Software

Apple macOS Server (2018): Cheat sheet

Apple's latest macOS Server includes security and performance enhancements. It also brings radical changes that could negatively impact businesses relying on Apple's services for business continuity.

Apple's latest release of macOS Server, based on macOS Mojave, ushers in stronger security and enhanced performance for key services. The most important detail about macOS Server 2018 is Apple's deprecation of many of the services SMB and enterprise professionals have come to rely on.

This Apple macOS Server 2018 cheat sheet will be updated regularly to feature relevant news and tips about this software.

SEE: macOS Mojave: A guide for IT leaders (Tech Pro Research)

What is macOS Server?

The 2018 release of macOS Server is Apple's latest in a long line of server-based operating system software used to implement critical network-based services and to manage Apple devices in the enterprise, both client and mobile computers, as well as iOS-based devices such as iPhones and iPads.

The server component enables these services to run on supported Mac hardware with an installation of macOS Mojave—which also serves as Apple's latest desktop client OS—as the underlying system that is the foundation for macOS Server to run on.

Requirements

  • Mac computer with macOS Mojave installed
  • 2 GB of RAM
  • 10 GB of available storage space (additional features require added disk space)
  • Apple ID (optional, but it's required for some features to function properly)
  • Broadband internet access (optional, but it's required for some features to function properly)
  • Switched network
  • Apple Program Services Enrollment (optional, but it's required for some features to function properly)

Additional resources

What are the key features in macOS Server?

As with each new release of macOS, Apple included new and updated features and applications, augmenting and complimenting the existing ones that users have come to enjoy. With macOS Server 2018, Apple has dropped support for many of the server features the company has provided in the past; we'll dive into those details in the next section. These are the key services that are supported in macOS Server 2018.

Open Directory: It's the directory service that allows for centralized management of Mac computers on the network, alongside managing access to resources for user accounts and security groups. Open Directory (OD) is based on the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol standard to create a directory domain and provides the mechanism for authentication services in a client-server model.

Profile Manager: Profile Manager (PM) has evolved into a full-fledged Mobile Device Management (MDM) server, capable of supporting hundreds of mobile and non-mobile devices while managing systems from setup and configuration to application installation and securing devices using configuration policies. Additionally, it can interface with the low-level OS functions to reset lost passwords, locate lost devices, or enable specific modes not generally configurable through the native macOS environment.

Xsan: Apple's Storage Area Network (SAN) software allows networked systems to be clustered over a Fiber Channel network, allowing systems read/write access to shared block storage volumes. Xsan is a complete solution that includes the necessary software for the metadata controller, client software, and integrated management and monitoring tools. It is also interoperable with various client types, including but not limited to Windows and Linux distros.

Additional resources

What features are no longer supported in macOS Server?

While it is uncommon for updates to offer less than its predecessors and even less likely for so many features to lose support, macOS Server is doing just that. Effective with macOS Mojave and macOS Server, "Apple will stop bundling open source services," according to Apple. The company's view is that customers are able to receive support for these services directly from open-source providers.

These features are no longer supported in macOS Server.

  • Airport Management
  • Calendar Server
  • Contacts Server
  • DHCP Server
  • DNS Server
  • Email Server
  • Firewall
  • FTP Server
  • Messages Server
  • NetBoot/NetInstall Server
  • Radius Server
  • VPN Server
  • Web Server
  • Wiki Server

Additional resources

What features are being moved to macOS Mojave from macOS Server?

There are some services that will remain within Apple's wheelhouse and continue to be supported by Apple that are merely being moved to the client desktop in macOS Mojave. Anyone relying on the services below will enjoy their continued use, though they will be managed directly from macOS' Sharing preference not macOS Server moving forward.

  • Caching Server
  • File Server
  • Time Machine Server

Additional resources

Which devices support macOS Server?

macOS Server will work on devices that are fully supported by macOS Mojave. As the client OS forms the foundation for the Server to operate, the hardware requirements required by one are intrinsically linked to the other. These are the computing devices by model that will officially support Apple's latest operating system and, by extension, the server component.

  • MacBook: Early-2015 or newer
  • MacBook Pro: Mid-2012 or newer
  • MacBook Air: Mid-2012 or newer
  • Mac Mini: Late-2012 or newer
  • iMac: Late-2012 or newer
  • iMac Pro: Late-2017 or newer
  • Mac Pro: Late-2013 or newer, mid-2010 and mid-2012 models with recommended Metal-capable GPU

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What are alternatives to macOS Server?

Apple designs its software to work complimentary with its hardware lineup. The company rigorously tests macOS to function identically on all supported hardware devices so there is virtually no difference in how a service or function will perform from one machine to the next. Additionally, the EULA that all macOS users agree to when licensing Apple's software stipulates that macOS is legally permitted to be run only on Apple-manufactured hardware. This makes any subversion of the license agreement technically illegal and in violation of the use of rights.

