Mac OS X Server costs 5% of what it cost just three years ago. Whatever your needs and whatever the software’s shortcomings, this is hard to ignore. Leopard Server cost $999 for an unlimited-client license, Snow Leopard Server cost $499, and Lion Server costs $50.

For this reason alone, Lion Server will (and should) attract the attention of people who have never been in the market for server software before - home users, in particular - but it has to do so without alienating the business and education customers who currently rely on the software. These are Lion Server’s challenges: is there a real point in having it at home? And as a comparatively-dirt-cheap App Store download, is it lacking in features and power compared to previous versions?


I want to clarify a couple of things before I dive into the review proper: First, just like previous versions, Lion Server is very much just OS X with server functionality laid over top of it. In appearance, performance, system requirements, and operation, it is mostly identical to OS X client. I’ll point you to our massive review of Lion if you need to know more about any of that.

Second, know that I’m approaching this review from a different angle than the Lion client review - while most people interested in an OS X review have at least a passing familiarity with the software, this review will be the first exposure to OS X Server for many of you. For that reason, among the descriptions of Lion Server’s features and comparisons with past versions of the software, I’m going to be going a little more in-depth about how to actually configure the services. Hopefully the newbies among you can use these instructions as jumping-off points as you explore the software on your own.

Last, OS X Server can do a lot of things - some (like mail and DHCP) can be handled by many different products, but others (like Open Directory, NetBoot, or the OS X and iOS management features) are pretty unique to OS X Server. I’m going to try to at least touch upon every single service and tool in OS X Server, but I’ll generally focus more on the unique stuff for the purposes of this review.

Got all that? Good! Let’s jump in.

Installation
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  • HMTK - Wednesday, August 03, 2011 - link

    OK so you can definitely run a Mac OS X vm on vSphere 5 but only on Apple hardware. What a joke! Probably Apple idiocy rather than a technical limitation. Reply
  • Spazweasel - Wednesday, August 03, 2011 - link

    Apple is a hardware company. OS/X and iOS exist to make hardware sales possible (thus the cost of development is included in the pricing for Apple hardware, something the Apple haters conveniently overlook) Allowing the running of OS/X on non-Apple hardware reduces Apple hardware sales, so they don't do it.

    "Idiocy"? Yeah, sure, whatever.
    Reply
  • HMTK - Wednesday, August 03, 2011 - link

    Not allowing Mac OS to run under a hypervisor on non-Apple branded hardware won't help them either. Or do you think a halfway decent IT-department would put a desktop machine or a hard disk posing as a server in a data center? They'd rather pay a few 100 € more for a license if they could run it on ESXi/XenServer/Hyper-V and reliable hardware. Reply
  • Spazweasel - Wednesday, August 03, 2011 - link

    Apple makes its money on the desktop, not the server room. I doubt it's worth the effort. OS/X in the server room is a niche product, and Apple know it; it's much more suited as a workgroup/small office server, and those environments do not have ESX or Xen installations.

    Apple has no incentive to support OS/X in a VM, and plenty of reasons not to. Really, I don't see why this is a surprise.
    Reply
  • HMTK - Thursday, August 04, 2011 - link

    I'm not saying it's a big surprise, I'm saying it's stupid. why not make good manegement tools for their iOS available in a way that companies can integrate better in their infrastructure?

    You might be surprised as to how many small shops are going the virtualization route. Even if you have only a single server it makes sense in the long run when the time comes to replace the hardware. Just import the VM on the hypervisor on the new hardware and you're done.
    Reply
  • GotThumbs - Tuesday, August 02, 2011 - link

    This is an interesting article and I enjoyed the depth of detail. As a builder of my own systems for years, does the use of this software bind you to using only a ready built Apple system? It seems Apple is slowly trying to create a close proprietary system where you have to use apple hardware and apple software. I know their are hackintosh systems but it seems its still going to be quite a bit of effort and so far seems to be a waste of time for me. As the article mentions, there are lots of alternatives available. Apples MO seems to be offering zero options for using outside sources. Apple consumers are being channeled to Itunes and the Mac App Store for all purchases. I'm personally not a fan of that trend and have no intentions of bowing down to that kind of control. I can see where the general consumer who has very little technical knowledge is quite accepting of Apples controls as its a very simple and somewhat brainless system packaged in a slick looking package. Reply
  • GrizzledYoungMan - Tuesday, August 02, 2011 - link

    Or is it still something we're all going to pretend works, when it very clearly doesn't out in the real world (If it worked, why would DAVE exist)? I'm referring here to the myriad of permissions issues and oodles of useless garbage sidecar files that pop up after a few days of operation in a mixed environment.

    Haven't read the article. Probably won't. Sorry. Apple is a joke at anything that designing anything that doesn't fit in your pocket/surrogate vagina of choice.

    I get this feeling, deep in my angry muscle, every time some imbecile waves around his iThing, raving about Apple's genius, while I'm thinking about all the time that has been wasted trying to get OS X desktop clients to do things that have worked out in the real world for years now.
    Reply
  • blueeyesm - Tuesday, August 02, 2011 - link

    Not in Lion, as Samba moved to GPL3 licensing.

    http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/11/03/23/insi...
    Reply
  • GrizzledYoungMan - Tuesday, August 02, 2011 - link

    You know what's wild? I should actually be excited they're moving to a new standard - the NAS' I often recommend to clients support SMB2, and see useful performance gains from it.

    But then I read "Windows networking software developed by Apple" and my heart sinks. Realistically, what are the odds this is going to work?

    Honestly, I don't really blame the design teams over there so much as a closed corporate culture that both ignores the feedback of their customers and denies any complaints exist.

    They're really missing out on the sorts of improvements that most big software developers make using the information gathered during large, open betas and the like.
    Reply
  • repoman27 - Tuesday, August 02, 2011 - link

    As the article you linked to points out, since version 10.2 Mac OS X has shipped with Samba, an open-source, reverse engineered version of SMB 1.0. With Lion, Apple dropped Samba and added native support for SMB2 while maintaining the ability to connect with SMB 1.0 machines as long as they use UNICODE and extended security. This means Mac OS X 10.7 can no longer connect out of the box with some SMB 1.0 or Samba machines (which it had done for the last 9 years), but it does have full support for SMB2.

    As for GrizzledYoungMan's "oodles of useless garbage sidecar files," it's not like Mac users have any use for a thumbs.db file either. Just hide the metadata files, or don't allow write permissions on the folder if you don't want to see that kind of stuff, but these types of files are most likely only going to become more prevalent as time goes by.
    Reply

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