• Mountain Lion Server

    In its early days, OS X Server used to cost more than $AU1000, more than any App I could find on the App Store. It now costs $20.99 - and this is a great example of Apple's design fundamental of the last few years - moving applications that used to be expensive almost entirely to a consumer-oriented experience, with an Internet-based method of installation - that only takes a few clicks to get something functional.

    As a consumer-to-SMB oriented, easy-to-use Server system, Mountain Lion Server is easy to setup, focused mainly on collaboration and management systems for Macs as well as iOS Devices. Apple market it as "the server for everyone" and to this end, it's really just an add-on to the existing Mac OS X product. Installation of Mountain Lion Server is a matter of starting with Mountain Lion, and purchasing then downloading the 'Server App through the mac app store. If you buy a mac preloaded with Server, it will come preloaded, but otherwise this is the process.

    Before configuring a computer as a server, It's a good idea to set your computer with a static IP address first in your Network Preferences (it'll be called a "manual address" and then make sure you still have Internet access.)

    Once the app is downloaded, you launch it from the Applications folder, and it'll go through the process of reconfiguring your computer as a server computer.

    This includes configuring a number of services that would otherwise be left out of a desktop or laptop computer, including:

    - A DNS server for allowing users to lookup the names of devices on your network
    - A Mail Server product providing IMAP and SMTP email - which are common mail server services.
    - The Messages, Contacts and Calendar servers matching the apps on the Mac and iOS devices - these have been renamed from their old names of iChat, Address Book and iCal Servers)
    - A VPN server providing L2TP VPN services to allow remote access to your office network from both Macs and iOS devices.
    - Making a return to 10.8 - an FTP server for transferring files.
    - The Apache Web server system - for hosting websites (including multiple site).
    - Apple's Software Update Server - for keeping updates from Apple for OS X and OS X Server. Note that this doesn't include any iOS Updates.
    - The Apple Filing Protocol (AFP) and SMB Servers, for connectivity from other Mac and Windows computers. Note that in Lion Server Apple implemented a new SMB server that was released, which has affected some older scanners, Multifunction devices and older Linux systems' ability to connect to folders shared by the Mac- it's a good idea to test these devices can connect after the upgrade!

    All configuration of services is performed in the "Server.app" application. This provides a "Configuration" section for each service where generally you can choose where you'd like the data to be stored for the services, as well as some settings, and an "On/Off" button, as well as any logs.

    Where Apple has made the most significant changes recently is in the systems known as 'Profile Manager', and Apple's Wiki Server

    Profile Manager.
    This was the big new feature in Lion Server, and Apple has worked to improve the reliability of the product in Mountain Lion. For those of us who work in the management of Apple Computers and iOS Devices, this is known as a "Mobile Device Management" system. The users can "enrol" devices (Mac or IOS) into the Profile Manager system, and once the devices are enrolled, an Administrator can apply settings including password policies, joining the office wireless network, adding web clips for quick links to webpages or make it so that Wireless, Email, Calendar and Contact applications will automatically configure themselves.

    Also, through the "My Devices" page, which a user can login to themselves, they can unlock a device if it has a passcode set, or remote wipe it in the case it's been lost or stolen. - similar to the Find My iPhone feature that Apple provide for free but with a central site for the management.

    As far as functionality goes - the main changes are adding some more restrictions to iOS devices around Siri and other new iOS features - but we saw these in later versions of OS X Lion Server too.

    Mountain Lion Server adds extra management for Mac OS X 10.8, as well as including faster ways of quickly configuring your Mac to access a Microsoft Active Directory network's "security certificates"

    Mountain Lion Server's Profile Manager does provide the ability to push out free Applications to iOS Devices, but for management of paid Apps, you'll need to use Apple's other tool "Configurator", or a Commercial Mobile Device Management platform like JAMF, AirWatch etc when Volume Purchasing is released in Australia - currently it's "Coming Soon"

    Apple Wiki Server
    The Apple Wiki server is a 'what-you-see-is-what-you-get' Wiki and Blog system. As a tool for quickly collating text, video and images into a Wiki into a central site - this is great.

    The ability to easily customise the colours or themes of the Apple Wiki was taken away from easy access from the 10.7 Wiki server, but it's returned as "Color Schemes" in 10.8 as well as banner images, similar to the FaceBook timeline.. It doesn't have the powerful plug-ins of a Wordpress or a Tumblr site, but that's not really the point - this is designed to be quickly setup, and allow people to work together on a central site. I've seen good examples of it used as company knowledge base sites, OH&S and information manuals, and an impressive use of the Blog system to create a daily diary for all the children in a school class.

    New in the 10.8 version is the ability to access the "Documents" section using the protocol called WebDAV - so from your iPad or other iOS device you can use this as your location where you save work. This does rely on the application you want to use including WebDAV support - Apple's flagship Apps - Keynote, Pages, and Numbers all support it, as well as tools like "Goodreader" or AirSharing can allow access to a WebDAV share on the iPad.

    You can connect to the WebDAV server also in the Mac Finder by going to "Connect to Server" from the "Go" and entering an http:// address of your server:


    What's Been Left Out?
    There are some interesting components Apple have left out:

    The "Server Admin" application people might be familiar is now gone, so this means that all management is performed through the "Server" application. Services like Podcast Producer and Xgrid have been removed. I will miss Podcast Producer, but I don't know too many other people who used this.

    Due to licensing reasons, Webmail is now no longer available in the server. However - the project that Apple used to use, Roundcube - is not too difficult to install if you'd like to - there are some instructions here but I'm happy to write this up if it'd help someone.

    DHCP, a system for allocation of network addresses on the network. is no longer available in 10.8 Server unless you're upgrading from a 10.7 server that was already running it. I doubt many people will miss it given they usually have a router or another device that provides DHCP, but it is something to allow for. The NetInstall product still takes advantage of the same DHCP server as part of its services for quickly installing the operating system on a workstation over the network, but it has no interface to allow you to configure IP address allocations or network settings.

    This is a common theme amongst most of the services.- this Server is designed to work in a workgroup where there's a number of other network devices already. If you have an existing Airport Base Station, the Server.app can automate the configuration of the Base Station to allow Internet users access the services you enable on your Mountain Lion Server. Additionally, if you have an existing Microsoft Windows server providing user accounts, Mountain Lion Server can be configured to use the user accounts from this server for the services like Profile Manager or the Wiki Server.

    Final Thoughts
    All in all, Mountain Lion Server is a simple yet powerful server, designed for workgroups and it does a good job of this. Apple doesn't really have an "Enterprise" level hardware platform for it to be installed on anymore, so for high reliability configurations Microsoft and Linux platforms will likely still be a product of choice, but these come at a cost too. Also, If your users are going to be using Microsoft products such as Microsoft Outlook on their computers, particular on Microsoft Windows, a hosted solution such as Office 365 or Google Apps would likely be better suited for services like email and particularly Calendaring.

    Apple's realistic about where they're targeting Mountain Lion Server - as the "Server for everyone" providing simple, inexpensive services, and this product meets the need. Where the power of OS X Server shines is in the collaboration tools like the Wiki Service as well as the entry-level management tools provided by Profile Manager.

    About the Author

    David Colville is the NSW Technical Account Manager at XciteLogic Pty Ltd, an Apple Consultants Network member specialising in strategic IT partnerships for both Apple and Microsoft network implementations.

    An Apple Certified Trainer, System Administrator and Mobile Device Specialist, David provides engineering services and training around the country, integrating Apple technology into small and large businesses. He can be contacted via Twitter at @davidc79 or email - davidcolville@me.com
    Opinions noted here are David's own and aren't any official policy of his employer.
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