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.
Mac computer running OS X 10.7 "Lion" or 10.8 "Mountain Lion"
10GB free storage space
*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.
#2 Once downloaded, navigate to the Applications folder to locate the Server.app installation utility.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
Becoming familiar with OS X Server
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.
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.
Used to configure settings for remote administration of the server, push services and directory service data.
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.
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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 several vendors, including Apple and CompTIA.