Erik Eckel explores the benefits of deploying Mac's Snow Leopard Server in the areas of cost, maintenance, ease of use, and rich applications.
Think Different isn't just a slogan. Apple's Mac development team simply approaches computer challenges differently. The new Mac OS X Snow Leopard Server is a perfect example. For Windows professionals, the process of centralizing user administration and administering critical services (on Windows servers) is fraught with peril and expense. However, technology professionals accustomed to administering Windows server-powered networks will find Mac OS X Snow Leopard Server easy to configure, inexpensive to deploy, simple to maintain, and packed full of rich applications.
Before casting aspersions, consider the evidence.
Macs are often celebrated for their ease of use. But let's review just what makes Mac OS X Server easier to us than, say, Windows Server 2008.
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.
Windows administrators often chide Macs, blaming the supposed high cost of Apple technology. Total cost of ownership requires that IT professionals calculate more than just hardware costs, however. 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.
Just like the infamous Ginsu knife commercial — wait. There's more.
The newest Mac OS Server platform also includes traditional server-based services such as iChat server (for powering secure instant messaging), 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.
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.
Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president of Eckel Media Corp., a communications company specializing in public relations and technical authoring projects.