Apple admins convene in The Mini Apple

Apple admins convene in The Mini Apple

Apple in the enterprise is a way of life for attendees of JAMF Software's annual user conference.

At JAMF Software's annual user conference, the venue and the attendees made an impression on me. The venue was the Guthrie Theater, a striking building in downtown Minneapolis on the banks of the Mississippi River. The attendees (1,300 people registered for the event) were Apple admins and users of JAMF's software for managing Apple devices in corporations, schools and government agencies.

Apple isn't the dominant choice for enterprise deployments, and the Guthrie Theater felt like a renegade choice, too. Built in 2006, the shiny blue volume stands among leftover concrete mills and silos on the Mississippi. The vestiges of Minneapolis' flour-milling past have been deliberately preserved, as condo developments, museums and public parks have risen around them.

For a tech conference, the Guthrie had some limitations. Wi-fi access was inadequate. Inside the theater spaces, where the sessions were held, there were no outlets for recharging devices. But, to be honest, I didn't mind the connectivity inconveniences. The Guthrie's vibe outweighed them.

Designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, the Guthrie is a striking place. Instead of feeling institutional and sterile, like some conference rooms, the theaters felt comfortable and warm. They're spaces for artists, which felt appropriate. (In a nod to homegrown talent, the music piped into the theaters between sessions included tunes from Minnesota music icons Bob Dylan and Prince.)

A spectacular cantilever, dubbed The Endless Bridge, extends over the riverfront. All along the cantilever, deep window boxes with mirrored sides frame views of the Mississippi riverscape. Support techs were set up inside the cantilevered space so JAMF users could meet with techs.

At the end of the bridge, attendees congregated on a platform with outdoor seating and fantastic views. It was a perfect spot for lunch. (Minneapolis treated its visitors well, with 50+ afternoon temperatures and sunny skies all three days.)

The venue is different. So was the audience. I started working at Network World in 1998, and I've attended a fair number of conferences over the years. The JAMF Nation User Conference (JNUC) felt fresh. The audience seemed younger than usual -- an unconfirmed observation by me.

At most conferences these days, the dress is casual. It was casual at JNUC, too, but it was a little edgier. More beanies, dapper shoes and leather bombers. Women were still a clear minority -- I'd guess in the neighborhood of 5%, though that's just a rough estimate. (I've asked if JAMF has demographic details about the audience; I'll update if they do.)

Apple has often been associated with creative types. That stereotype fit the scene at the Guthrie. But that's not the whole story.

Many JAMF users are managing sizable fleets of Apple devices and heterogeneous environments. JAMF provides management tools, including its flagship Casper Suite, that are built exclusively for Macs, iPads, and iPhones.

As more businesses have brought Macs into the workplace, the community of Apple admins has grown. This year's JNUC is the software maker's fifth user conference. Attendance has grown steadily: there were 100 attendees in 2010, 250 in 2011, 350 in 2012, 700 in 2013 and 1,300 this time around.

Many attendees and JAMF staffers know each other. Jehan Aziz, manager of Apple services at National Geographic, talked about losing his colleague Scott Secrest to JAMF Software. Now a senior systems engineer at JAMF, Secrest introduced Aziz, whose session focused on custom workflows.

There were hugs exchanged on stage during the opening keynote. I've never seen that at other tech conferences. It seems like a tight community.

The social options at JNUC included athletic and nightclub events. There was a sunrise 5K run on Wednesday morning, and a party later that evening. I didn't attend Wednesday night's party, which was held at the legendary concert venue First Avenue (the setting for Purple Rain). But on Thursday, analgesics showed up among the freebie candies at JAMF Software help desks. I'm guessing it was a fun crowd and a fun night.

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