Let’s start with, since it’s going to be the administration tool we’ll use the most throughout this review. I’ll start with a general overview of what it is and what it does, and then I’ll move on to the specific services that it manages.

In the sidebar under Accounts, we can see an overview of user accounts and user groups, both those that are local to the server and (if you’re hosting a directory) managed network accounts and groups. From here, you can create users and groups, edit group membership, allow users and groups to administer the server, and edit some other basic user attributes.

For small and/or uncomplicated directories, will be fine for managing your directory, though people wanting to do anything more advanced will want to be familiar with Workgroup Manager (one of the Server Admin Tools that we’ll discuss in depth later).

Moving down the sidebar, our next entries are Alerts and Stats under the Status heading. Alerts is a simple log viewer, showing you messages about your server that you should know (if you have in your dock, the number of Alerts you have will be displayed with the icon).

Alerts showing up in the Dock

Stats, as its name implies, will give you some simple statistics about CPU, RAM, and network bandwidth usage. This worked intermittently on my test servers, and at least one Apple Support thread suggests that this isn’t uncommon - this is the sort of thing that usually gets fixed in a point update.

Next, under Services, is a full list of every service manageable by - most of these offer up big on-off switches (I can hear seasoned admins grinding their teeth at this) and some basic configuration options which vary from service to service - we’ll talk more about the available options for each service as we discuss them.

Last up is the Hardware section, which lets you do quite a few things. The Overview tab gives you basic information about your server’s hardware and uptime.

Under the Settings tab, you can enable and disable SSH and remote administration of your server, create and control SSL certificates, and “dedicate system resources to server services,” which enhances the performance of some server functions at the expense of “the performance of some user applications” (this would be a useful box to tick on a dedicated server, but not on a personal computer that’s doing double-duty as a workstation).

Under the Network tab, you can see your server’s various network interfaces and their IP addresses, and you can also change your server’s host name (which is nice, since changing the host name used to require digging around in Server Admin and/or some command line trickery, depending on what you were doing).

Lastly, the Storage tab gives you an overview of your available disk space, and also allows you to change the access permissions on files and folders (useful if you have file-sharing enabled, though you should probably do this using the File Sharing service itself, since it is much better at it).

Lastly, at the bottom of the screen, you can see something called Next Steps - this is an excellent place for novices to figure out what to do now that they’ve setup a server. It will guide you through setting up your network, managing network accounts, managing devices, and starting services, among a few other things. Those needing more advanced help can go through the documentation for Lion Server - the page is looking a little sparse right now, especially when compared to the extensive documentation for previous OS X Server versions, but hopefully it will become a little more populated over time.

Lastly, let’s talk about remote administration - if your OS X servers are located in a server room where you don’t have physical access to them, you’ll need a way to manage them remotely. In past OS X Server versions, the Server Admin Tools were installable to any OS X client, and enabled remote administration of most services and tasks., however, is not available for client OS X versions - if you need to administer Lion Server remotely, you’ll either need to change your OS X client into a server (thus giving you access to, which can be used to connect to other servers), or you must control your servers directly using VNC or Screen Sharing or Apple Remote Desktop (take your pick). It’s not a deal-breaking change, but businesses (whose Lion licensing terms are a bit less generous than those for consumers) will have to cough up for additional Server licenses if they want their admins to administer services on their servers.

We’ll look at the individual services soon - first, I want to walk you through the Server Admin program and OS X Server’s directory services, since so many of the other services are dependent on them.

Server Admin Overview


As we talked about before, Server Admin used to be the heart of OS X Server. Its role in Lion, while much reduced, is still important, since it still manages some of the software’s more interesting pieces.

Download the Server Admin Tools from the Apple download site, install them, and fire up Server Admin. After authenticating, you should see the following:

You won’t be able to see any services to manage at the start - to view them, click the Settings button, go to the Services tab, check everything you want to configure on the server, click Save, and the services will become available in the left sidebar.
You can also use Server Admin to setup email alerts about your server, view detailed logs, apply updates to your server, specify access and administrative access to specific services and a few more advanced administrative functions that doesn’t offer - there’s too much here to go through it all blow by blow, but poke around some and you can see everything there is to see.

Server Admin can still be installed to Lion clients and used to administer Lion Server (and Snow Leopard Server) remotely.

Now, time to talk about some services. and the Server Admin Tools Open Directory: Overview and Setup
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  • GrizzledYoungMan - Tuesday, August 2, 2011 - link

    I probably should have toned down my sarcasm a bit, but my point is that while yes, Apple said they support SMB since 10.2, it just plain old doesn't work right.

    Google Thursby DAVE to see what I mean.
  • repoman27 - Tuesday, August 2, 2011 - link

    I'm familiar with DAVE, and you're right that obviously much is to be desired with Apple's SMB implementation if there is still an aftermarket product that costs more than the OS itself just to fix this particular issue.

    I kinda feel like more of the problem has to do with Mac OS X's lack of native support for NTFS though, rather than SMB actually malfunctioning.

    I chuckle that while you're thinking about "all the time that has been wasted trying to get OS X desktop clients to do things that have worked out in the real world for years now," I'm thinking about how much time I've wasted trying to get Windows Home versions to do things that Microsoft has artificially prevented them from doing so that they could sell customers an "upgrade". For instance, try setting up file sharing with user-level passwords and NTFS permissions on a network with Windows XP Home and Widows 7 Home Premium machines...
  • GrizzledYoungMan - Tuesday, August 2, 2011 - link

    You'll get no argument from me that Windows' tiered pricing is a bummer. Up-selling is sleazy.

    But overall, I'd say that Windows actually represents a better value if you make the right upgrade choices (ie, XP straight to 7). For the price of a few of Apple's annual updates, you get something that lasts a few years longer, does a lot more, and puts you through the OS-version-transition rumpus less frequently.

