A power user’s guide to OS X Server, Mavericks edition

“The Mountain Lion version of OS X Server marked the end of a transition for Apple’s server software,” Andrew Cunningham reports for Ars Technica.

“When Apple released OS X 10.6 in 2009, Server was an expensive and entirely separate version of OS X that only shipped on Apple’s rack-mountable XServe systems and cost $1,000 if you wanted to run it on any of your other Macs,” Cunningham reports. “Fast-forward to 2012 and the XServe was long-dead, OS X Server was a $20 add-on to OS X, and the powerful-but-complex tools used to manage and configure the server software had been thrown out in favor of a greatly simplified application primarily controlled via big on/off switches. It took a couple of years, but Apple had done the same thing to its server hardware and software that it did to Final Cut Pro. The company made its features more accessible for small businesses and high-end consumers at the expense of features important to a subset of professional users.”

“The Mavericks version of OS X Server ushers in no such sweeping changes. In fact, the scope of the update is closer to the incremental updates that the Mountain Lion version has received between its launch in July of 2012 and now,” Cunningham reports. “Despite a version number increase from 2.X to 3.X, OS X Server is finished with the major overhauls. The software has been changed from an enterprise-targeted package to one better suited to power users and small businesses. Now that the transition is complete, it’s clear that slow, steady improvement is the new normal.”

Tons more in the very comprehensive full review here.

17 Comments

    1. I have it running on a dual six core Xeon MacPro with 24GB of ram and 12 terabytes of attached thunderbolt raid. (in addition to the raid card in the tower)

      Serving OD, home dirs, wikis, fileservices, webhelpdesk, and more.

      I also have it running on the last xserve released, running our Kerio email. Even have a second hot spare xserve in the rack with it.

      Then I also have it on two new mac mini servers hosting web on one and filemaker server on the other.

      Frankly the minis and the pro are plenty snappy and run fine. Setup hot spares and there are no worries.

  1. Now that this is brought up.

    Apple should license OSX server out to hardware companies.

    Think about it. The power, and ease of use of OSX in the server room compared to insecure windows and Linux systems would have enterprise flocking to apple

    1. It would be nice if it was available as turnkey VMWare virtual machine so you could either run it as one big instance on some bigger iron than a Mac mini or as many small machines.

      The lack of lights-out management, redundant power supplies and integrated multiple Ethernet ports on a Mac mini means it can’t be considered even for some schools which is really dumb because it lets Windows keep a foot in the door.

      Then there’s the subject of products like Centrify and other management tools that don’t have a Mac equivalent and keep Active Directory (arguably the least objectionable bit of Windows Server) alive and kicking.

    2. As both a long-time Mac user, OS X Server user, and as a 15 year veteran UNIX SysAdmin I apologize for putting a damper on your enthusiasm.

      As awesome as the idea sounds, the unfortunate reality is that OS X Server does NOT allow for nearly enough configuration to be useful in the mainstream server world. The settings they allow me to make to tweak Apache WebServer configurations are rudimentary at best. I still need to tweak the files manually, and am in constant fear that it will break something every time I update the Server app. I can’t make DNS slaves, nor DHCP slaves. It’s an incredibly painful experience to try to use the Mac OS X firewall and set up OS X Server as a fire-walled gateway, or a squid proxy box, or any other number of things. There is so much that OS X Server does not make accessible in the UI that it’s not useful for most admins.

      As sad as it is for me to say it, OS X Server really is more for 2 things: Mac and iOS device management and the small business server space. Small-businesses will love it for things like easy email/web/workgroup management/etc, where the need for the deeper configurations is less needed. Bigger organizations, or admins like me who want the Mac OS X only features like iOS device management, will still deploy Mac OS X server, but usually only for Mac/iOS device management. They’ll deploy them to manage OS X client computers and other servers, but they’ll use Linux to do the DNS, DHCP, Web Serving, Firewalling, and pretty much every other basic Unix task because it’s familiar and fully accessible to a Unix SysAdmin.

      As a SysAdmin, complex text file configurations are often easier and faster for me than navigating OS X Server’s GUI. I don’t WANT that level of control in a GUI because it would mean hundreds, even thousands of knobs, switches and radio buttons in a UI, which would be unbelievably confusing for a new user, not to mention a horrific pain to navigate. My hat goes off to Apple because they did a fantastic job of pruning down the monstrosities of UNIX configuration into its most common and basic options and made them accessible and configurable to the layman. They kept it clean and readable.

