The SimpleMDM team made its way to State College, Pennsylvania, for the 2023 MacAdmins Conference. Hosted at the Penn Stater Hotel & Conference Center, the conference brought together more than 500 IT professionals who manage Apple devices for their organizations from across the U.S. and nine other countries.
After years of hosting the conference virtually, with notable campfire sessions still bringing together thousands of registrants each year, this was the first time gathering in person since 2019. The enthusiasm and energy throughout the conference were captivating as everyone reunited. As first-time attendees, we were able to meet face-to-face with current customers, put faces to familiar Slack handles, and forge new connections with administrators seeking an MDM solution. From informative sessions led by community members to in-depth workshops, delightful meals, and downtime with new connections, this conference was one for the books.
Take a look at our key takeaways from this conference, starting with the most important: There’s nothing like the community of like-minded individuals that MacAdmins brings together to share knowledge and experiences.
1. Community is everything
Community is the backbone of the MacAdmins Conference. Ask any conference attendee, whether this was their first time or they’ve been coming since the conference’s inception, and they’ll likely tell you that establishing relationships with other MacAdmins is the biggest conference perk. Whether these connections are made between sessions in hallway track conversations, during shared mealtimes, at evening events, or on adventures to the famous Berkey Creamery (iykyk), the relationships formed are invaluable.
For administrators new to the Apple ecosystem, the PSU MacAdmins Conference is also a great way to evaluate MDM solutions. We enjoyed many conversations with individuals eager to learn about SimpleMDM, understand the best way to use the tool, ask about our feature set, and more. Connecting and brainstorming out loud rather than through support tickets or Slack was extremely beneficial.
2. Declarative or bust
Momentum continues to build around declarative device management, a new version of the MDM protocol that offers more autonomous and proactive device management capabilities. Originally announced at WWDC 2021, this year’s Worldwide Developers Conference update finally gave admins a peek at the new features and capabilities DDM would offer. This includes new capabilities surrounding managing software updates, app deployment and installation, support for deployment of certificates and identities, and more.
Declarative device management is built into the existing MDM protocol to provide easy transition and integration with existing products, so it’s up to MDM vendors to adopt declarative at their own pace. But the verdict is in, and admins already using an MDM solution to manage their Apple devices say it’s DDM or take a seat.
3. Security and compliance matter
With Apple devices being adopted more rapidly in both the enterprise and education spaces due to user demand, it’s important that MacAdmins learn and understand the ins and outs of Apple security and how it impacts management capabilities. WWDC 2023 announced many identity- and security-related updates. This year’s MacAdmins Conference sessions reiterated the importance of adopting these features.
And just like PB&J go together (that was an actual conference session, believe it or not), security and compliance also go hand in hand. From hands-on workshops covering the macOS Security Compliance Project (an open-source framework to provide a programmatic approach to generating security guidance) to designing security directly into your system to ensure device compliance, these topics were baked into many of the sessions and conversations during the conference.
4. Open source is thriving
A panel session with board members of the Mac Admins Foundation and founding members of the Mac Admins Open Source group reminded us all just how many open-source tools the IT community has access to. Mac Admins Open Source emerged earlier this year with the purpose of offering code signing for popular open-source projects and distributing ownership responsibilities that traditionally rested solely on the original creator — a huge win for the community.
Open source is really having a moment, whether it’s individual contributors sharing repositories or a group of administrators that have created a project to make day-to-day device management simpler. (You’ll want to bookmark this list of open source tools.) Here are a few projects that were mentioned throughout the conference:
EscrowBuddy: The newest open-source project, EscrowBuddy, is a macOS authorization plugin that helps MDM administrators ensure that the PRK is escrowed from FileVault to MDM.
Munki: A popular macOS managed software installation tool that SimpleMDM integrates with to make your deployments simple.
AutoPkg: An automation framework for packaging and distributing macOS software.
SimpleMDMPy: A Python library to make it easier to interact with the SimpleMDM API.
Nudge: An open-source tool designed to encourage the installation of macOS security updates.
5. Migrating MDMs is tough
With conference sessions covering all aspects of the device lifecycle, one topic was much more daunting than the others: MDM migration. We sat in on Serious Talks about MDM Migrations, presented by Rick Heil, to learn more about the challenges and best practices surrounding MDM migrations. Heil talked about how being prepared, choosing wisely, and testing everything should help ease some of the anxiety surrounding this task.
From making a list of needs and requirements, engaging with vendors, running proofs of concepts (test, test, test), and finally selecting a vendor, these tasks really only cover the prework required for migrating MDMs. But even though this is just the beginning of your migration journey, luckily for you, we’ve got everything you need to make it easier. Check out resources from Rick’s presentation.
And that's a wrap on key takeaways from this year’s PSU MacAdmins Conference. Until next year to all our old friends and new connections — our team can’t wait to be back. In the meantime, we’ll eagerly await the release of all PSU MacAdmins Conference session videos and daydream about which ice cream flavors will grace the creamery next year.