to create a device management solution that works effectively across all major operating systems, now including Windows.

“It was like, cool, we managed to squeeze in kind of like remote lock and remote life on Linux and we’ve added support for BitLocker for disk encryption, support for autopilot for Windows,” said Brock.

That’s not for everyone, of course, but for some in the space the ability to manage all these devices using familiar open-source tools matters. It’s about addressing the competing priorities within corporate IT.

Some are Windows, others are Mac, and there may be Linux users in the team. The challenge usually is that while some multiplatform device management options do exist, they may not deliver as much as focused solutions.

“IT has this problem where they have like 50 engineers who really love their Linux laptops and don’t want to give them up and they’re very influential people, and yet they also have to hit their compliance goals and, like, pass audits and stuff,” McNeil said.

Migration is complicated, so don’t complicate it

Brock explained the complexity of trying to migrate between MDM platforms. Following the VMware purchase, the company he was with at the time wanted to migrate to another option — and management had mandated it be a unified solution across all the supported platforms.

But his group handled five platforms with effectively two and a half teams. Those teams (and the wider business) had different priorities, budgets, and personalities. It meant decisions were difficult to reach, and senior management frequently didn’t  recognize the challenges of the transition.

“It was just a mess because there were all these competing priorities,” he explained. “I think if you can get something that everyone — engineers and business leaders —  agree on, then it should make those kinds of projects easier to achieve.”

Migrating between device management platforms is complex because it can involve huge numbers of devices across different platforms, all of which may already be in use.

In a perfect world, you’d throw money at the problem. But in the real world, IT has to somehow achieve the complex task on a budget and within a limited time-frame.

Perhaps open-source tools are right for your fleet?

With its roots in open-source, Fleet thinks it offers businesses seeking to support multiple platforms a viable option that could allow them to use one basic solution — particularly as its solution is integrated with osquery and uses the GitOps workflow.

Together, these might help manage costs, because they should seem familiar to IT while providing deep insight into managed devices. Fleet also integrates with leading configuration management platforms such as Chef, Ansible, and Puppet, and works with the MDM capabilities baked inside the platforms it supports.

To Fleet, this support means experienced IT admins can turn to a tool they are already fairly familiar with to diagnose deep information concerning their managed device.

“You can craft queries to identify which Windows devices are at risk in near real-time and then, leveraging your configuration management tools or Fleet’s remote script execution, swiftly initiate remediation procedures,” they said. “It’s about marrying the foundational strengths of MDM with the analytical power of osquery.”

Fleet claims to have combined open source with existing platform-based MDM APIs to both deliver a relatively consistent end-user experience while also being configurable to meet the specific needs of IT. This also means developers with coding experience can tweak the software to meet their company’s needs and give them insight into versioning and change management.

Managing complex needs

“I think it’s a perfect product for handling those little pockets of computers (within a company’s overall fleet) that the enterprise doesn’t want to purchase a separate product for,” said McNeil.

When it comes to Windows and Mac, Microsoft Endpoint Manager (which includes Intune) is a widely used management choice, but its grasp seems increasingly weak. That’s because of the changing platform usage patterns in the enterprise.

Think about a large company with an Apple-at-work scheme that’s seeing rapid Mac deployment. “Does that company really want to invest in a Microsoft solution to manage its Macs? Is it enough of a reason to upgrade to an E5 license?” McNeil said.

Another strong argument is that the open-source nature of Fleet brings big benefits. “Even if you’ve never done an MDM migration, you’ve probably heard it isn’t easy,” he said. “But it should be. We’ve worked extremely hard to make it easy for our customers to get their data in and to get it out.

“We’re not trying to lock you into a certain way of doing things. We couldn’t, even if we tried. It’s open source.”

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Copyright © 2024 IDG Communications, Inc.

Lora Helmin

Lora Helmin

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