OS X Mavericks Preview: OS X Server - friend to Macs, iOS devices

In all that's been written or said about OS X Mavericks, precious few words have been saved for OS X Server, which, of course, is getting the Mavericks treatment too. Let's take a look at some of the enhancements coming to OS X Server when Mavericks bows this fall.

OS X Server, using the same underpinnings as OS X, provides server-strength file sharing capabilities, database publication (including contact and calendar functionality), live video streaming, e-mail service, wiki and Web site publication, iOS device management, and more. It includes powerful open source software like Python, a popular scripting language, PostgreSQL for Structured Query Language (SQL) database support, and Apache, a popular open-source web server.

Apple's senior vice president of Software Engineering, Craig Federighi, offered nary a word about OS X Server during his keynote presentation introducing Mavericks at Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco last month. Should you infer from that a disinterest in server software coming from Apple's senior management? No. In fact, the opposite is true. They're very interested in seeing OS X Server do well, because it's crucial to the entire Apple ecosystem.

Working hand-in-hand with OS X on desktop and laptop Macs

The history of Macs as servers is almost as long as the Mac itself. Apple has sold server products for years - even in the pre-OS X "Classic" Mac OS days. Up until fairly recently, however, OS X Server remained the rarified domain of corporate IT departments. In January, 2011 Apple discontinued its rack-mountable server product, the Xserve, and IT jocks (and analysts) panicked - it seemed like Apple was pulling up stakes out of the enterprise space all together.

How wrong we were.

Turns out the Mac mini has had smashing success as a server, for the lucrative Small to Medium Business (SMB) market and also as a workgroup server for small to medium-sized groups of employees in corporate environments. The diminutive laptop is available in a server-specific configuration with two internal 1TB hard disk drives for $999. But you can install OS X Server on any Mac you might have lying around that's running up-to-date operating system software.

That's because Apple also radically changed the way it sold OS X Server.

As recently as Apple's release of Snow Leopard, Mac OS X v10.6, the company sold Snow Leopard Server separately from the "regular" operating system. $499 netted you a single server installation with support for unlimited users.

An incredible value

Now OS X Server is actually included with the regular operating system. You can buy a server management application for $19.99 as a download (opens in new tab) through the Mac App Store.

That's not changing with OS X Mavericks - you'll still be able to buy a separate management app through the Mac App Store. Apple continues to build the core capabilities into the regular consumer operating system.

Here's what Apple has to say{.nofollow} about OS X Server in Mavericks:

OS X Server includes a number of innovations that will help the people who use your network as well as the people who manage it. The new features in Xcode Server make it easier than ever for a Mac or iOS development team to create robust, reliable software, thanks to continuous integration, testing, and repository hosting services. Caching Server 2 speeds up the download and delivery of software through the App Store, Mac App Store, and iTunes Store, and it can now cache on your server for faster downloading to iOS 7 devices. And Profile Manager has an array of new management features for iOS 7 and OS X Mavericks that simplify software distribution of apps and books.

A friend to iOS devices as well

In other words, OS X Server in Mavericks is pretty much going to be a continuation of what we've seen - enhancements, rather than a major upheaval, designed to facilitate better workgroup communication in areas where OS X Server is really useful - teams of programmers working together on projects in Xcode, Apple's development environment for OS X and iOS applications alike, for example. Or businesses that are leveraging iOS devices like the iPhone and iPad among their employees, whether it's standard-issue policy or Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). Caching Server 2 promises to reduce wasted employee time by hastening the speed at which OS X Server will download content from iTunes, the Mac App Store or the App Store for iOS.

But don't think OS X Server is only good for Macs, iPads and iPhones. It's built on the same open standards and proven technology as the rest of OS X. It is OS X. It's a good corporate citizen that plays well with Windows PCs, Linux boxes and other various and sundry computing devices, too.

Some pundits and analysts erroneously think that Apple doesn't care about the enterprise space - those blowhards don't see Apple selling server hardware to compete with Dell, IBM and other companies, and assume the company is MIA. Nothing is further from the truth - Apple's been here all along. It's just that they have a very different handle on the market than most of the other companies in enterprise computing do. $20 gets you everything you need to get OS X Server off the ground. Compare that with the costs of server racks and blade systems and specialized server software used in other venues. It's a remarkable difference.

