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Enterprise mobile security smackdown: iOS vs. Android vs. Windows

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Making Apple Configurator part of broader iOS device management

Apple Configurator can help IT manage some aspects of iOS devices, but it's more of a supplement to other MDM products than a standalone tool.

Apple Configurator can make managing iOS devices easier, but for most organizations, it's more useful as a supplement to MDM, not as a complete tool.

For schools and small businesses, Apple Configurator could be especially useful and timesaving. It is a simple and free alternative to more complex and expensive mobile device management (MDM) products. But large organizations may need more MDM power than Configurator provides, such as the ability to handle a bigger number of devices, many of which might not be iOS devices. A comprehensive MDM tool can do many things that Configurator can't, such as providing security, monitoring and centralized management.

Still, Apple Configurator may be valuable for large organizations when used in conjunction with other MDM products because it lets you import and export configuration settings, integrate devices with your MDM tool and share profiles among other administrators.

Apple Configurator as an MDM tool

You can use Apple Configurator as an MDM tool, but it has its limitations. It doesn't support over-the-air (OTA) configuration during the initial setup or the ongoing maintenance of a supervised device. It also cannot connect to the Apple Push Notification Service, which lets third-party apps' servers forward notifications to devices. It also doesn't scale very well; it connects to only 30 devices at a time.

More on Apple Configurator and iOS devices

Part one: Tackling iOS device management with Apple Configurator

But Configurator can be part of a wider MDM strategy because it lets you import and export configuration settings via .mobileconfig files, which are XML-based files that store profile settings. These files provide an easy and universal way to transfer profile settings among devices and programs.

For example, suppose you want to set up a group of iPads as supervised devices that open automatically to a single app, with no way for the user to exit from that app, as in the case of a kiosk device. Because multiple customers will use each device, you want the type of control that only a Configurator-supervised device can provide.

At the same time, if you want to integrate those devices into an MDM tool, you can create a profile in your MDM program that enrolls a device into that software. You can export the profile to a .mobileconfig file and then import the file as an Apple Configurator profile, which is then applied to the iOS devices. That way, you get the advantages of the MDM tool's OTA updating and monitoring capabilities, but also the specific configuration you require for your iOS devices.

The configuration files also make it possible for one administrator to create a profile and share it among other administrators who can also configure iOS devices, which doesn't limit you to one instance of Apple Configurator on one computer.

Apple Configurator might not be a complete MDM tool, but it is a step in the right direction of iOS management. Given its price tag and simple interface, it could easily serve as part of a more complete MDM strategy for any size organization.

This was first published in June 2013

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Essential Guide

Enterprise mobile security smackdown: iOS vs. Android vs. Windows

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