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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  • Wizzdo - Wednesday, August 03, 2011 - link

    Lion's web server IS Apache. LOL. Reply
  • jigglywiggly - Tuesday, August 02, 2011 - link

    I am too much of an elitist fag to succumb to this.
    I just installed my Debian GUI-less server today to replace my o'll ubuntu 10.04 LTS GUI server, got everyhting setup, mysql, apache, php, samba settings, everything gud to go with only 100 megs of ram usage.
    Sure it took much longer to setup, but I am an elitist fag
    Reply
  • don_k - Wednesday, August 03, 2011 - link

    Since when is netboot unique to OSX server? Last I checked all *nix variants have had that ability for decades.

    But really, organisations concerned about the sticker price on their server software are not going to go get an apple 'server' for $1k when they can download an iso in 5min and get going are they?
    Not to mention the complete lack of necessary system tools (archiving, compiing especially) without installing macports or something.

    Call it like it is - 1k to manage all those damn pads and phones everyone in the company demands they are able to access the company intranet.
    Reply
  • johnbouy - Wednesday, August 03, 2011 - link

    Time Machine took a big step backwards with Lion Server. In Snow Leopard Server you could allow time machine backups on individual share points. This allows you to partition a disk and set up individual partitions for specific Time Machine backups. I use this to control how much disk space is allocated for a backup. In Lion you get to nominate one share point/partition as the Time Machine backup storage point. Hence any client that backs up to the server uses the same disk space. A real step backwards!

    Another issue is that Server.app rewets .config files when started up so you potentially lose any changes you were forced to make due to the lousy Lion Web service interface.
    Reply
  • digitalzombie - Wednesday, August 03, 2011 - link

    I like the idea but still... I wouldn't do it. Apparently they got desperate enough to offer it for 50 bucks. Good job for noticing that no one give a damn since Linux is free and both Linux and Window is established already. I still wouldn't give em my money when they tried to charge in the past an arm and a leg. Who the hell do they think they're going fool? The platform isn't the most active for server development tools. Linux got cloud all up in there and it's actively evolving in many area especially server. Don't even try to bring out that pathetic iCloud. It's not open so nothing is going to back that crap other than Apple, openstack have 50 vendors, big companies, backing that project up compare to iCloud. Apple probably won't ever be able to compete in the server sector but they can leverage their UI and simplicity for their user base, such as the gui sys admin tools described in this articles. They should just stick with consumer base products, trying to compete in the server space market is going to kill em. Reply
  • matthi - Wednesday, August 03, 2011 - link

    On page 4 of this review, it says ".. our next entries are Accounts and Stats under the Status heading". 'Accounts' should be replaced with 'Alerts'. Reply
  • slayernine - Wednesday, August 03, 2011 - link

    If only this was a review of Windows Server it might be useful. I have never met a fellow tech person/geek who uses any version of Apple Server products. (aside from one customer about 3 years ago who was curious about them).

    It is just the simple facts that apple products are know for a lack of an ability to upgrade, locked to features that Apple thinks you should have and a lack of price efficiency. Windows and Linux offer far superior server products that will run on pretty much any hardware that suits your needs and the only reason I can see there being a point to review this product is due to Apple padding your pockets.
    Reply
  • Schafdog - Wednesday, August 03, 2011 - link

    I know that it seems like Apple (or Steve) has lost faith in the PC as a hub, but I would really love seeing a iTunes Server that multiple users can control using iOS devices playing on Airplay or iOS device itself.

    Some NAS is now getting this features, so I might drop the OS X Server for one of those instead.
    Reply
  • sodi - Wednesday, August 03, 2011 - link

    What kind of crazy organization would use a Lion Server? At works, standard is a necessity. A Lion Server is just oddball. Reply
  • Oscarcharliezulu - Thursday, August 04, 2011 - link

    This seems a bit like OSX Server Lite and Easy rather than a true upgrade to Snow Leopard Server. I wasPthinking of converting an older 'mini to Lion Server (to serve a small business which has MBPs and iMacs, but now I think getting a copy of Snow Leopard Server would be better if I could somehow get it cheap (yet legal). Reply

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