10 things you should know about Mac OS X Snow Leopard Server

Mac OS X Server has come a long way -- and the power and flexibility of Snow Leopard might surprise you. Erik Eckel details the benefits and capabilities of this platform.

Technology professionals, particularly those earning stripes battling Windows tours of duty, aren't fully aware of the strides made in Mac OS X Server. Snow Leopard extends functionality and performance even further. From a single Mac Mini powering the platform to an Xgrid Distributed Computing initiative, Snow Leopard packs serious potential. Here are 10 things enterprise administrators should know about Mac OS X Snow Leopard Server.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Serious scalability

From a simple chassis, such as Apple's $999 specially designed Mac Mini, to near state-of-the-art Xserve rack-mount servers, Snow Leopard Server is capable of scaling to most any organization's needs. Mac OS X Snow Leopard Server can manage the load, whether it's a small workgroup requiring shared calendaring, email, and file services or large enterprises requiring instant, simultaneous access to terabytes of data in multiple locations.

2: Simplified administration

Apple's hallmark has long been approachability and the ease with which its systems can be deployed, maintained, and operated. The same is true with Mac Snow Leopard Server. Users and groups are easily managed, thanks to the clean but powerful Workgroup Manager interface. The Server Status Dashboard makes short work of monitoring the server's health. System Image Utility simplifies the process of creating and deploying system images, while NetBoot permits enterprise Mac administrators to boot multiple systems using a disk-based image hosted on a single server. Snow Leopard also adds iPhone deployment and remote system restore (NetStore) tools, too.

3: No CALs required

Mac server administrators lose the headache that is client access license management. Mac OS X Server licensing does not use client access licenses. Mac OS X Snow Leopard ships for $499, with unlimited clients. So does Apple's enterprise Xserve servers. Organizations benefit in two ways: lower costs and time saved having to chase down, purchase, and record server, email ,and database CALs.

4: High availability design

Apple engineers have designed Mac OS X Snow Leopard Server for high availability. Organizations can leverage the platform's automatic recovery, file system journaling, RAID, and clustering capabilities to ensure uptime (including clustering support for email services). Business continuity is further enhanced by Snow Leopard Server's support for image capturing and deployment, rsync, ditto, tar and asr backups, and even basic Time Machine backup and recovery.

5: Directory services support

Directory services, which track information about users, groups, and their requisite permissions, have become critical infrastructure within organizations small and large alike. Mac OS X Snow Leopard Server includes a broad range of support for existing directory services and authentication technologies, including Open Directory (OpenLDAP, Kerberos, and SASL included), Windows NT Domain Services (using Samba 3), Backup Domain Controller (BDC), and RADIUS, among others.

6: Cross-platform compatible

Snow Leopard Server's support for numerous directory services technologies enables integration with other network operating systems. Organizations still requiring legacy or Windows platforms to run specific components of their business need not start from scratch when deploying Mac OS X as their NOS or abandon past IT infrastructure or investments. With the server's support for common standards and protocols (including but not limited to SMTP, POP, SSL, AFP, SMB, CIFS, IPP, DNS, DHCP, NAT, VPN, SSL, WebDAV, and MySQL), Apple's server platform is compatible with Windows, Linux, and other platforms.

7: Collaboration-friendly

Email is already a critical tool today. Increasingly, organizations are embracing team sites, instant messaging, mobile communications, and shared calendaring functionality. Snow Leopard Server natively supports all these technologies out of the box, with no additional software packages or licensing required. iCal Server 2 powers shared calendaring and meeting and event coordination. Wiki Server 2 provides a customizable wiki-powered Web site for empowering team communication and collaboration. Mobile Access Server securely connects remote users to centralized corporate resources, while iChat Server supports instant messaging.

8: Clustering-capable

Organizations requiring leading edge distributed computing capability can power their networks using Snow Leopard Server. Apple's Xgrid technology, included within Mac OS X and Mac OS X Server, enables connecting a wide-ranging collection of Mac desktops, workstations, and servers into a supercomputer. Systems need not even be in the same location to join an Xgrid cluster. The Xgrid Admin interface provides administrators with a simplified console for configuring the resulting incredibly powerful clusters. In fact, one of the world's largest Xgrids is working to cure cancer in TechRepublic's home state of Kentucky.

9: Superior Web infrastructure

Whether an organization needs to build and maintain a team collaboration Web site (Wiki Server 2), host Web pages or Web applications (integrated Apache), or produce and distribute audio and video programming on the Web (Podcast Producer 2), Snow Leopard Server is a step ahead of competing network operating systems. While many network operating systems simply host content, Mac OS X Server includes features that aid production, workflow, and publication as one streamlined process.

10: Reasonable system requirements

Despite having supercomputer potential, Mac OS X Snow Leopard Server can be installed on a Mac desktop, if need be. Smaller organizations will find they can run the platform on a Mac with a single Intel processor, 10GB of free hard disk space, and just 2GB of RAM. While 8-core Xeon Xserv systems with 48GB of RAM and three 2TB drives are available off the shelf, the platform can be run confidently on a Mac Mini within some environments.

By Erik Eckel

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 o...