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Take Control of OS X Server, Chapter 1: Introducing OS X Server

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This article is a pre-release chapter in the upcoming “Take Control of OS X Server,” by Charles Edge, scheduled for public release later in 2014. Apart from Chapter 1: Introducing OS X Server, and Chapter 2: Choosing Server Hardware, these chapters are available only to TidBITS members; see “Take Control of OS X Server” Streaming in TidBITS for details.

Introducing OS X Server

Do you want to provide file, Web, networking, and other services to computers on your local area network (LAN)? Or, perhaps you want to distribute content to other computers on the Internet. Or manage iOS devices and OS X computers from a central location. Whether you are a Mac user or a server administrator, you can do all this with a standard installation of Apple’s OS X Server and a little elbow grease!

Long gone are the days when the 10.6 Snow Leopard version of OS X Server cost $499 and required a completely different operating system installation. Now OS X Server is just an app called Server. It is available on the Mac App Store for $19.99 and installs on top of a stock version of 10.9 Mavericks.

In 2005, when I wrote my first book about Mac servers, they were usually big, expensive beasts running on Apple’s Xserve hardware. Apple smartly retired the Xserve, and now the typical machine you find running OS X Server is a Mac mini. But there’s no requirement that you use a Mac mini or any other particular Mac model. I’ve installed the Server app on everything from an old MacBook Air to a shiny new Mac Pro. You can make any Mavericks Mac into a server, using the steps in this book.

Back in the Xserve days, Apple tried to make OS X Server do a lot. It had podcasting, streaming media, and other services that have since been retired. No one outside of Apple knows why Apple has removed these services. Perhaps a service wasn’t being used enough to justify development or perhaps it didn’t fit into Apple’s overall plans. OS X Server is still a great solution, provided you use it for what Apple intends (although some of my favorite work has been deploying OS X Server for customers doing crazy things Apple never imagined).

An advantage of Apple dropping some services is that OS X Server has become easier to use, and that, combined with the massive price reduction and the simplified app installation, makes OS X Server more accessible to the masses. Adoption is up, and a lot more people are taking advantage of what OS X Server can do.

That’s all good, but just because OS X Server is easier to use than ever before, that doesn’t mean it’s something that anyone can install and configure, at least not without help! No matter how easy Apple makes the Server app, Macs running it are still servers, so there are terms, concepts, and procedures that you should understand before you take on server installation and management tasks. Look at it this way—the Server app may provide a friendly interface to configuring various services, but unless you know what to enter and why, things won’t work.

This book is intended for new administrators of OS X Server, and for those who want to refresh their Server know-how. Perhaps you’re entirely new to OS X Server, but want a centralized file server for your ripped DVDs and so you can manage your kids’ iPads. Or perhaps you’ve managed OS X Server in the past, but are looking for a refresher on what’s possible in the current version.

Note: I don’t go into detail on imaging and Xsan in this book. Both services should have entire books of their own as their management is complicated and should not be taken on lightly.

After this Chapter 1, Introducing OS X Server, the book is divided into the following chapters:

  • Chapter 2, Choosing Server Hardware, helps you decide on what Mac to install OS X Server, with advice about CPU, RAM, disk space, and bandwidth.
  • Chapter 3, Preparation & Installation, discusses some key network-related steps that you should follow while installing OS X Server and walks you through the initial installation and configuration.
  • Chapter 4, Directory Services, describes how to configure Apple’s directory service, Open Directory, which provides a repository of shared usernames and passwords to many other services. The chapter then describes setting up the Open Directory Replica and configuring clients to use the shared repository.
  • Chapter 5, DNS and DHCP, discusses the various networking protocols that OS X Server provides, including how to assign addresses, manage the names of systems, and manage connections to the server.
  • Chapter 6, File Sharing, is all about providing a centralized repository for your files and controlling the permissions of who can access and edit those files.
  • Chapter 7, Collaboration Services, covers the Messages, Calendar, and Contacts services, showing you how to create and manage shared calendars, sync your personal contacts to the server, and set up a Messages server so your family or organization can interact with one another within a private Messages environment.
  • Chapter 8, Mail Services, tells you all you need to know about running a mail server. While it’s easy to configure the service in OS X Server, it’s not the easiest thing to prepare your network to host a mail server. Therefore, I’ll spend a bit more time covering this topic that than you might expect.
  • Chapter 9, Mobile Device Management, looks at Profile Manager, a Mobile Device Management (MDM) tool that allows you to control apps and settings, and set up restrictions on your iOS devices. Profile Manager also lets you lock and wipe those devices, in case you happen to leave one in a restaurant or have one stolen.
  • Chapter 10, Web and Wiki Services, explains how to set up a Web server and manage the wikis and blogs that you can host with such a server.
  • Chapter 11, Software Updates, talks about using your server to provide software updates (like OS X 10.9.4) to an entire network of Macs.
  • Chapter 12, Backup, is particularly important. In it, I cover how to use your server as a destination for client backups (which works much like backing up to a Time Capsule). But I also cover how to back up the server itself, which is key for ensuring that all the work in setting everything up isn’t lost if your drive goes south!

I’ve designed the book so you can read each chapter independently once you have configured the Server app. For example, if your goal in setting up OS X Server is just to run a file server for your small business, you need to read only the first three chapters and the chapters on File Sharing and Backup. Each service that a server runs corresponds to a chapter of this book.

Whether you’re an individual user at home or the administrator of dozens of computers in a busy office—and whether you’re a relative beginner or a professional system administrator—you’ve come to the right place to start using OS X Server!

Using Terminal with OS X Server

Although the vast majority of the work you’ll do in setting up and managing OS X Server happens in the Server app, it doesn’t account for everything you might want to do.

As a result, we will be using the Terminal app now and then in this book to work at the command line. However, I’ll guide you through the commands to use, all of which will be clearly formatted so you can follow along easily.

Over the many years I’ve been installing and managing OS X Server, I’ve learned that having a general comfort level with the command line is useful when using a server. No matter how simple Apple makes it, every now and then I end up needing to go into the command line.

But don’t worry. Just because you open Terminal doesn’t mean doing so has to be all that complicated.

Read More: About | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11


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Comments about Take Control of OS X Server, Chapter 1: Introducing OS X Server

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Ex2bot  2014-06-17 05:40
I plan to use OS X Server from a virtual machine, since I don't have a spare Mac to put server on.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2014-07-30 07:47
That should work in theory, but I can't see much advantage to doing so, and it will definitely complicate the entire setup significantly. You'll have a lot more networking setup to work through, since everything will be going through your Mac's network stack to the virtual machine's network stack, and back.

The main utility of doing this would be to experiment with the interface, but unless you're a networking whiz, I worry that you'll have a heck of a time communicating with the services from other machines.
Linda Claudine  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2014-07-07 13:55
I have had severe hacking problems since I switched to Mac in 2010. I'm not one of you at the top 5% knowledge wise, but I have been involved with computers since programming on punch cards and using the Mag I through all the word processing updates culminating in personal computers. I worked on Windiws from the first - and we did beta testing for them. I also did help desk, network admin for my section, started our in-house graphics back in 80s. Now, retired & am on Mac & it has been nightmare. I believe I have server software on my macbook and just a mess. Can't even get a boot disk to create - and directory structure a mess. Please recommend the correct books & help I need to straighten out this mess.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2014-07-30 07:44
Linda, it sounds like you would be best served by making a good backup (or two!) and then erasing your MacBook's hard disk and reinstalling OS X from scratch before migrating apps and documents back. You really do NOT want to be running OS X Server unless you have a good reason for doing so, since it will slow your Mac down and potentially be a vector for attack.