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Updated management appliance corrals Apple iPhone

Editor’s Note: The following article is reprinted from Network World.

If you’ve been wondering how to manage the Apple iPhone 3G smartphones mushrooming on your network, wonder no more. Kace has updated its systems management appliance with beta software to put that Apple in the palm of your hand.

The company’s KBox 1000 appliance is a Unix box loaded with Web-based applications to automate systems management tasks for PCs and servers. The updated software can now import the XML files, or “profiles,” generated by Apple’s iPhone Configuration Utility. Once imported, the profile’s data about such things as settings for VPN configuration, security, and e-mail, and device security polices, appear as a new set of tabs on the KBox Web GUI.

Eventually, Kace plans to create and deploy a native iPhone agent, a compact program that will run on the phone itself to support still more specific and advanced management functions in tandem with the KBox. (Compare client and server management products.)

Tracking data from existing KBox users shows iPhone use in the enterprise is surging. “We’re able to track what our customers are doing or not doing with these operating systems,” says Kace founder, President and CTO Marty Kacin. “Vista hasn’t had a great uptake to date, for example. But the iPhone’s uptake has been really amazing. We’re pretty shocked at how well Apple has done in the enterprise [with iPhone].”

What’s more, these enterprise users apparently don’t see the iPhone mainly as a personal information manager. “They’re not using the PIM stuff,” Kacin says. “They’re developing specific, vertical applications in these corporate iPhones for their [respective] industries.”

Kace, based in Mountain View, Calif., was launched in 2002 by several veterans from Next Computing, eventually bought by Apple to form the foundation for the Leopard operating systems. The KBox 1000 is aimed at server and desktop management, handling tasks like automated patch management, inventory, scripting, helpdesk and asset management. The KBox 2000 is aimed at provisioning (or reprovisioning), imaging, and activating existing or new computers on the corporate network.

The KBox appeal, says Kacin, is being a Web-enabled, very easy-to-use appliance that can affordably manage thousands of computers running different operating systems. The KBox has supported Apple Macs for several years. “We’re moving into mobile device management, a logical extension of our products,” he says.

Profiles created by the Apple utility let network administrators manage how the phone is provisioned, decide what applications can and can not run on the device, and enforce security policies. Kace also offers an expanding package of profile templates that administrators can use instead. Shifting the profiles to the KBox gives the enterprise central control over these capabilities, via the appliance’s Web console.

KBox can manage several profiles for each user or user group, for example, an engineering or sales group. Completed profiles are then transferred to and loaded on the iPhone via Apple’s mail application or phone’s Safari Web browser. With the KBox rules engine, actions such as installing a software patch can be aggregated and applied to groups of devices automatically.

Kace is offering a free beta release for existing and new KBox customers. No decision has yet been made on how to price the new iPhone support. “We’re exploring the pricing model,” Kacin says. He expects pricing to be finalized when the production release of the iPhone support becomes available later this year, along with other not-yet-announced mobile features.

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