Apple

How to set up Apple OS X Server

Jesus Vigo outlines the basic steps of setting up Apple OS X Server and describes its main features.

Apple’s OS X Server market share is relatively non-existent, to put it mildly. Their approach to computers as tools used to develop and create is vastly different from other servers, which tend to lean in a business-like, corporate direction. And while one might not set up an Apple server for mission-critical services in a large enterprise, it can and does scale quite nicely when doing what it was designed to do -- manage Apple computers, software, and devices.

Other server OS offerings from Microsoft and Linux can be configured to manage a Mac environment. However, OS X Server offers a rich feature set at an extremely low price point and does so without the expensive hardware requirements of other servers with similar specifications.

In this and future articles, we will look at the various features found within OS X Server, how to configure these resources, and how to leverage the technology to get more done with less. Let's begin with installing and setting up the server from scratch.

OS X Server minimum requirements*

  • Mac computer running OS X 10.7 “Lion” or 10.8 “Mountain Lion”

  • 10GB free storage space

  • 2GB RAM

  • Internet Connection

  • Apple ID

*Note: As with any computer, servers are no different in that while meeting the minimum requirements will ensure that the application will run, just how well it will run depends greatly on the available resources. When setting up a node for serving services, it is highly recommended to utilize a station that has specifications exceeding the requirements, particularly the CPU, storage, and RAM categories since those are the ones that most contribute to the I/O’s (inputs and outputs from data requests).

Installing OS X Server

#1 Launch the App Store and search for “OS X Server” to purchase and download the Server.app installer if you haven’t already done so.

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#2 Once downloaded, navigate to the Applications folder to locate the Server.app installation utility.

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#3 Execute the app to proceed with setting up your server, after agreeing to the EULA.  You may be prompted to authenticate, if so, do so with an administrative account.

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#4 The first configuration page asks you to choose a name for the server. This will override the current computer name. Select “Local Network” for now and pick a new name for your server. If you wish to add VPN access or a Domain name, this can all be modified once the installation is completed.

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#5 Next, you’re prompted to enter a valid Apple ID that will be used to configure push services. This is optional, so if you do not have an Apple ID dedicated for this or won’t be using these services, just click continue. Otherwise, enter the Apple ID to configure push trust certificates.

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#6 After clicking continue, it may take a few minutes to configure the settings for your newly created server. Once it’s complete, you’ll receive a message stating the server was successfully configured.

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Becoming familiar with OS X Server

Server Pane

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Lists all the settings and configurable services at a glance. From here is where most of the work will be done in further setting up services for user accounts and devices.

Overview Pane

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The first pane one sees is primarily informational. Important details such as serial number, OS X version, hardware specifications and server uptime are all available right here at a glance.

Settings Tab

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Used to configure settings for remote administration of the server, push services and directory service data.

Network Tab

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From this tab one can modify the computer and host names, as well as, change the IP address(es) assigned to this server, if necessary.

Alerts Pane

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Service alerts will show up here as various services get updated, stop/start or generally any modifications will trip an alert to be displayed. The types of alerts displayed can be modified. For example, one can turn off the “Network Configuration Change” so that alerts won’t be displayed anytime an IP address change occurs.

Certificates Pane

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Services that rely on certificates to secure communications, like Email or DeployStudio will require certificates to be installed locally on the server in order to form a trust relationship. This applies to first-party (or self-signed), as well as, third-party (certification authority [CA]) certificates.

Logs Pane

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Logs are used to detect when certain applications or services began running, why they stopped, or any number of changes were made to the server. OS X -- and by that extension, Server -- keeps quite a number of logs, highlighting such events which could prove useful when troubleshooting error messages or monitoring services. Select one from the list in the drop-down menu to view a specific service’s log entries.

Stats Pane

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Statistics will be used sparingly at first. Though after time, as more services are added and resources become scarce, stats will assist you tremendously in identifying any bottlenecks that may be negatively impacting the services provided on the server. Not only that, but it may prove to be an indispensible tool for planning future hardware upgrades, network SLAs and load balancing for mission-critical services.

Next Steps Pane

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Often overlooked, the Next Steps bar contains some helpful pointers on how to proceed next with respect to certain services and best practices. As one grows more and more comfortable setting up OS X Servers, the need to view this pane will diminish, and as such it can be hidden simply be clicking on the “next steps” button.

