First Look at Mountain Lion OS X Server

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(Update:This post was first written when the OS was released. Since then, we’ve put together an extensive list of Mountain Lion Server tutorials.)

Apple introduced their next operating system, OS X Mountain Lion. For the most part, it’s a better unification of Lion and iOS. But, for the overall look, I refer you to other great posts like this one. Since we host Mac mini servers, I wanted to take a look at what Mountain Lion means as a server. They released the Server preview today as well, but it is very much a preview. For instance, it doesn’t provide the ability to upgrade from Snow Leopard Server. Also, you can’t backup and restore using Time Machine with this seed. I’m sure both of these options will come later. 

You still upgrade a a regular version of Mountain Lion with the Server app from the Mac App Store. In other words, you upgrade “OS X” to “OS X Server” by installing the app just like Lion. And from a first look, it seems you’ll have to do that for one of the most basic things. For the first time that I can remember, the “Sharing” pane in OS X System Preferences no longer has “Web Sharing.” 

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You used to enable Web Sharing to make your Mac run a website with apache. The option is no longer there in OS X. Though Apache is still installed and you can start it at the terminal. My guess is that the “Web Sharing” was confusing for the majority of users. 

When Lion introduced Server.app, there was still Server Admin that you could download from the Apple website and use for some of the advanced services. I can’t say this with 100% certainty, but it looks like Server Admin won’t be there for Mountain Lion. I guess we’ll see on that front.

So, once you have the Server app downloaded, you can start it up for the install process. I did find that the admin is required to have and input the password. (in other words, the password field can’t be left blank.) It asks just a few basic questions (company name, support email, etc) and it checks that your reverse DNS is setup correctly. (Sidenote: Reverse DNS is so often overlooked by first time Server users. Getting that right can save so many issues down the road.)

A few screenshots of the process:

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Once you have it installed, you’ll see the services that are available. Here are a few I’d like to highlight:

There is a hardware overview page:

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The web service has a default site, and also custom sites. You can set this in the “Web” service:

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As you can see in that last screenshot, the file path is pretty clear on where the sites should be stored. When you install the Server app, it creates that /Library/Server folder with all of the info there:

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VPN remains a two edged sword. You have to love the simplicity in setting it up, but you wish there was just one more option. That is, to set the range of IP addresses. By default, it takes from the backend of the subnet that your Mac server is using. This causes an issue when you have a static wan IP address. It’d be great if you could assign a LAN range like 10.0.1.xxx to VPN clients. (There is a reason that our Lion Server VPN tutorial is one of the most popular pages on our site. We also have a new tutorial written for setting up a Mountain Lion VPN server.) 

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The Mail service continues to be so, so simple. Just enable the service and adjust the filtering. This is great because a Mac mini mail server has been a popular request now that Google has been changing it’s privacy terms. We’re seeing a lot of transitions by business from Google mail to mail servers of their own. 

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The email address is setup as part of the new user creation:

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I like the new Alerts options. In addition to getting Push Notifications for email,  ”OS X Server can send push notifications to alert you about new Software Updates, unresponsive volumes, hard drives getting full, and users that have exceeded their mail quota.”

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Overall, I think OS X Server is going to continue to be great. This has been just a look at the options. I don’t think it’s fair to give it a real thorough testing on it’s first public beta. There will be options changed and stability improvements over the next few months. (If you want to keep updated when we do the real in-depth tests, subscribe to this blog or follow @macminicolo on twitter)

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About Macminicolo.net

Macminicolo.net, a Las Vegas colocation company, has been hosting Mac minis since their introduction in January 2005. Low cost. High performance. They are the leaders in this niche market and are known for their personal service. They currently host hundreds of Mac minis for satisfied customers located in 31 different countries around the world. Get more info on our frequently asked questions page.

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