      For now I’m more than content to have a simplified Unix SysAdmin experience with OS X Server and the Mac-only niceties it offers: ProfileManager (the best reason to use OS X Server), and easy, centralized user management and file share management.

  2. “When Apple released OS X 10.6 in 2009, Server was an expensive and entirely separate version of OS X that only shipped on Apple’s rack-mountable XServe systems and cost $1,000 if you wanted to run it on any of your other Macs,”
    That’s funny, Apple sold me a Mac mini Server with 2 internal 500 GB HDs and Snow Leopard Server for $999 +/- and it is sitting in my Living Room running Eye TV and working as an Apple TV of sorts with Front Row as a UI for iTunes content.

    Love it when so-called journalists pull it out of their ass.

  3. I’m running OS X Server Mavericks, and I running it on Mac Mini servers. As far as “having no server to run it on,” it runs just fine on Mac Minis.

    Google has 40,000 Macs on their network. The Mac is the standard computer at Google. If you want something else, you have to make a business case for it. This is not the environment I’d use OS X Server in, heh.

    I use it in offices with 1 a 40 people. Mostly people are sharing files but in some sophisticated offices people learn to take advantage of things like the WikiServer.

    As of Mavericks it’s fairly stable. There seems to have been at least some time put into correcting some of the problems. I used to have all sorts of problems with the calandra server. I still don’t trust it and advise most people to move to Google’s calendar service. CALDAV is still generally crap.

    I do lots of maintenance and frequent backups of server data like calendar storage.

    While I’m leery of it, it does tend to run forever with no problems.

    I’ve set up freaky fault tolerance configurations with one Mac Mini as the main server and a second as the backup server running in target disk mode, in a RAID 1 config with the main server’s hard drive and it actually works.

    You do wind up manually tinkering at times. No way around it.

    For me, in the small business space, it beats the crap out of Windows Server. Apple just need to get people in the field gaining experience on what it’s like to admin this product on a day to day basis, and some people who know it inside and out when you need support, cause if anything goes wrong, the same guy who asks, “have you rebuilt your permissions” is the same guy who’s going to try to help you with OS X Server. I.e. You’re on your own. CYA.

  4. When Apple released OS X 10.6 in 2009, Server … cost $1,000

    No, by that point the price had dropped to $499.

    The company made its features more accessible for small businesses and high-end consumers at the expense of features important to a subset of professional users.

    Well, most of the professional level features remained, but you had to head back to the accursed CLI to get at them all. Most of the server software Apple uses is open source UNIX related software, which means CLI. You can buy some third party GUI software to compensate. Examples: WhatRoute, IceFloor, a variety of VPN apps, DeepVacuum…. There are also heaps of useful MacPort/X11 applications.

    I don’t personally comprehend why Apple deliberately minimized OS X Server GUI features. I heard plenty of complaints in the field as well as (shhh!) from Apple reps about what crap OS X Server had become as of version 10.5. They were right. Therefore, I have to guess that Apple had given up taking it seriously but wanted to salvage parts and pieces useful to non-enterprise users. Sadly, the functionality of many of the parts and pieces continued to diminish through OS X Server 10.8. I haven’t even bothered with 10.9 Server, I was so demoralized by the previous version. I use other tools instead, as needed.

    BTW: The last best book about OS X Server was by our hero Dan Dilger, as of OS X Server 10.5. It was an excellent hands-on book that compensated for Apple’s obtuse and missing documentation.

      1. No kissing, thank you.

        Warning: Boring personal stuff ahead.

        Dan and I were net friends way back since 1996 on the Mac Usenet newsgroups. We have the same basic personalities (INTJ for Myers-Briggs fans), except he’s into motorcycles and I’m not. You’ll find we have similar snark factors in our writing, similar dedication to helping people, similar cross-cultural experiences, similar obsessiveness about favorite subjects, relentless directness, negligence of relational communication, blahblahblah.

        I have a few other friends who are very similar. It’s sort of like meeting a brother/sister. Most people don’t comprehend the INTJ personality, which tends to result in contentiousness from others (in case you hadn’t’ noticed). So it’s terrific when we INTJs run into each other and can grok with one another. (Heinlein reference).

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