While far from an exhaustive guide, this should be enough to provide for a good running start in setting up and configuring OS X Server. Remember, a server can play a central role in all business offerings or it can be compartmentalized, strictly adhering to a smaller subset of services – this depends solely on the needs unique to your environment. Check back for future articles, where specific services will be covered to make the most out of your OS X Server.



About

Jesus Vigo is a Network Administrator by day and owner of Mac|Jesus, LLC, specializing in Mac and Windows integration and providing solutions to small- and medium-size businesses. He brings 15 years of experience and multiple certifications from seve...

15 comments
itmonteurin
itmonteurin

Thanks for writing this blog .You have written it so nicely so my friend suggested me to rear it and im also very impressed with this blog .

SCatters
SCatters

 Hello! I love this article and it's really spurred me on to try and create a home server... mostly for hosting and serving the ever expanding media library iTunes and iPhoto... but I have a question... does anyone in the internet world know the answer? For the price, I would  very much like to buy this server (http://uk.insight.com/en-gb/productinfo/id/0001792065-00000001) but I can;t find anywhere to tell me if I will be able to install Mac OS X and Server on it... any ideas? Anyone? Thanks so much for the help. If not, does anyone have recommendations for Easily mac compatible servers? Simon 

jonnyjohan
jonnyjohan

Jesus, thanks for this article. I'd actually like to familiarize myself more with OS X Server. Can you point me to any resources for setting up a dual boot environment for a MacBook Pro with two hard drives (I took the superdrive out and replaced it with a caddy/2nd drive)? 

trelass
trelass

I'd be interested in an article how to configure OSX Server to run mail services for local & remote (family) users as clients.

payneo
payneo

Jesus - can you  recommend a good book for setting up this server?

theglenncogar
theglenncogar

I would be interested in future articles regarding how to use the Mac Mini server as a web server for development of sites.  I know there is a facility for 'virtual sites' but I have always found this hard to set up and get working so that I can access my sites across the home intranet.  There always seems to be a clash between this and the inbuilt wiki server.

I'd like to be able to run the built in wiki server for team collaboration as well as run virtual sites for things like WP sites, RoR sites, PHPMySql, PHPBB, etc.

macmanjim
macmanjim

Looks easier than 10.6 server and older. Is this a basic install or does it enable OD? Also, is the installer deleted like in the 10.7/10.8 client? If so, it's a good idea to back it up. It's been a year since I played and worked with OSX server of any flavor. I wonder if the new Server has the same facilities as the old one?

setanta5
setanta5

Thanks for this Jesus, looking forward to future articles on OS X Server


Philip


themacjesus
themacjesus

@SCatters Thank You for the kind words! I happy to hear that you've been inspired to setup your own server. I still get excited when working on new technology and server OSes!

I did a little research and found some bad & good news. Bad: The server model linked above was discontinued by the manufacturer and is no longer available; Good: The current model - Gen 8 - is alive and well! (http://macjes.us/18nsqql)

Now, a note about installing OS X Server. Apple only officially supports installing OS X on Apple-branded hardware. The user experience is one of their tenets, which is why they guard the hardware so closely to their heart so everything works as intended.

With that said, it doesn't mean that it cannot be done, but that one should be careful since services make not work as designed on unsupported hardware. A little research will point you in the right direction to get this accomplished if you decide to go with the hardware linked above.

If however, you decide  to go with an official and supported device, I'd recommend a Mac Mini. It makes for a great, entry-level server, includes official support and is similar in price range to the unsupported model above. Additionally, it may even be less expensive if choosing to go with a refurbished or used model.

Thank You again for writing in @SCatters and best of luck on the server setup!

themacjesus
themacjesus

@jonnyjohan Thank You for reading it, I'm glad to hear you want to get deeper into OS X Server! For a dual-boot environment to work out, first it's best to have in mind which OSes you'd like to support. The easiest setup (and arguably) the most commonly seen is OS X + Windows XP/7/8. For this simply load OS X onto the notebook first. Configure it to your liking and update it thoroughly. Once that's been done on OS X 10.7+, you'll have access to Boot Camp.app. Boot Camp is Apple's answer to simplifying the Windows install process and will even provide the necessary drivers to ensure Windows is fully compliant with your Mac's hardware.

