Fleetsmith: Mac Device Management Made Simple

By Pedro Hernandez | Posted November 02, 2016

Following last week's unveiling of the Apple new MacBook Pros, a new software startup called Fleetsmith arrives on the scene fresh off a $3.1 million round of funding. And not a moment too soon, stresses the company's cofounder and CEO, Zack Blum.

There is no shortage of Windows device management pproducts for businesses of practically all sizes. On the other hand, Blum says the current Mac fleet management market is in a bit of disarray, particularly for small and midsized businesses (SMBs).

Evaluating and acquiring commercial Mac management software is the first hurdle. A small business owner or IT generalist hoping to kick the tires on prospective solutions often encounters products that are complex to deploy, configure and secure.

He also described user experiences that are "so unintuitive that the vendors require on-site training" to get their platforms up and running in a satisfactory state. As the former IT director of Wikia, the wiki hosting service, Blum speaks from experience.

Macs were a common site at his previous job. However, the tools to manage and secure them effectively were not at all common. "We were sort of unhappy with the state of computer management," he said. "Mac admins and IT teams deserve better."

Sure, there are low-cost open-source tools available, notes Jesse Endahl, who serves as both chief security officer and chief product officer at Fleetsmith. However, having the level of expertise required to harness their full potential is the exception, not the rule, at most small business IT departments. Consequently, he says, many companies "end up not managing their Macs at all."

device management for Mac

Democratizing Mac Fleet Management

Blum and his team created an answer to that problem and named it Fleetsmith. They designed the software-as-a-service (SaaS) offering for small businesses whose collection of Macs numbers 50 machines or more, a "tipping point" where it becomes impractical to inventory and manage with spreadsheets. It's also as simple to use as G Suite, or as it was formerly and more commonly known, Google Apps.

In fact, Fleetsmith "lets you sign in with Google right out of the box," said Endahl. Not only is the company's early customer base "almost unanimously on Google Apps," the integration lets small businesses import G Suite users with a single click.

This time-saving feature sets the stage for an intuitive and streamlined centralized device administration experience, starting with a device-approval screen that lists which machines have yet to be brought under management.

Again, with a single click (sensing a theme here?), Fleetsmith sends an email to unmanaged users with simple instructions for installing the platform's software agent on their Macs. After a quick, automated installation process, SMB IT administrators can start getting their users' systems under control.

Enforcing Updates, Implementing Security

Continuing Fleetsmith's obsession with streamlining Mac management, the company helps SMBs ensure that their employees have the proper, updated versions of the apps and software tools they rely on.

Rather than spending countless hours tracking down the latest updates for popular tools like Dropbox, Google Drive, and Slack--and then testing, repackaging installers and deploying the new software to users' Macs--Fleetsmith takes care of it. The platform automates all that otherwise manual work, said Endahl. "The platform makes absolutely sure that the software gets installed to every machine."

Similarly, administrators can make sure that employees don't put off critical updates indefinitely by enforcing updates by a certain deadline. Ensuring that employees aren't caught unprepared, Fleetsmith offers "ample time and notifications," assured Endahl.

On the security front, you can use the software to make sure that employees have their firewalls and disk encryption enabled. Further, administrators can create profiles, or templates of sorts, for their various types of users.

Profiles can cover certain departments and roles. For example, companies can specify that employees who have access to human resources data or to a company's banking information are working on Macs that are completely buttoned up.

Want to confirm that disk encryption has been enabled or that a firewall is keeping bad network traffic at bay? A detailed inventory lets you drill down to a specific Mac and view its status and OS version—or even see if the battery needs replacing.

Fleetsmith is currently in public beta, and its earlier, private beta attracted the likes of companies such as Patreon, Blurb and Signal Sciences. Prices start at $8.25 per device per month paid annually or $10 per month monthly with a 50-device minimum.

Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at Small Business Computing. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.

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