During a talk at the LISA ’13 conference in Washington D.C earlier this month, a couple members from Google’s Macintosh Operations team explained how the company has been forced to develop its own set of tools to manage its fleet of roughly 43,000 Macs. The reason, according to Google engineers Clay Caviness and Edward Eigerman, is that Apple isn’t doing a great job at supporting its enterprise management tools. As the first slide of the presentation (pictured above) puts it, “While Apple won’t do much for you, there are tools out there you can use to keep your machines secure, up to date and useful.”

“We don’t use any of Apple’s tools to manage the Macs. Apple arguably produces two tools, Mac OS X server… and Apple Remote Desktop. It kinda breaks down when you get it over 50, 100, 200 machines that you’re managing… we’ve sort of lost their attention as far as enterprise management tools.”

During one slide (pictured above, right), Google uses the red line to represent the release of the iPhone while noting Apple’s remote desktop “hasn’t had a major revision to it since 2006.” To avoid using Apple’s management tools, Google has either developed its own tools or is using open source tools for everything from configuration, to package management, monitoring system levels and more. Google announced during the talk that one of the imaging tools it developed, CanHazImage, will soon be hitting open source. 

While Google mentioned during the presentation that it supports four desktop OS platforms (OS X, Windows, Linux, and Chrome OS) internally, it also said these days employees that want to use a platform other than Mac OS X “have to make a business case” to do so. Compare that roughly 40k monthly actives from Macs reported during the presentation to the 42,162 full-time employees at the company (not including Motorola). The Googlers also noted that the company managed to update from 10.7 to 10.8 for 99.5% of its fleet in 8 weeks and it’s currently trying to accomplish the same for 10.9 Mavericks.

You can watch or download the full presentation here.

(via TheRegister)

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23 Responses to “How Google manages over 40,000 Macs…without much help from Apple”

  1. ctxppc says:

    Absolutely agree. Ever since Xserve was abandoned (before its official cancellation), Apple has moved to client. Lucky for them, OS X’s certified platform—UNIX—is shared with most other servers in the world. I’d love a much more extended front-end from Apple though: if they do it, they do it well.


  2. Google manages it’s own Macs because Apple makes is so easy.


  3. Laughing_Boy48 says:

    It’s horrible that Apple has no interest in the Enterprise. It seems as though it’s just throwing value away on account of being plain lazy. How much of an investment would it take to develop more tools to manage Macs in large numbers? Does anyone really see this as making much sense when a company has such a huge amount of wealth that it doesn’t want to support group management of its own computer platform? Absolutely stupid. And Tim Cook says he’s doing everything to put shareholder back into Apple. Google makes him seem like a liar.


  4. Roger J Vela says:

    Apple doesn’t understand the Enterprise


  5. ninetimesoutoften says:

    Um, is it worth pointing out that the world’s largest fleet of Macs is deployed by the most valuable company in the world consisting of over 80,000 employees and I’m sure they would have done something well before now if the available tools weren’t up to it?
    Yes I’m obviously talking about Apple.


  6. Could not agree with this more. Anyone who works in a studio or post production environment, or just any shop in general that’s a “mac shop” knows that macs in the enterprise are a PAIN IN THE ASS to manage compared to windows / pc based shops.

    Microsoft, VMWare, and even Red Hat have enterprise management tools that blow Apple out of the water 10 times over to the point where they’re at the bottom of the ocean (think about that for a second ;d).

    The XServe used to be awesome, because it had lights out management (LOM) built into remote desktop…but now there is no more Xserve — and the Mac mini is the only mac to NOT get haswell, and yeah, the Server.app is extremely buggy, and Apple doesn’t care….OK maybe a few guys left at Apple might still care, but the product managers don’t and the CEO doesn’t so that’s pretty much that. And if you want support for server / xsan stuff, I believe Apple requires you to sign a support contract right then and there, and there is no obligation for them to even fix anything.

    To list some examples…”Full screen” Support has been in OS X since 10.7 (launched 2011). Apple’s remote desktop app didn’t get this functionality until two months ago! Again, I ask, WTF?

