Apple @ Work: How to handle migrations to new Macs in the event of damage


One of the challenges with moving away from traditional Active Directory networking environments is handling device migration and restoration in a damaged Mac. How do enterprise Apple environments address this in a way that scales to thousands of devices? In Active Directory environments, IT administrators just needed to deploy a new PC, join the Domain, and then the employee is back up and running. In a situation where Macs are not bound to a domain, how do IT departments handle Mac backups in the enterprise?

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About Apple @ Work: Bradley Chambers has been managing an enterprise IT network since 2009. Through his experience deploying and managing firewalls, switches, a mobile device management system, enterprise-grade Wi-Fi, 100s of Macs, and 100s of iPads, Bradley will highlight ways in which Apple IT managers deploy Apple devices, build networks to support them, train users, stories from the trenches of IT management, and ways Apple could improve its products for IT departments.

Despite working with an entirely new fleet of devices this fall, I’ve still had situations where I’ve had Macs either suffer accidental damage or have devices encounter warranty damage. Getting the right gear is the first step in planning through a situation where a damaged Mac needs to be migrated to a new one.

Gear needed to migrate

The first thing you need to purchase is a Thunderbolt 3 cable. This cable will allow you to migrate from one device to another. If a device is so damaged that it won’t turn on, this cable won’t be useful, but otherwise, it’s going to be the fastest way to restore your device to another machine. Even if the display is damaged, you can boot a Mac into Target Disk Mode to make it appears as an external drive for Migration Assistant.

Performing a restore (factory reset) with Intel Macs uses macOS Recovery. While that’s still an option for doing things like reinstalling macOS on M1 Macs, there’s a different process to fully restore an M1 Mac or in limited cases, the need to revive an M1 Mac. Check out our handy guide to learn more.

Cloud file storage

One of the biggest reasons to leverage cloud storage for files is that it speeds up the time to restore from a damaged laptop. Because our organization uses Google Drive for file storage, migration is just getting their settings back to normal and enrolling the computer into our MDM. File migrations are generally one of the most extended pieces to migrate. By offloading it to a cloud storage provider, IT departments can get a working machine back to the employees faster. Then, they can download the files they need on-demand.

Should enterprise environments use Time Machine?

Using a Time Machine drive is the fastest way to restore a damaged laptop to a new one, but it also requires organizations to provide an external drive to every employee. It also requires the employees to take control of their backups. It’s not a wrong decision, but it’s not a requirement, in my opinion. It would allow for file migration in the event of a completely damaged laptop, but in reality, if the only place files are being stored is locally on a machine, then that should be a concern. Applications can be reinstalled, and settings can be reconfigured, so file storage is the main reason to use a time machine drive. My organization used to give employees Time Machine drives, but I’ve moved away from it. Our corporate files are in Google Drive, and then all settings can easily be reconfigured. As the number of Macs in your organization grows, adding on a $50 external hard drive for each one becomes expensive over time.

Wrap up on Mac backups in the enterprise

For the few laptops we’ve had to repair this year, I’ve used a Thunderbolt 3 cable to get them a new laptop quickly, and then I deal with the repairs through Apple. I usually leave the employee on the machine I migrate them to, and then the repaired machines become my new spares.

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