    While I can understand why the press loves the frequency of OS X revisions, I don't see it as a good thing for the user (and certainly not my own personal experience). Upgrading your OS is a pain, and to do it every year - lest you suffer the consequences of running a two year old, unsupported version of OS X - is a burden. And as I mentioned, the end result of this accelerated schedule is that the end users become the beta testers.

    No wonder they're getting out of the desktop business. They can't handle anything much more complicated than a mobile phone OS.
  • repoman27 - Tuesday, August 2, 2011 - link

    Since version 10.3, Mac OS X has been on a major revision update schedule that is much closer to once every 2 years (Leopard actually came 2.5 years after Tiger). In the early days of Mac OS X there were some teething issues that resulted in a more rapid release cycle, but I also seem to recall Microsoft releasing Windows 98, 98SE, ME, and 2000 in rather quick succession.

    Mac users are also free to skip every other version. Not to mention that upgrade pricing for Mac OS is way cheaper than Windows when you realize that you're getting the full-feature client version with a far more liberal license scheme and no activation based copy protection for $30. How much would it cost to legitimately upgrade every machine that you own or control from Windows Vista Home Basic 32-bit OEM to Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit?

    Apple released updates for Tiger for more than 3 years after it was discontinued. I guess if they had a stubborn enough install base they would be forced to continue support for a 9 year-old version of their OS as well.

    What does a client version of Windows itself do that Mac OS does not, aside from allowing playback of Blu-ray discs?

    If you've ever bought a retail Windows machine, you probably know that out of the box, under normal usage, the thing will be all but unusable in less than 18 months time, forcing you to buy another cheap POS Windows machine, or to perform a clean install of your OS. I love sacrificing 16% of a new system's performance to anti-virus software right off the bat, too.
  • RubberJ - Tuesday, August 2, 2011 - link

    My system has been running Win7 since RTM and hasn't slowed.

    And does Antivirus really take 16% of your system performance or are you just talking out your arse?

    Just as i thought...mac fanboy alert...
  • repoman27 - Wednesday, August 3, 2011 - link

    Yeah, as soon as I posted that last comment I realized I had crossed the line into religious war territory.

    My point about crappy system performance and having to reinstall the OS was regarding the way retail PC's come preconfigured, and what the typical end-user then subjects them to, not your particular case. My personal Windows systems (I do actually use Windows on the daily) tend to work fine for years, but then again I also spend a lot of time building performance tuned system images. I also don't personally run antivirus software anymore, because I'm not a sucker.

    As for that, I tend to refer more to the testing done by AV comparatives, and my own personal testing, but I certainly wasn't talking out my arse. 16% may indeed be hyperbole when talking about a new Sandy Bridge based system running Windows 7, but not at all on legacy equipment running XP or when running in a virtualized environment.

    Anywho, my initial intent was merely to clarify various exaggerations or inaccuracies in this thread, but I guess I did end up painting myself as the fanboy with that previous rant.
  • Wizzdo - Wednesday, August 3, 2011 - link

    As a power user, developer, and servicer for Windows and OS X I can tell you quite simply that, relative to OS X, Windows is an expensive frustrating bag of hurt for a great many typical users. OS X comes with a fantastic suite of software tailored very well to work with the OS and the OS is in turn tuned very well to work with the Hardware. Updates (even Major ones) are painless and offer excellent value for the investment. They are generally highly looked forward to by most OS X users.

    Anyone who claims Windows and a generic PC will likely serve the average user better simply does not have a clue. There really is little comparison now and OS X Lion just pushes the experience that much further ahead.

    For much of my day I am forced to use Windows to develop SQL Server infrastructures. SQL Server is IMHO the best piece of software Microsoft has ever managed to make. However, my blood pressure drops considerably when I get to boot back into OS X where I can get some creative work done in a responsive pleasing modern environment that does not feel like a thinly veiled version of DOS.

    Apple gets it right and that is why they are the revered technology leader in the industry right now.

    Timemachine alone is worth the price of admission for anyone who values there work and wants effortless trustworthy backup and retrieval of it. Watch MS scramble to get this into their next OS just like so many other features. Apple didn't invent them all but knows how to make them work the way they should.
  • GrizzledYoungMan - Wednesday, August 3, 2011 - link

    I would just like to point out that Wizzdo lives in a universe in which Windows 7 is a thinly veiled version of DOS, and Timemachine is a novel, useful feature.

    Sigh. OS X users.
  • ex2bot - Friday, August 5, 2011 - link

    Actually, Time Machine IS a useful feature. Is it "novel"? It is novel in the sense that it is drop-dead simple. You plug in an external drive and click the 'Yes' button. Then as long as it is attached it makes complete + sequential backups. I use it on my Macs. I also clone periodically. Well, I don't clone. My drives do.

    The backup review interface works well, too. It's basically a specialized Finder window. I admit the star field is . . . interesting.

    GrizzledYoungMan, has Time Machine not been useful for you? What happened when you used it? It's worked for me on multiple machines. Backing up is useful because hard drives fail eventually. Even hard drives attached to Windows PCs.

    And Windows 7 *is* a thinly veiled version of DOS. See, Windows just a shell that sits on DOS. . . Nahhh! I'm just kidding ya. I know it's son of NT (or grandson maybe).

    Positronic Mac Fanbot ("Cannot harm humans" is just a guideline, I believe.)
  • justinf79 - Friday, August 5, 2011 - link

    Way to show your ignorance there buddy...

    Windows, the security/virus nightmare where you're bombarded by OS security patches daily gets old fast. And quite frankly OS X is more powerful AND simpler. Windows has always been garbage.

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