You will need a Windows install media (USB or DVD) and a spare blank CD to burn the drivers from Apple. This CD will be used after Windows is successfully installed to load the needed drivers.

It's by no means thorough, but it should be enough to get you started with a dual-boot environment. Thanks again for writing in @jonnyjohan I hope this helps you out!

themacjesus
themacjesus

@trelass Mail services is one of the top three most popular services to setup on a server. I will most definitely be covering this one a detail as email is a biggie. It just may be a few articles before hand since email is highly reliant on network services, such as DNS in order to send & receive mail properly.

A side note about running a home email server. Most ISPs are known to active block access to Port 25 - both incoming & outgoing. The reason for this is that SMTP (the protocol by where email is sent over) is often not secured which has led to the influx in spam emails that users receive on an almost hourly case. But not all hope is lost however, as some ISPs may make concessions to allow unmanaged email servers on their network. This may come in the form of unblocking port 25 (highly unlikely, but has been known to happen) or allow use of their smart host (a server setup to relay traffic destined to/originating from port 25 to your email server). Others require email servers as a business function, and as such, require upgrading service to that of an equivalent business-class tier.

None the less, I look forward to working on the email services article in the near future. Thanks for the suggestion @trelass 

themacjesus
themacjesus

@payneo While I've not used this specific book for the current iteration of OS X (Mountain Lion), I am familiar with the previous entries of OS X Server Essentials in the Apple Pro Training Series and they are easy to pick-up, concise and Apple Certified. These series of books serves as the official course ware for those looking at Pro-level certifications. It's available from Peachpit Press.

If you're completely new to OS X Server (or OS X in general), I've always found that the "For Dummies" line of books are a great, inexpensive way to immerse oneself in the application/suite without getting too technical for the uninitiated. They're an easy read and serve as an excellent way to get accustomed to the console, service panes and monitoring tools before moving on into deep waters.

Lastly, there's the "Missing Manual" series from O'Reilly as well. Falling somewhere between the intro of the "For Dummies" book and the advanced settings of the "Apple Pro Training Series", the O'Reilly book has received many positive reviews online from users & critics alike. I have no previous experience with this line of books, but have used many Microsoft Books from O'Reilly and they have been pretty good so far, barring one that was completely off the mark. (The reviews said the book wasn't accurate, I choose to ignore the warnings).

All three books are available as traditional paperbacks and as digital ebooks. Good Luck @payneo!

themacjesus
themacjesus

@theglenncogar Believe it or not, I've always found the same issue when running websites - even internal "intranet" sites - and the wiki server service. I won't lie that of all the services this is one that I need to work out some kinks with but I'm up for the challenge!

I will definitely look further into the web development features and try to target most, if not all, of the requests listed above.

Thanks for writing in @theglenncogar! 

themacjesus
themacjesus

@macmanjim Well, relatively speaking, yes it is simpler. The installation is really pretty straight-forward because it provides the frameworks for the server management features, based on the OS X foundation. All the services are turned off by default - including Open Directory.

As for the installer, I'm glad you mentioned that because the "Server.app" that's downloaded from the App Store is the same app that's used to launch the server manager. The only difference is in that not until the first-run wizard is completed, can one actually access the server manager admin console. So no, it's not deleted per se. It can still be redownloaded from the App Store at any time, though making a backup of it is good to do.

As far as features are concerned, this has been a hotly debated subject. Some feel the "new" server is too simplistic in nature and lacks the advanced admin features of the 10.6 and previous versions; while others feel that a certification in server administration shouldn't be a pre-requisite for setting up something like file sharing or creating user accounts. I come from a networking background and I'm always answering questions from end-users in need, so I can see both points of view.

I appreciate the simplistic nature of the server setup, the security behind turning off all services until they are needed and the easy of use that permeates all of Apple's offerings. I also feel that advanced admin features could be a little more robust from the console, however, as someone familiar with OS X Server, you'll be happy to know that many "missing" admin-level features are truly just hidden from console view, but readily available via the Terminal.

Thanks for sharing @macmanjim and have fun exploring OS X Server all over again!

themacjesus
themacjesus

@setanta5@excite.com Glad to hear you enjoyed it Philip! It's my sincere hope that this will help to draw the curtain back on OS X Server some and allow admins or those that are just curious to get in and configure some services easily. If you have any suggestions for which services you'd like to see covered next, I'd love to hear some feedback.

Thank You again Philip!