Desktop administrators are always looking for ways to better manage their virtual desktops and the underlying hypervisor, which can be especially tricky if you're running Macs in your organization.
I recently became aware of Parallels' new product, called Parallels Management Suite for Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager. Most of us know Parallels because of its Parallels Desktop offering, which allows you to run Windows virtual machines on Macs -- a competitor to VMware Fusion. The product, which was released earlier this year, is an agent that runs on Macs and helps IT manage them from System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) in much the same way you would any Windows device.
That capability alone is worth attention, but there's something else that will be of interest to desktop virtualization administrators: It can manage Parallels Desktop, too.
Mixing hypervisor and desktop management
Mac in the enterprise has always been a challenge because the OS was hardly meant for traditional IT department management. Quest Software (now owned by Dell) has a product called QMX that allows central management via SCCM, and there are other management suites out there such as JAMF that have been doing it for years.
Even if you have one of those tools, though, they don't really help with the fact that many enterprise Macs are also running a virtualized version of Windows to fully integrate with the organization. In those situations, IT is left to manage the Mac one way and the virtual desktop another way -- and the hypervisor is sort of left on its own.
Parallels Management Suite now gives you the ability to deploy virtual machines to Macs running Parallels Desktop Enterprise, as well as tweak the settings of the hypervisor itself. So, if you want to deploy a corporate image but limit integration with the host or security settings, you can do that. If you want to specify that all apps run in Coherence Mode (which integrates your Windows apps into your Mac desktop, like VMware Fusion's Unity), you can do that, too. Essentially, if it's a configurable option in Parallels Desktop, you can specify the setting via SCCM.
Keep in mind, though, that to manage Windows itself you'd still rely on your normal Windows management structure. This suite doesn't see inside the VM, but it does allow you to configure all the aspects of the virtual hardware.
At the moment, there is no automatic de-provisioning of virtual machines, but since the agent allows you to manage the device the same way you'd manage a Windows device with SCCM, you can write and deploy scripts that do the dirty work for you. The agent allows you to automatically install any application that can be silently installed (or you can write an automator script to step through apps that require user intervention and deploy both as a package). The agent also has reporting features for software and hardware inventories, just like SCCM does for Windows.
Future additions to Parallels Management Suite
Parallels Management Suite for SCCM is a v1 release, so there are some limitations. For instance, the Mac must have the agent running on it before you can administer the Parallels Desktop portion.
That means bring-your-own-computer (BYOC) users and contractors are left in the dark (unless they allow you to put the management agent on the machine). I'm hopeful that future versions of Parallels Management Suite will somehow have the ability to manage just the Parallels Desktop portion of the endpoint. Right now, you don't need to join BYOC devices to the domain to get the management functionality, but I don't know many contractors that would be keen to give another company rights to audit, report and manage their laptop. If it's just the corporate VM, that's an easier pill to swallow.
Parallels will also add patch management, bare-metal Mac OS X deployment and support for mobile devices (a la Quest QMX). Mobile device support will also include hardware and software inventory, configuration profile editing and remote wiping.
Until now, the only centrally managed client hypervisor tool for Macs came from MokaFive, and now it has competition. MokaFive is bound to VMware Fusion at the moment, just as Parallels Management Suite is bound to Parallels Desktop Enterprise, but I could see a future where Parallels includes management hooks for other client hypervisors. It could also possibly work with MokaFive since, to my knowledge, MokaFive doesn't allow you to manage the Mac OS itself, let alone from within SCCM.
The bottom line is there are now many products that allow you to manage both Macs and the client hypervisors that the majority of them run -- and better desktop management is never a bad thing.