Server.app Overview

Let’s start with Server.app, since it’s going to be the administration tool we’ll use the most throughout this review. I’ll start with a general overview of what it is and what it does, and then I’ll move on to the specific services that it manages.

In the sidebar under Accounts, we can see an overview of user accounts and user groups, both those that are local to the server and (if you’re hosting a directory) managed network accounts and groups. From here, you can create users and groups, edit group membership, allow users and groups to administer the server, and edit some other basic user attributes.

For small and/or uncomplicated directories, Server.app will be fine for managing your directory, though people wanting to do anything more advanced will want to be familiar with Workgroup Manager (one of the Server Admin Tools that we’ll discuss in depth later).

Moving down the sidebar, our next entries are Alerts and Stats under the Status heading. Alerts is a simple log viewer, showing you messages about your server that you should know (if you have Server.app in your dock, the number of Alerts you have will be displayed with the icon).

Alerts showing up in the Dock


 
Stats, as its name implies, will give you some simple statistics about CPU, RAM, and network bandwidth usage. This worked intermittently on my test servers, and at least one Apple Support thread suggests that this isn’t uncommon - this is the sort of thing that usually gets fixed in a point update.

Next, under Services, is a full list of every service manageable by Server.app - most of these offer up big on-off switches (I can hear seasoned admins grinding their teeth at this) and some basic configuration options which vary from service to service - we’ll talk more about the available options for each service as we discuss them.

Last up is the Hardware section, which lets you do quite a few things. The Overview tab gives you basic information about your server’s hardware and uptime.

Under the Settings tab, you can enable and disable SSH and remote administration of your server, create and control SSL certificates, and “dedicate system resources to server services,” which enhances the performance of some server functions at the expense of “the performance of some user applications” (this would be a useful box to tick on a dedicated server, but not on a personal computer that’s doing double-duty as a workstation).

Under the Network tab, you can see your server’s various network interfaces and their IP addresses, and you can also change your server’s host name (which is nice, since changing the host name used to require digging around in Server Admin and/or some command line trickery, depending on what you were doing).

Lastly, the Storage tab gives you an overview of your available disk space, and also allows you to change the access permissions on files and folders (useful if you have file-sharing enabled, though you should probably do this using the File Sharing service itself, since it is much better at it).

Lastly, at the bottom of the screen, you can see something called Next Steps - this is an excellent place for novices to figure out what to do now that they’ve setup a server. It will guide you through setting up your network, managing network accounts, managing devices, and starting services, among a few other things. Those needing more advanced help can go through the documentation for Lion Server - the page is looking a little sparse right now, especially when compared to the extensive documentation for previous OS X Server versions, but hopefully it will become a little more populated over time.

Lastly, let’s talk about remote administration - if your OS X servers are located in a server room where you don’t have physical access to them, you’ll need a way to manage them remotely. In past OS X Server versions, the Server Admin Tools were installable to any OS X client, and enabled remote administration of most services and tasks.

Server.app, however, is not available for client OS X versions - if you need to administer Lion Server remotely, you’ll either need to change your OS X client into a server (thus giving you access to Server.app, which can be used to connect to other servers), or you must control your servers directly using VNC or Screen Sharing or Apple Remote Desktop (take your pick). It’s not a deal-breaking change, but businesses (whose Lion licensing terms are a bit less generous than those for consumers) will have to cough up for additional Server licenses if they want their admins to administer services on their servers.

We’ll look at the individual Server.app services soon - first, I want to walk you through the Server Admin program and OS X Server’s directory services, since so many of the other services are dependent on them.

Server Admin Overview

 

As we talked about before, Server Admin used to be the heart of OS X Server. Its role in Lion, while much reduced, is still important, since it still manages some of the software’s more interesting pieces.

Download the Server Admin Tools from the Apple download site, install them, and fire up Server Admin. After authenticating, you should see the following:

 
You won’t be able to see any services to manage at the start - to view them, click the Settings button, go to the Services tab, check everything you want to configure on the server, click Save, and the services will become available in the left sidebar.
 
 
You can also use Server Admin to setup email alerts about your server, view detailed logs, apply updates to your server, specify access and administrative access to specific services and a few more advanced administrative functions that Server.app doesn’t offer - there’s too much here to go through it all blow by blow, but poke around some and you can see everything there is to see.

Server Admin can still be installed to Lion clients and used to administer Lion Server (and Snow Leopard Server) remotely.

Now, time to talk about some services.
Server.app and the Server Admin Tools Open Directory: Overview and Setup
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  • Kristian Vättö - Tuesday, August 02, 2011 - link

    Your Twitter was right, this really is endless Reply
  • CharonPDX - Tuesday, August 02, 2011 - link

    It was that pesky loop that started on page 23 that circled you back to page 8. By the time you'd read page 23, you'd forgotten what was on page 8, so you didn't notice you were in a loop until you were at what you thought was page 157... Reply
  • B3an - Tuesday, August 02, 2011 - link

    Very in depth article... but i feel you've wasted time on this. No one in there right mind would use OSX as a server. Apart from Apple fanboys that choose an inferior product over better alternatives because it has an Apple logo, but i emphasize the words "right mind". Reply
  • FATCamaro - Tuesday, August 02, 2011 - link

    For enterprise work, or a Windows-only network this is certainly true. For SMB, or even 500 mac/mixed users I think it could work if you can provide some glue to handle fail-over.
    Windows server is better for Office for sure as is Linux for web & applications.
    Reply
  • Spivonious - Wednesday, August 03, 2011 - link

    I can run a web server on the client version of Windows. It's just not installed by default. Reply
  • mino - Saturday, August 06, 2011 - link

    Hint: for how many users/connections ....

    If it was THAT simple there would be no Web Edition, mind you.
    Reply
  • AlBanting - Friday, August 19, 2011 - link

    Same thing for client version of Mac OS X. I've done this for years. Reply
  • KPOM - Tuesday, August 02, 2011 - link

    True, for an enterprise user. However, a small business or tech-savvy home user trying to manage multiple Windows PCs, Macs, and iOS devices might well be tempted by the $50 price tag.

    If should be obvious by the price drop and the discontinuation of the XServe that Apple no longer intends to compete with Windows Server or Linux in the enterprise market. They are a consumer-oriented company, and released a server OS intended for a consumer market.
    Reply
  • zorxd - Tuesday, August 02, 2011 - link

    Tech-savvy home user will run a free linux distro for a server. Plus it will work on any hardware, not only on a Mac. Many use older PCs as servers.
    Also the Mac Pro is too expensive and the Mac Mini can't even have 3.5" drives which mean that it is a bad solution for a file server.
    Reply
  • richardr - Tuesday, August 02, 2011 - link

    Actually, I have a real use case, though it may be a bit specialised for your tastes... non-computing departments of universities are full of people with underused desktops running Word, but also have other people doing analyses that take ages to run on their machines. Making them all Macs (you'll never persuade them to use linux) and wiring them up with xgrid and OSX Server is a pretty pain-free way of running my analyses on their machines without too much disruption to their lives... Reply

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