Are you in IT? Do you depend on OS X Server either as a user or an administrator? Or is this all rubbish that you don't care about? Talk to me in the comments, please, I'd love to hear from you. And please follow these links to find out more about OS X Mavericks or to have a conversation with other users about what features you're looking forward to most.

Peter Cohen
  • Apple is slowly weaning small companies and organisations off of the big, expensive dinosaur server products (TCO anyone?) that have been around for ages. I hear the big IT establishments screaming "We will never accept this Apple Calimero server crap in our Server Sanctuaries!" and yet it creaps in slowly and inevitably (I had to run my Apple servers + SAN from a broom closet for years before they could be moved to the server room proper ;-). And we'll see the new Mac Pro as a server happening too, regardless of the "No WAY!" I'm already hearing.......
  • What would be a really good article is to report on what is in OS X server that can be added via the open source or even paid software market. Even if I did not want to run a dedicated server, is there a calendar service I could run on my iMac to work for everyone in my house, including the Windows luddites?
  • The simplest answer to your question is no but don't let thet slow you down in the least. For the paultry $20.00 cost of Mac OS X Server, you can have an iCal, Contacts server and more. All it takes is a little courage and some time to set it up. There are other options to provide the same services for less money but unless you are well aquatinted with Terminal and the command line they will cost you dearly in time and frustration. I spent days in searching for solutions and days more attempting to implement any of them and ended in frustration. It seems that whatever you know, you need to know something else and once you learn that you have simply identified three other things you need to know. To shorten the story, I finally decided to try Mac OSX Server Mountain Lion and my Calendar and Contact servers were up and running and verified in about an hour. That was without outside (read Internet) access, the next day I added secure Internet access which has also proven successful using Virtual Private Network, VPN, to connect, this is heavily encrypted. The connection could also be handled by secure web access, all included in the package. All you need is a Mac capable of running the current operating system, preferably a desktop, Mac OS X Server a router and an Internet connection. Actually Mac OS X Server can be the router, but I'm not going into that here. So for $20.00 and a little time you can be up and running your way.
  • I'm the IT manager at a company that uses MS Windows and Servers. A little more than a year ago I added a Mac Mini Server to be the company e-mail server to bring e-mails inhouse. I now also use it for Company calendar, internal messaging (IM), Wiki, VPN and to manage a few iOS devices. I did upgrade the hard drives to SSDs and RAM to 8GB. It handles thousands of emails a day and all the other functions with no problems. You can setup for Apple push notifications in 1 area and it will set it up for all areas. Email server knows which ones are Apple devices and sets them up automatically for push notifications when they log in. I could buy over 15 Mac Mini Servers for what it would have cost us to go with blade server with Exchange server and it's a lot less maintenance and headaches. I'm going to be replacing a few more Windows Servers ;-) They are also very quiet and take little power which means a quieter server room and less cooling requirements, saving you money.
  • We have 3 mac mini servers located at a datacenter in Atlanta. They all have SSD drives. Bringing up and configuring the first one with OSX Server (Mountain Lion) resulted in millions of error messages logged. There was a corrupted SQLite file needed by one of the system routines; I guess because the SSD was so fast, there were intermittent log entries (something like) "Cannot write more than 500 error lines per second." ... It was clear at that point (NOV 2012) Apple Mountain Lion Server is not ready for the enterprise ... at least not my (small) enterprise. We kept the 3 servers, all running multiple Virtual Hosts. We had to offload mail services to Linux Serve since we took OSX Server out of play. I will agree that configuration was easy. Just filling out forms which when submitted run scripts to edit/create various config files, etc. The only problem was, the results rendered the system thrashing with error logging which would have consumed all the SSD in a very short amount of time ... hours, perhaps.
  • I have 2 mac minis a core 2 running snow leopard and an i5 that today has been upgraded to Mavericks with the latest server preview.
    I had previously linux servers they just worked so I forgot have to manage them.
    Then I switched windows 2003 and 2008 servers i didn't forget how to manage them, they wouldn't let me :-)
    The macservers just run and the management tools is so easy that there is nothing to forget.
    My challenge is to get my snow leopard upgraded it runs 3 mail domains and 4 web sites, my AD and DNS. I have no clue on how to get that done without to much downtime.
  • The early, expensive versions of OS X Server came with MySQL preinstalled (though, annoyingly, it was a nonstandard installation that was incompatible with MySQL's normal installer). I'm guessing recent versions don't include this. Anyone know if the standard MySQL or MariaDB installers will work with Mavericks Server?