I love answering a question with a question. Is asr still in OS X? Is NetInstall still in OS X Server? Can OS X still NetBoot? Does System Image Utility still work? The answer to all of these is yes. Therefore, the answer to “Is imaging dead” is clearly no. Is it on its way out, maybe. Debatable. Is it changing? Of course. When does Apple not evolve?
What have we seen recently? Well, the rhetoric would point to the fact that imaging is dying. That seems clear. And this is slowly coming out of people at Apple. The word imaging is becoming a bad thing. But, as a customer recently asked me, “what do you do when a hard drive fails and you need to get a system back up”? My answer, which of course was another question was “what do you do when that happens with an iPad?” The answer is that you Restore.
What is the difference between an Image and a Restore? Yes, I meant to capitalize both. Yes, I realize that’s not grammatically correct. No, I don’t care. It’s my prose, back off. But back to the point. What is the difference between the two? Am Image can have things inserted into /Applications, /Library, and even /System (since it’s not booted, it’s not yet protected by SIP). An Image can have binaries and scripts automatically fire, that Apple didn’t bake into the factory OS. On an iPad, when you Restore, you explode an .ipsw file onto disk that can’t be altered and acts as an operating system.
The difference here is that one is altered, the other isn’t. Additionally, iOS ripsaw files only contain drivers for the specific hardware for a given device (e.g. one for iPad Mini and another for iPhone 6). But, you have pre-flight and post-flight tasks you need to perform. Everyone understands that. Think about automation via profiles. You can run a script with a profile. You can apply a profile at first boot. You can install a package (the future of packages is IMHO more debatable than the future of images) and a .app with a profile. These might take a little more work than it does with a NetInstall and System Image Utility. But then, it might not. You’d be surprised what’s easier and what’s actually harder (for now) with this new workflow. Complexities are more logistical than technical.
So, Imaging is dead, long live Restoring? Arguably, any older workflows you have will be fine for some time. So any good article has a call to action somewhere. The call to action here is to try to subtly shift your deployment techniques. This involves implementing a DEP strategy where possible. This involves putting the final nails in the coffin of monolithic imaging. This involves moving to as thin an image as possible. This involves (I can’t believe I’m saying this) de-emphasizing scripting in your deployment process. This also involves completing the move that you’ve hopefully started already, from MCX to profile or mdm-based management.
What else do you think this involves? Insert running commentary below!
krypted December 5th, 2015