DNS stress test
If you’re just dabbling with Server rather than setting up a dedicated Mac for the task, there’s one small ass-biting ‘gotcha’. As standard, Server will set your Mac’s DNS to 127.0.0.1, as you’re now providing DNS to yourself as well as others. If you go back to using your test machine for regular work – and move Server to a dedicated Mac, as I did – your trusty sandbox will be left with no Internet access, which is unnerving to say the least. Hit up System Preferences > Network > Ethernet > Advanced > DNS and remove the numeric localhost entry. Making dumb mistakes so you don’t have to – no need to thank me.
File sharing includes iOS support
File Sharing (also on by default) is an evergreen server standard that’s been made simpler over the last two major Server versions. You get AFP (Apple Filing Protocol – preferred for Mac users) and SMB (Server Message Block – more common on Windows and Linux), and the option to host data on the same Mac or on some other server. Sharepoints can also be set up with WebDAV for iOS users, which is the biggest new trick up this feature’s sleeve.
FTP is off by default, but if you need this somewhat antiquated service it’s just a click away. Me, I prefer to steer clear of serving FTP in favour of more secure protocols, but it tests out fine. Mail services are also off by default, and if you’re new to this level of functionality take some time out with the on-line documentation before diving into this.
For old hands, I’m pleased to report that Mountain Lion Server offers the simplest, clearest implementation of mail serving that I’ve seen. The server-managed Time Machine backups for Mac clients is a blessing too and I'd recommend activating this – end users can ever be relied upon to manage their backups.
Also available is web site serving with optional PHP goodness and, for the seriously depraved, Python support as well. I’m using the former but not the latter; I never moved onto anything more hardcore than PHP. Redirects take just a few clicks to set up, although the option to redirect when users visit a URL matching a specific regular expression stopped me cold. Regex is awesome voodoo that makes my head hurt, so I’ve stuck to my traditional URL path-based redirect triggers.
Wiki support isn’t new, but it’s almost ridiculously easy to get a collaborative workgroup wiki up and running. Team communication FTW! The Users and Groups administration section is self-explanatory, along with the Status functions that keeps data freaks well fed with access logs, stats and the like.
Mmmh, stats – yum yum...
Indeed, if you’re like me, Server’s Status section will give you enough feedback to keep you happy and help pin down possible problems. If you want more detail you’ll have to turn to dedicated analytics logging and comparison tools – take a bow, Google Analytics – but this is a useful everyday overview of the server’s performance.
Next page: Ghost protocol
Come on people!
Of course the author may be being a bit silly with his enterprise comment, but this is clearly not seriously aimed at anything of the sort. It IS aimed at small business who already have a few Macs on a small LAN who have maybe outgrown a NAS, and want to get in to shared mail and other services. Hence the bargain basement price: it's not about raking in money but about providing a service to existing Mac users that might just steer them away from defecting to other non-Apple alternatives.
Server != Enterprise
Just because it has Server in the name, doesn't mean this is exclusively for Enterprise.
As people have said, it's a very cheap, very easy way to provide server type services for the home user and the small business team. Yes, there's more feature-full ways of doing it, but equally, they require a greater level of knowledge and maintenance attention, possibly a dedicated person. This provides a way to bring server functionality into your home or office without a large cost of hardware, software and hiring someone with server experience.
Okay, and now from someone who knows…
At my 'work' work, we use Windows Server (endless headaches, pain in the arse) and Linux (excellent, if not the easiest to configure) running on DL360, DL380 and BL460 hardware (which is very nice, except for the BL460 which only appears to be nice until you try to use it).
My sister runs her own business with about 40 employees, many of whom are jetting all over the world. I do their IT for them on a part time basis and so, given that I have a day job to contend with and I really don't want to be mucking around with support all the time, I set them up with Macs. Best idea I ever had - I haven't had a support call in about six months (that one took about 5 minutes to resolve, and turned out to the ISP at fault).
As her business grew, we decided that she really needed her own server to handle her company address books (with around 6,000 contacts at the current time), calendar, mail, software updates, FTP server / cloud storage and so forth. Xserve being rather out of budget, and a little too pricey, we settled on a pair on Minis and a UPS. Do you know what? They do the job perfectly. Because they're a pair, we've managed 100% uptime so far (which just goes to show what one person and no bureaucracy can achieve) - when one needs to be upgraded, the other takes the load and vice versa. They're running Leopard Server - no need to be state of the art with this, and they can't run anything much newer anyway (they're early 32bit Intel Core Duo - so SL is the best they can do) - they're getting rather long in the tooth now. Are they scheduled to be replaced? Nope. Not yet. We have a spare unit - and when one fails I'll replace it immediately (with the aforementioned spare) and buy new Mac Minis then. Reckon that'll be years yet though.
So yes, Macs do make sense - even for fairly large small businesses. I get to do my day job, and she gets to run her business without bothering me for support issues. I do understand the head-in-the-sand mentality that Macs can't hack it. A Mac is a little different, and one can never appreciate the benefits of a new system based on a cursory glance. I reckon a months immersion is the minimum requirement before one is qualified to comment on whether a system is worthwhile or not. On this basis, I can comment on Windows, various Linuxes (SLES, Ubuntu, Red Hat, Debian, Arch), OS X and VMS (yes, really - on VAX and Alpha, although the VAXes will be retired next year) - because those are the OSes I use on a daily basis. If you find me pontificating about anything else, please remind me to STFU and I'll eat my words.