People often ask me if I think Apple is a company that knows how to make a good server. My answer is usually a little longer than what those people probably had in mind. Tim Berners-Lee wrote the first web server in 1989 on a computer running the NeXTSTEP operating system. At the time, NeXTSTEP was a fledgling, Unix-like operating system that was in many ways a by-product of Steve Jobs leaving Apple in 1985. When Steve Jobs returned to Apple, he brought the Unix-like operating system (then known as OpenStep) with him. Over the course of the following decade, NeXTSTEP replaced the Apple operating system, ultimately becoming Mac OS X and Mac OS X Server.
The operating system that has evolved into Mac OS X hosted the first web server, but much has changed since 1989. Sure, Mac OS X Server still has a web server, although now it runs Apache. And Apache is one of the hundreds of open source products now built into Mac OS X Server. Mac OS X Server can now manage thousands of client computers using Open Directory and Profile Manager. Over the years, Mac OS X Server has been a file server, a podcasting server, a video streaming server, and an imaging server for Mac OS X client computers. Basically, Mac OS X Server can do most anything that administrators might want a server to do.
Mac OS X Server has now been Apple’s server operating system for over 10 years. During this time, the server has undergone many changes. Out of the box, Mac OS X Server is an easy to use product that appeals to nontraditional server administrators. Once marketed as “open source made easy,” the product has continued to get increasingly simple to use while still allowing for administrators to hack together their own solutions as Berners-Lee did in 1989.
However, the most substantial changes in the long history of Apple’s server offering are in the latest version, Mac OS X Server 10.7, known as Lion Server. Mac OS X Server is just an app now. The app runs on Mac OS X, and installs some server-centric components during the initial setup. At the height of its server offerings, Apple had dedicated server hardware in the Apple Xserve and Xserve RAID, rack mountable dual power supply units that were “enterprise class” according to Apple. But hardware has gotten faster, and Apple has built a lot of iPads since the inception of the Xserve. Today, Apple sells the Mac mini Server and the Mac Pro Server, both of which substantially out-perform the previous generations of hardware.
Given the perceived consumer class of hardware and the simplified user interface that Lion Server sports, many have labeled it as a home or small office operating system. The simple fact is that sure, Lion Server makes for a great server for homes and small offices. But Lion Server also scales and is more than capable as a utility server to manage Apple computers in large education environments, enterprises, and anywhere else you need a rocket ship of a computer.
Do I think that Apple makes good servers? Of course, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this book. But there is a huge caveat to that response: you have to buy into how Apple wants you to use a server. You have to be into the Mac mini form factor, a consumer-centric approach (which is explained throughout this book), or simply hacking together your own solutions using the many tools Apple bundles with the operating system, much like the founding fathers of the Internet did back in the waning days of the 1980s (although you don’t have to listen to A Flock of Seagulls while doing so).
In many ways, the traditional system administrator will find Lion challenging in its consumeristic approach. There is a lot of power under the hood, but the tools used to manage the server have been simplified so that anyone can manage it, not just veteran Unix gods. The whole Apple experience is easy to manage in Lion, with an increasingly similar interface to iPads. Although managing a server isn’t always going to be as easy as using an iPad, Apple is obviously leaning toward that direction with the basic tasks for Lion Server management. But Lion Server is a complex system, with many steps needing to be performed in a specific fashion in order to function properly.
My goal with this book is to show you how to manage a Lion Server. As such, beginning to intermediate system administrators will find this book a reference in getting started with an Apple server. Advanced Mac server system administrators will also find the book useful as a reference for quickly updating existing skills. But the book is really meant for new system administrators: the owner of the small business, the busy parent trying to manage all those iPhones and iPads the kids are running around with, the teacher with a classroom full of iMacs or iPads, and of course, the new podcaster, just looking for a place to host countless hours of talking about the topic of her choice. New Wave music, perhaps?
This book is not meant to be a definitive guide to Lion Server. I’d love to write one, but it’s not what this book is. Seasoned system administrators may find certain aspects of the Lion interface challenging in how simplistic they are, and so will find value here. But this book doesn’t cover managing a Lion Server from the command line, scripting client management, or other advanced topics.