If your organization is interested in taking advantage of open-source software but the thought of all the configuration work scares you, then Apple’s Mac OS X Server may be the answer.
The release of OS X 10.3 Server, or Panther Server, arrives with the Panther desktop and shares many basic attributes; however, it is the server’s architecture that sets it apart as an operating system.
Panther server will run on everything from G3 Power Macs to today’s 64-bit G5. For this review we installed it on a 450MHz G4 using the “Install Mac OS X Server” icon that appears when the first installation disk is inserted. This first step requires the destination disk to be selected and formatted with the Mac OS Extended file format. After the base installation, which took about 25 minutes, a reboot is required and the second CD takes over.
This part of the installation goes through all the necessary base server configuration parameters such as the administrator’s login details, the hostname, network address, directory server details, services to enable, and the system’s time. Although Apple makes this process straightforward, it should be verified by a systems or network administrator to ensure everything is correct.
Panther Server in use
Once all the settings are in place, they can be saved to avoid having to repeat the configuration process if multiple servers need be installed. If you have a monitor connected to the server then Panther can be interacted with – otherwise it can be installed ‘headless’, with administration performed remotely. If there’s a standout feature of Panther Server it’s a set of monitoring and administration tools that can be used for remote management from any Panther desktop.
The Server Admin application is central to controlling what happens on the server. After connecting to the server via the administrator’s login account, Server Admin displays all the supported services as well as their status. For example, the number of IMAP connections to the mail server can be controlled simply by entering the desired number in that field. This ease of administration spares users from manually updating the mail server’s configuration files and is Panther server’s most appealing attribute.
However, it must be understood that this point-&-click administration will not make the correct decisions for the user on how to manage the services. Knowledge of what to do with Server Admin is still required to prevent the Server from being misappropriated. For those new to server administration, the included 135-page ‘Getting Started’ manual will come in handy.
The general format of Server Admin’s interface for a particular service is an overview, its log output for diagnosing problems, and the available settings.
In addition to allowing servers to be remotely managed Server Admin supports drag-&-drop to copy a particular service configuration from one machine to another with a dedicated icon.
Server Admin could be even more powerful if the ability to update – or in the case of a security vulnerability, patch – a particular service’s core application. This is done routinely with other open- source operating systems, such as the BSDs and Linux, but Apple chooses to keep this under the Software Update umbrella.
It was easy to create another user account on the server using Workgroup Manager’s New User tool. Set-up the new user’s account name and password, then decide what type of privileges, such as print quota, that user should have – then save the account settings. The new account will then appear locally on the server’s account list.
If changes need to be made to groups of users, this too can be done through Workgroup Manager. Workgroup Manager has a number of preferences, with the most important being whether SSL transactions should be used.
This is enabled by default. For servers that require a new installation, or some post-installation configuration, Panther Server includes the Server Assistant and Network Image Utilities that can be used to automate these tasks.
Also bundled with Panther Server is the Server Monitor application that checks the health of the system’s core properties such as power supply and temperature. Server Monitor’s alarm notifications also make it an ideal system response tool. Server Monitor in invoked in the same way as Server Admin, but unfortunately will work only if Panther server is running on an Xserve.
Of course, Panther server wouldn’t be much of an update if it didn’t include software enhancements to its Unix core and underlying applications.
For email, Postfix replaces the legacy Sendmail as the SMTP server and sits alongside the Cyrus IMAP and POP servers making for a highly scalable mail solution. For Web-based email access, Panther server uses the open-source Squirrelmail application. Also, with Panther server being Unix-based, it can be administered via the command line with a remote SSH connection. For Web-serving, Apache 2 has been included alongside the more-established version 1.3. For directory access, the LDAP-based Open Directory 2 is integrated with SASL and Kerberos.
Panther Server is also used to share files between computers on the network. Apple’s own Apple Filing Protocol (AFP) remains available, and Windows clients can share files with Samba, which is now at version 3.
Panther server’s management capabilities, combined with a stack of open-source software, makes it worthwhile for anyone running a workgroup. And the fact that it comes bundled with a server or can be purchased with unlimited clients make it surprisingly good value.