Unlike client operating systems, services formally provided in macOS Server are not exclusive to Apple nor do they require Apple hardware to run identical networking services. This is possible because the services provided are all standards-based, which means they will work similarly on macOS, Windows, or Linux servers.

SEE: All of TechRepublic's cheat sheets and smart person's guides

It doesn't hurt that macOS is based on Unix, which also serves as the basis for Linux, an open-source provider of many of the services now deprecated in the latest version of macOS Server. Also, there is an increasing use case for leveraging existing Active Directory environments running Microsoft's Window Server as the backend, providing support for many of the same services macOS Server once provided.

Microsoft Windows Server

Microsoft Windows Server is in the midst of getting an upgrade from the 2016 version to the 2019 version (Microsoft tends to stick to a 3-4 year upgrade cycle for its popular server OS). Built upon a proprietary foundation, Windows Server can be found in many organizations' backend, powering a host of Microsoft and non-Microsoft specific services—many of which are fully compatible with Apple computers and make great replacements for the services no longer supported in macOS Server.

As an added benefit, in heterogenous environments supporting multiple OS types, chances are that Windows Server is already present in some way, shape, or form, making the transition virtually seamless to Mac users without incurring additional expenses.

Linux server

Linux servers power much of the internet. Due to its secure, scalable design, the robust OS also has a very important driving factor on its side: Many of the distributions (or flavors of Linux) are open source, meaning enterprises that deploy Linux often do not have to pay annual or contract-based licensing fees for the OS or the number of client devices that connect to and utilize its services.

Though the learning curve associated with learning and maintaining Linux is often the trade-off, as well as formal support (which is relegated to community-driven efforts via forums), one cannot argue the benefits to such a strong, reliable system that serves as the backbone of many networks and many more internet-based services worldwide.

macOS Server 5.3 (or older)

Upgrades are optional—not required—so any organization that wishes to keep using their existing macOS Server without the loss of services can elect to not perform the upgrade process and continue using their setup as is.

While this may seem like a simple solution, there is no guidance yet on how Apple will respond to support requests from users that remain on previous versions of macOS Server. The likelihood that Apple will continue to provide support in the foreseeable future is positive; however it is important to consider that support will only continue to shrink over time until it is officially unsupported at all levels.

Virtualized server instance(s)

While not specifically a replacement to macOS Server per se, the concept of virtualization could be implemented and scaled accordingly for any or all services using a mix of the alternative solutions listed above. Of particular benefit to those virtualizing services will be lessening the reliance on physical server boxes, leading to a reduction in utilities consumption, administrative overhead of physically managing systems, and the benefit of being able to mix-and-match solutions to best fit your organization's needs.

For example, if your organization already leverages Windows Server for DHCP and DNS services, then a light-weight Linux server virtual machine (VM) could be just the solution necessary to implement NetBoot/NetInstall, FTP, WebDAV, and Software Update Servers. With lowered requirements, these services could be easier to set up and manage as VMs.

Additional resources

What are alternatives for features that will be no longer supported?

  • Airport Management: AirPort Utility (macOS)
  • Calendar Server: WebDAV (Linux), Exchange (Windows)
  • Contacts Server: WebDAV (Linux), Exchange (Windows)
  • DHCP Server: DHCP (Linux/Windows)
  • DNS Server: DNS (Linux/Windows)
  • Email Server: RoundCube (Linux), Exchange (Windows), third-party hosted solution
  • Firewall: PF Firewall (macOS), IP Tables (Linux), Windows Firewall (Windows), third-party hardware solution
  • FTP Server: SFTP (Linux), SSH (Linux/macOS), FTP role (Windows)
  • Messages Server: XMPP, ejabberd, OpenFire (Linux/macOS/Windows)
  • NetBoot/NetInstall Server: NetSUS (Linux/VMware), BDSPy (Linux)
  • Radius Server: Free Radius (Linux), Network Policy Server (Windows), third-party software solution
  • VPN Server: OpenVPN (Linux/Windows/VMware), third-party software/hardware solution
  • Web Server: Apache (Linux/macOS), IIS role (Windows), third-party hosted solution
  • Wiki Server: Confluence, MediaWiki (Linux), SharePoint (Windows), third-party hosted solution

Additional resources

When will macOS Server be available?

Apple made macOS Server available alongside Mojave on September 24, 2018.

Additional resources

How can I get macOS Server?

Final code review or gold certified (as it is often referred to) is the release version of the macOS Server component, and it is available from the Mac App Store as a paid download on supported Apple computers.

Additional resources


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Image: Apple Inc.

About Jesus Vigo

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 19 years of experience and multiple certifications from seve...

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