    They ship mac pros (even the new 2013 one!) with two ethernet ports, yet the Server.app even in 10.9 does not support services running on a bonded interface (link aggregation). WTF? But like I said — I bet the only people at Apple that actually give a crap about any of this are the guys that have been there for awhile and developed this stuff from the start, because this is maybe 10% of their customer base (not even), and this is why this discontinued the XServe. I bet the internal devs who wrote most of the stuff got reassigned to other projects and no one really cares about enterprise support anymore. It’s no wonder the Mac Pro hasn’t had a real upgrade since 2010.

    Wouldn’t it be nice to “have our cake and eat it too” — get great support on iOS devices while at the same time using Apple’s desktops / servers in the enterprise with awesome management tools? Is that too much to ask for?


  7. One more point to drive things home — in Apple’s own iCloud datacenters — they do NOT run on Apple hardware OR software. Nope. HP Servers and NetApp storage for the most part. They don’t even run OS X in any shape or form — not even virtualized, not even a stripped down version with a darwin core — nope. Nothing. If they don’t use their own stuff in the enterprise / datacenter, why should you?


    • Exactly. Apple is not the same company that it came from anymore. It has become a “business”…it is the man talking on the screen.



      • ziongpham says:

        It is still Apple: a company that does great things, and what do you mean by “business”, like a shameful name? If they decided not to run OS X on their servers so be it.


      • Google doesn’t use ChromeOS as its main client OS, that’s not lack of trust, is just being practical. When it’s ready, they’ll use it, while it’s not ready, they dedicate the resources they can, and continue to make huge amounts of revenue with the other sides of the coin until they can flip it to this side and be the best.

        Their server software is not perfect yet, that’s a irrefutable truth, so they use the best option they can get to give the best service they can give. Imagine the PR meltdown if the icloud crashes and hiccups could be related to their own server software!

        Just an example, with the recent 10.9 update, the vpn service (yes, that little thing that all corporate users need to work from home and be able to keep going while traveling) doesn’t work anymore, and the only solution that corrects this behavior is replacing the daemon with a previous version… See my point?

        When it’s perfect, they’ll promote it, flaunt it and shoving it to the frontline, meanwhile, it’s the not-so-pretty cousin that always gets in the fringes of the family pictures. Let her bloom ;)


    • frikova says:

      What”s the point here? enterprise end users ≠ datacenter. Why should they have a product on every level of the datacenter? Do you want them to make their own firewalls and switches too? Big data, while we are at it?


      • Uhm? Apple used to make it’s own servers AND “big data” storage (Xserve and XServe RAID) — and they were insanely popular in the mac community. There are hundreds of studios that still to this day have petabyte size SANs all running on technology from 2009….Disney, DreamWorks, etc. all still have gigantic “big data” Xserve / Xserve RAID SANs and their post production and transcoding work is all done on them.


      • Roger J Vela says:

        Make no mistake its a software problem we are referring to. The Mac OS is a platform and as such it requires innovative management controls so that businesses and consumers a like can benefit from robust network connectivity required to work in todays world. On a side note, if I could run my own Cloud Server, I’d run it on a Mac Pro fully jacked up with a huge array of SSD drives. The hardware is there but with a feeble interest in the enterprise way of connecting business with the world, Apple gets a D- for failing to really take its network platform to the next level.


    • Oh and by the way for all you Mac Fanboys out there — in the iCloud datacenters, Apple runs Windows Azure on all those HP servers. :P I love Apple, but I really hate it when they discontinue products that I use and support, and ignore entire market segments. Not cool. I understand it’s their job to be profitable, but come on. Give us “enterprise” Mac guys who miss the Xserves something to upgrade to, and good software management tools to support the hardware. I don’t want to upgrade my clients to Windows servers…They’re all still running Xserves from 2009 god damnit.


  8. rlowhit says:

    Apple has never shown any interest in the enterprise. Google for the most part is not in it either, Microsoft and Oracle are the only real presence at the moment.


  9. This echoes pretty much everything that my professional system consultant friends keep saying. Apple used to be competitive in this area and supported many great tools, but with every release of OS X things gets worse. One would really like to know Apple’s thinking vs. the professional sector.


  10. Say whatever you want, but enterprise is changing so much, that the whole debate is becoming extremely irrelevant. God damn it, Amazon is finally offering cloud based remote desktop for thin clients.