Mac OS X Server gives a different approach to server platform. The new approach brings good than evil. What will come as a surprise for Windows administrators is the ease of use: easy to configure, inexpensive to deploy, simple to maintain, and packed full of rich applications.
What makes Mac OS X Server better than, say, Windows Server 2008, here comes the detailed evidence:
Approach: Ease of Use
For starters, there’s the Mac Server Assistant. Following initial installation, the Server Assistant guides users through the process of setting up and configuring the server, whether being deployed as a standalone server or as part of a larger, preexisting network. Language is simplified, making it easier to understand the processes that are being implemented and completed.
When the Server Assistant completes, server preferences (user creation, group administration, service installation and configuration, etc.) are set. Mac OS X Server uses an easy-to-understand Server Preferences application to assist users in configuring the server.
The Mac OS X Server’s Server Status Dashboard makes it easy to monitor server status. Complicated reporting configurations, third-party monitoring utilities and other complex mechanisms are not required to monitor the server’s health. Instead, users need only check the dashboard widget to learn the real-time status of critical services. And the Mac server includes its own monitoring features that enable it to react automatically to issues. For example, the Mac server can proactively delete noncritical log files and other utilities when disk space becomes short.
iCal’s Exchange support includes group scheduling for meetings.
Windows administrators often blame the supposed high cost of Apple technology. Total cost of ownership requires that IT professionals calculate more than just hardware costs.
Mac OS X Snow Leopard costs only $499. That’s it. And, there are no client access licenses to purchase. An unlimited number of clients are supported. The cost savings versus Windows servers are phenomenal.
“Well, the required hardware’s expensive,” many Windows administrators object. But the statement’s untrue. Small Mac server networks can be run on a Mac Mini, while iMacs and Mac Pros, too, can be used to run Apple’s server OS.
Larger enterprises, of course, will require Xservers to power their infrastructure. Xservers start at just $2,999, which is in the same ballpark as a similarly configured (server OS, 2.2GHz Quad-Core Xeon CPU, 3GB RAM, DVD burner, 750-watt PSU, rack-mount hardware) Dell PowerEdge R710, for example.
Using Mac OS X Snow Leopard Server/client management and server maintenance is easy.
The server’s Workgroup Manager provides Active Directory-type configuration. Workgroup Manager eases typical systems administration tasks by providing directory-based, centralized management of users, groups, and computers.
The Workgroup Manager also enables implementing group policy-like security restrictions (prevent mounting external hard disks, block unauthorized programs, etc.), but without the hassle associated with complex GPO objects and policies.
The Mac’s System Image Utility makes it easy to deploy new systems, including those with customized application configuration (even over a network using NetRestore). The Mac’s Netboot service makes it easy to deploy hard disk images over a network whenever a targeted client restarts. Software update services, meanwhile, permit administrators to easily specify how and when client machines receive updates.
Mac OS X Snow Leopard Server comes packed, too, with numerous applications. The platform includes iCal Server 2 for sharing and coordinating calendars, meetings and other events; Podcast Producer 2 for creating, producing, and distributing podcasts; Wiki Server 2 for creating and editing wiki collaboration sites; Address Book Server for sharing and synchronizing contacts across networks and devices; and Mobile Access Server for securely sharing files and services with devices and computers outside the network.
The newest Mac OS Server platform also includes traditional server-based services such as iChat server, file sharing, email, Web hosting, and VPN capabilities.
Spotlight Server is yet another server-based program. The integrated index search software makes it possible to locate files and information across the entire network.
Upgrade for the Faster speeds
Most of the time, software upgrades add new features at the expense of speed. But since Snow Leopard was announced, Apple has repeatedly said that this update is about not just fixing bugs and making tweaks, but improving performance.
When it comes to speed, there are actually two Snow Leopard stories. One is about the speed boosts the system provides today. The other is about the potential speed boosts that users may see in the future as drivers, hardware evolves.
Some tasks simply feel faster in Snow Leopard than in Leopard, while others seem no different at all. In general, I think most users will find that Snow Leopard feels faster and runs smoother than its predecessor.
In the future, however, the software than runs on Snow Leopard has the potential to become dramatically faster.
The first technology, Grand Central Dispatch, helps programmers split up their programs into smaller chunks so that they can more effectively use the power of computers with multiple processing cores. It’s still quite a bit of work for programmers to break up tasks into chunks, but Apple says it hopes that developers will find the work a lot easier than it was before—and that the end result will be faster software, since every current Mac model has at least two processor cores.
The second technology, OpenCL, is a system programmers can use to take advantage of the massive amount of processing power locked up in a computer’s graphics processor. By targeting certain tasks on the graphics processor, programmers can harness even more power to improve the speed of their programs.
There will be small payoffs now, but next year’s Macs will undoubtedly exploit these features to a much greater extent.
In truth, neither of these features is a reason to buy Snow Leopard today. But they will help make the next Mac you buy be much faster than it would have been otherwise.
Generally every major operating-system upgrade steps forward in terms of features and backward in terms of stability. Apple’s engineers have had nearly two years to kick the bugs out of Leopard; the new features introduced in Snow Leopard will have no doubt introduced some new ones. But I’m happy to report that, in general, Snow Leopard seems as stable as it seems fast.
Presumably Apple will address minor bugs, which we might see, with forthcoming updates to Snow Leopard, but stability issues have never made me regret about switching from Leopard to Snow Leopard.
Worth a look
There are certainly numerous legitimate business reasons (Windows OS-required to power legacy or proprietary applications, sunken costs, etc.) that justify deploying Windows servers in the enterprise. But many organizations could be better served deploying more approachable, more cost-efficient Mac OS X servers. If nothing else, Windows administrators owe it to themselves to discover what Mac server professionals already know: Mac OS X Server is an incredibly powerful, feature-rich OS that can lower costs, simplify maintenance and increase productivity.