The latest Mac server software feels like the end of the road.
The "Lion" Server may be the last version of the Mac
OS X Server that matters, and, if that's the case, it is a solid operating
system designed for ease of use. But any other goals Apple may have for the
Lion Server aren't easily discerned.
Since Apple's exit from the enterprise server market at the
beginning of the year, the company has tried to position its Mac Mini and Mac
Pro server-ish configurations as replacements for the rack-mounted Xserve. But
if Apple has plans to expand its server business, it's doing a good job of
For fans of Apple's server add-ons for clustering and storage,
they're not dead yet: The Xsan storage network and the Xgrid clustering
software are now bundled with the OS, if anyone cares to use them.
Another "sort of" new feature in the Lion Server is Profile
Manager. This tool builds on Apple's experience with mobile-device management
through the iPhone Configuration Utility to offer centralized, profile-based
management for devices running iOS and Mac OS X Lion.
Unlike previous versions of the Mac OS X Server, the Lion Server
isn't a one-disc install. The core software and services have to be downloaded
from Apple in two installments, so upgraders can expect about an hour's
downtime for the install: first of Lion, then of the Lion Server components.
These components are packaged in an application that's simply
referred to as "Server." It performs first-tier management tasks such as user
creation and simple service management, as well as acting as a service installer
for other server applications.
The install of the server components seemed to end badly-at
least, that's what I inferred when the splash-screen indicated that a service
had failed to restart. However, that may have been a false alarm because there
was no access to service or system logs from within the installer, and
everything looked normal when I rebooted (without any sign of software-related
problems in the days following).
As it is, the lack of meaningful information suggests that
the Lion Server may have been dumbed down past the point of no return.
The Lion Server's management tools are a hodgepodge. Some
utilities, such as the Podcast Composer or the Xgrid and Xsan management tools,
are single-purpose utilities, while others, such as the Server and Server
Admin, overlap functions to a degree that can be confusing.
to use the Server application would make sense if it were the entry point for
simple management tasks, with Server Admin reserved for more intricate work. Instead,
the company has chosen to treat Server Admin as obsolescent: New features to
the OS have to be managed from inside the Server, which doesn't always run
reliably on client computers- even those running Lion.
By inserting yet another management portal into Lion Server,
Apple has made the problem worse. Does one change a setting in System Preferences,
Server, Server Admin or another tool altogether?
It's hard to recommend Lion Server to anyone except the most
fanatical Mac loyalists. Consumer king Apple could care less about its server
customers, and I suspect that the company could walk away from that line of
business in a year and suffer only minimal backlash from consumers.
Use it if you choose, but I wouldn't plan on it being
available beyond the 10.7.x releases.
P. J. Connolly began writing for IT publications in 1997 and has a lengthy track record in both news and reviews. Since then, he's built two test labs from scratch and earned a reputation as the nicest skeptic you'll ever meet. Before taking up journalism, P. J. was an IT manager and consultant in San Francisco with a knack for networking the Apple Macintosh, and his love for technology is exceeded only by his contempt for the flavor of the month. Speaking of which, you can follow P. J. on Twitter at pjc415, or drop him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.