In fields straddling the technical and creative domains, professionals often prefer Macs. Faced by aggressive deadlines, they track their time for productivity. Whether graphic designers, animators, audio engineers, video editors, or something else entirely, their work demands robust technology with a flexible interface. But specialized software worth thousands of dollars pushes the limits of available hardware. Because of outside pressures, the slightest pause in performance can send them scrambling for help. They can seem very demanding, so what’s their IT support to do?
Purchasing - Begin by consulting users, getting advice from industry experts, and studying the effect of hardware specifications on critical software. When budgets force compromises, know which components are permanent, and which upgrades you can defer.
Buy identical equipment when possible, for ease of troubleshooting and swapping. Subtle differences between workstations complicate support.
Deployment - Take time to single-pass erase all HDD and hybrid disks; this writing of zeroes to every sector marks bad blocks, squashing disk-related glitches.
Image workstations to ensure consistency of software and settings. Buy site-licenses to simplify software installs. Smaller deployments can use Carbon Copy Cloner <https://bombich.com> or Super Duper <http://www.shirt-pocket.com/SuperDuper/SuperDuperDescription.html>, while larger ones can consider Apple’s NetInstall <https://www.apple.com/macos/server/features/> or JAMF’s Casper <https://www.jamf.com/products/jamf-pro/deployment/>.
Memory - High-end applications—like the Adobe Creative Suite, Final Cut Pro, and ProTools—drag without adequate RAM. Install what they need.
Manage memory by quitting unused apps. Use a free utility like Memory Clean <https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/memory-clean-monitor-free/id451444120?mt=12> to optimize RAM usage.
Storage - Full startup disks run poorly. Provide adequate storage and help users keep space free. This enables the Mac OS and critical applications to use RAM efficiently. Utilize extra disks as secondary scratch disks, and favor fast connections like Thunderbolt. Audio & video production may need RAID or SAN storage, so understand the demands of your industry.
Since high-end applications like more space than affordable SSD’s provide, Fusion drives (part SSD, part HDD) are common. Understand how the Mac OS leverages their benefits and limitations. Don’t waste time defragmenting them unless they drop low in free space.
CPU - Although there aren’t many upgrade options after purchase, the Activity Monitor app shows a Mac’s running processes, allowing the knowledgeable to streamline CPU usage. Cleaning OS caches may also offer some relief.
Video Hardware - In most Macs this cannot be upgraded after buying. While not the only measure of video power, VRAM is a simple one. Get enough for critical software.
Settings - Preferences in critical applications can greatly affect performance. Know the software and how to fine-tune it.
Networking - Most high-end users rely heavily on servers, but interference can cripple WiFi, so build a solid wired network. Also provide the speed and reliability users need from internet connections.
Server Performance - Optimize file servers—especially RAM, storage, and networking.
Other - Monitor the devices connected to users’ Macs. Keep drivers updated. Be prepared for problems with peripherals—especially USB devices. Watch for failing HDD’s to become slow.
Speed isn’t the only measure of what matters; production is the larger goal. Minimizing downtime is what separates Mac support amateurs from the pros.
Reliability - Buy solid products with low failure rates and strong support. Seek proven records; a broken tool with a lifetime warranty still kills productivity.
Preventative maintenance goes a long way. Periodically run Disk Utility’s First Aid feature, or whenever directory corruption might be a factor. Monitor disk space and other key indicators over the network using Apple Remote Desktop <https://www.apple.com/remotedesktop/>. Familiarize yourself with workstations through regular reports to help you spot developing problems.
Backups - Lost files cost productivity, but daytime backups can impact it as well. Test Time Machine on each Mac; if it doesn’t hurt performance, leave it at the default hourly setting. If it does, install a utility like Time Machine Editor <http://tclementdev.com/timemachineeditor/> to let users set their backup schedule.
Time Machine handles small files well, but does poorly on large files (1GB+) with frequent edits. Those who continuously keep big projects open should explore alternatives.
Updates - The finicky nature of high-end software makes every update a gamble in stability. Hosting Software Updates on a Mac Server lets you control which Apple updates a Mac can install. Force important updates using Apple Remote Desktop. See my earlier article, “Take Charge of Mac Software Updates”, <http://www.jenslodholm.com/taking-charge-of-mac-software-updates--part-1.html> for details.
Test updates on a small subset of Macs before releasing them. See “Getting Off the Ground with Pilot Groups” <http://www.jenslodholm.com/getting-off-the-ground-with-pilot-groups.html> for more.
If critical third-party software doesn’t have a managed update service, inform users which updates to install, and monitor the status of important ones.
Support - Production time comes at a premium, so respond swiftly to work-impacting problems. Understand priorities for yourself and the users.
If you work flexible hours to address IT needs, stay available when users are working and be reachable when off-site. This is extra important for sole tech support.
Minimize the work time you borrow from users. Try quick fixes first, address likely culprits, and seek useful information such as console logs provide. For low-priority support tasks that interrupt work, adjust around user schedules.
Security - Despite their reputation, Macs need good antivirus protection. But is the cure worse than the disease? Balance malware risks against the burden of defensive software. Look for low-impact utilities proven with your production software. When malware protection harms speed, settle for scheduled scans during off hours.
To protect against unauthorized access, require logins with hardened passwords. Enable screen security and disable auto-login. Whether they mean to or not, people can do a lot of damage to data and software where they don’t belong.
This article cannot explore every potential bottleneck. Continue to educate yourself from all possible sources—the Apple knowledgebase, Mac news sites, third-party tech sources, and online discussions. That’s how you’ll find what could slow down your high-end Macs, and you’ll become sharper in the process.