The first thing I want to walk through is Open Directory, OS X’s directory services implementation (roughly analogous to Microsoft’s Active Directory). Many of OS X Server’s other services rely upon or make use of a directory in some way, so it’s important to know how it works.

Veterans can probably skip this section, since the basics of Open Directory in Lion Server is basically identical to previous versions. Pick back up in the Profile Manager section for things that will be new to you.

For those of you who have no experiences with directory services, a brief explanation: imagine you’re the IT support person for a business of, say, 50 employees, and each of those employees has a computer. So you don’t have to manage all of the user accounts on those computers manually, you want to have all of their usernames and passwords stored on your server so that you can keep better track of them. You can also organize users into groups, so that if you have one particular attribute to apply to many different accounts, you can do it once to the group instead of once for every member of the group. This is the essence of Open Directory and other directory services.

It goes further than that: with centrally stored credentials, you can also more easily manage access permissions on file shares or enable your employees to use the same username and password to login to multiple computers. You can control password requirements and store relevant information (email addresses, etc.) about your users. You can also tie other products into your directory so that your users can use the same credentials to access email or internal websites. The list goes on.

OS X Server can either host its own directory (using Open Directory), tie into another, pre-existing directory service (like Active Directory), or both (using Active Directory to manage credentials but Open Directory to manage Apple-specific functionality - Apple calls this a “golden triangle” configuration, and it’s a bit outside the scope of this review). For our purposes, we’ll setup a standalone Open Directory that we’ll then use with other services throughout the review.

Open Directory setup is one of the few things that can still be done with both and Server Admin, though the approaches differ:

In Go to the Manage menu and click Manage Network Accounts.

You’ll be asked to create a Directory Administrator account (which will differ from the local administrator account) - this is done to enable users to manage the directory without giving them control over other server functions. The default is diradmin, and that’s what we’ll go with.

Enter your organization’s name and your admin’s email address, and click through the rest of the prompts - you’ll have a quick and easy directory setup with a minimum of fuss.

In Server Admin: To enable Open Directory in Server Admin, make sure the Open Directory service is viewable, and select it. In the Settings tab, click the Change button next to the server’s Role.

Here, you’re given three choices. We’ll want to set up an Open Directory master, but you can also connect your Mac to another directory (like Active Directory) or set up an Open Directory replica here. For the uninitiated, an Open Directory replica connects to an existing Open Directory master and mirrors every change made to the master - this can provide for load balancing (in an organization with many Macs) or automatic failover in the event that one or the other server crashes (Macs connected to an Open Directory master will automatically fall back to the replica if the master fails and vice-versa).

Anyway, elect to setup an Open Directory master, input your desired Directory Administrator credentials, input your organization name and admin email address, and you’re set, same as with If you want to set a different Kerberos realm or LDAP search base, you can also do it here (but if you don’t know what that means, the default settings are fine).

You can also use Server Admin to backup or destroy a directory you’ve made - to backup, just use the Archive tab to save and restore copies of your directory’s data. To delete the directory, go to the Settings tab, click Change next to the server’s Role, and select Set up a standalone directory.

Once it's running, you can go ahead and bind client computers to it: in OS X, this is accomplished by going to the Accounts preference pane, clicking Login Options, and clicking the Join button next to Network Account Server.

Enter your server's address in the box that pops up and click OK. If successful, you should now see a green dot followed by your server's address, and you should be able to login to your client computer with any of the user accounts you create (we'll go over that next).

Now that you've got a working directory server with some clients attached, let's show you what you can do with it. and Server Admin Overview Open Directory: Creating Users and Groups and using Workgroup Manager
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  • Kristian Vättö - Tuesday, August 2, 2011 - link

    Your Twitter was right, this really is endless
  • CharonPDX - Tuesday, August 2, 2011 - link

    It was that pesky loop that started on page 23 that circled you back to page 8. By the time you'd read page 23, you'd forgotten what was on page 8, so you didn't notice you were in a loop until you were at what you thought was page 157...
  • B3an - Tuesday, August 2, 2011 - link

    Very in depth article... but i feel you've wasted time on this. No one in there right mind would use OSX as a server. Apart from Apple fanboys that choose an inferior product over better alternatives because it has an Apple logo, but i emphasize the words "right mind".
  • FATCamaro - Tuesday, August 2, 2011 - link

    For enterprise work, or a Windows-only network this is certainly true. For SMB, or even 500 mac/mixed users I think it could work if you can provide some glue to handle fail-over.
    Windows server is better for Office for sure as is Linux for web & applications.
  • Spivonious - Wednesday, August 3, 2011 - link

    I can run a web server on the client version of Windows. It's just not installed by default.
  • mino - Saturday, August 6, 2011 - link

    Hint: for how many users/connections ....

    If it was THAT simple there would be no Web Edition, mind you.
  • AlBanting - Friday, August 19, 2011 - link

    Same thing for client version of Mac OS X. I've done this for years.
  • KPOM - Tuesday, August 2, 2011 - link

    True, for an enterprise user. However, a small business or tech-savvy home user trying to manage multiple Windows PCs, Macs, and iOS devices might well be tempted by the $50 price tag.

    If should be obvious by the price drop and the discontinuation of the XServe that Apple no longer intends to compete with Windows Server or Linux in the enterprise market. They are a consumer-oriented company, and released a server OS intended for a consumer market.
  • zorxd - Tuesday, August 2, 2011 - link

    Tech-savvy home user will run a free linux distro for a server. Plus it will work on any hardware, not only on a Mac. Many use older PCs as servers.
    Also the Mac Pro is too expensive and the Mac Mini can't even have 3.5" drives which mean that it is a bad solution for a file server.
  • richardr - Tuesday, August 2, 2011 - link

    Actually, I have a real use case, though it may be a bit specialised for your tastes... non-computing departments of universities are full of people with underused desktops running Word, but also have other people doing analyses that take ages to run on their machines. Making them all Macs (you'll never persuade them to use linux) and wiring them up with xgrid and OSX Server is a pretty pain-free way of running my analyses on their machines without too much disruption to their lives...

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