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#706: Get More Out of Netboot with DeployStudio, iPod & iPhone Software Updates, Secure Password Storage

 
     
 

Happy Tuesday,

With afternoon temperatures in the fifties, mud season in full effect, and daylight at 7PM, spring is almost here. Then again, we had a St. Patrick’s Day snowstorm a few years ago that left us with over two feet heading in to April. I’ll take one mud season over two, thank you very much.

Years ago, I oversaw hundreds of Macs at a local college across two campuses. It was a bit harder then than it is now. Under Mac OS X 10.3 “Panther” Server, there were simply NetBoot and NetRestore services used to push system images across the network to laboratory and mobile workstations.

I had to manually change the Xserve’s subnet to broadcast to machines, as NetBooting across subnets was not easily or reliably done. Things have come a long way, and Rebecca wrote a detailed article on Deploy Studio, the modern-day replacement for managing deployments.

I hope you enjoy this issue. As always, keep in touch.

Matt
matt@smalldog.com

 
   
     
  Get More Out of Netboot with DeployStudio  
   
 

Here in our Small Dog Support room we’ve begun the process of giving our server a much-needed sprucing up. After clinging to our last generation Power Mac G5 for as long as we could we have finally moved to a Mac Pro and have made the switch from our beloved, but outdated, NetRestore to the hipper and more functional DeployStudio.

I’ve been playing with DeployStudio for several months now and have been very impressed with its endless features. The first big question that I’m sure you’re asking is, “What the heck is DeployStudio?" It’s a set of netboot tools that includes an interface that helps automate master image creation and restore to machines across the local network. The features go far beyond stationary image creation and restore by supporting customized workflows including drive partitioning, multiple-OS restores, User creation, Open and Active Directory Binding, and even full scripting support. Beyond full image deployment, it’s also possible to send individual packages across the network for easy updating.

There are several ways DeployStudio can be an exciting addition to the netboot service in Server. My first experience with it was setting it up for a local school district who, up until now, has been imaging their Macs one at a time. With DeployStudio, they’re now able to create an image on one machine, netboot that machine to their Mac mini running 10.6 Server, create the master image and then netboot an entire lab of machines and let them restore from that master overnight. After restore, the workflow they’ve created in DeployStudio binds each of the machines to their Active Directory server, installs custom printers, and authenticates Adobe software. Basically, it eliminates their need to go machine to machine to tweak things after imaging. Talk about a time saver!

In our shop, we have a few specialized needs for DeployStudio. It’s a simple way to run customer backups directly to our server; just netboot the machine and create a master image from the customer’s machine. We also create master images from brand new machines so we can quickly and easily restore machines that are returned or exchanged. This also helps us image drives when we perform hard drive replacements or Erase and Installs for customers.

Netbooting machines can also be a great troubleshooting technique. For example, if a machine will not boot from its internal hard drive, but has no problem netbooting, we know the issue is with the software or hardware of the computer’s internal hard drive. We also use our own Netboot Image (NBI) that includes some of our favorite troubleshooting software, such as Disk Warrior, Drive Genius and Data Rescue, for an even better troubleshooting solution. Using netboot functions for troubleshooting and restore, as opposed to external hard drives or CDs, saves us space, money, and the hassle of keeping several drives up-to-date.

Our IT department is jumping on board too, and is using DeployStudio to deploy new images and updates to our work stations. One of the big allures of DeployStudio is the security features. One can set DeployStudio to require authentication upon netboot, transfers can be encrypted across the network, and machines allowed to netboot can be limited by MAC address, group, or several other criteria. The features are not only robust, but since the software is Open Source it’s constantly being updated and the source code is fully available for your tweaking pleasure.

Obviously, DeployStudio is not for everyone. One of cons (though some of us find it a pro) of Open Source software is that no one is going to hold your hand through the process. There are great forums available on the DeployStudio website, but I do recommend only undertaking the setup if you have some basic experience with Mac OS X Server and the patience to make adjustments to your setup as needed. As for hardware requirements, the software can be run in Mac OS 10.4-10.6.2, but to take advantage of the netboot functions you will need Mac OS X Server running 10.4 or higher; my experience has been in 10.5.8 and 10.6.2 Server. That also means that you need a machine that can handle Mac OS X Server. To get the process running smoothly, I also recommend using gigabit ethernet across the network. It’s never recommended to netboot wirelessly.

If you’re feeling adventurous and decide to give DeployStudio a try, I’d love to hear how you use it and how it works for you!

 
   
     
  iPod & iPhone Software Updates  
   
 

When iPod was first introduced, and up until late 2006 or so, there was a standalone utility that ran checked for and installed software and firmware updates for iPods. The iPod Update Utility was a simple item that was saved in your Utilities folder and automatically launched when anything new was available. One great feature of this simple updater is that it archived each update so subsequent updates to other iPods did not need to be re-download.

Nowadays, iPod updates come directly through iTunes. If there’s anything new when you plug in your iPod, iTunes will alert you and ask whether you’d like to apply them. Because part of my job is to rest and refurbish used iPods, I find myself needing to perform these updates all the time; our rural location also means we don’t have the fastest internet access, so not having to re-download updates is a boon.

While the iPod Update Utility stored the update files in plain view, iTunes tucks them away in your User’s library folder at ~/Library/iTunes/iPod Software Update. This file is only accessible to the user currently logged in, so if you have multiple users on your computer, each update will download once per user.

As the iPod operating system (commonly called iPhone OS) grows more robust in features and stability, it also grows considerably in size. Under the new paradigm, the old versions of the software are not updated and replaced, but a new version is added to the User’s folder at the cost of 225MB or more per update. Weeding out older updates will help in conserving hard drive space when you come upon the ceiling of storage for your machine.

Another thing to consider if you have an iPod that fails to update is that maybe it is one of the updater files that is corrupted. If your iPod seems dead and you can’t restore it, try removing the updater files from ~/Library/iTunes/iPod Software Update. Restart iTunes and let the updates come down again, and you may just be lucky enough to get that iPod up and running again.

 
   
     
  Tip of the Week: Secure Password Storage  
   
 

All versions of Mac OS X have a system called Keychain to store passwords. You can open up the Keychain Access program from your Utilities folder to see just what’s being stored, and to manually maintain the database. One particularly useful feature in Keychain Access is the ability to look up forgotten passwords.

It is the Keychain system that remembers the passwords used by iChat, Mail, and many network services. Until recently, when I needed to retrieve a forgotten password, I would locate the item in Keychain Access, double-click it, click the Show Password button, enter my password, and copy the password from there. You can save a few steps by just control-clicking (or right clicking) on the item and selecting “Copy Password to Clipboard.” Just enter your computer’s password, and paste the password where it needs to go.

Keychain Access is also a great place to store secure notes. They function pretty much like the Stickies so many of us know and love, but these are password-protected.

 
   
     
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