Who Exactly Is Apple Targeting with OS X Lion Server? [Speculation]

Welcome to Server

With the release of Mac OS X Lion Apple is changing the way it handles pricing and distribution of Mac OS X Server. Rather than issuing a separate release priced at $499 or more, Server will now be a $49 upgrade to the standard Lion installation, available for download through the Mac App Store.

Who is Apple targeting now with Lion Server, and why?

Previously Server has been targeted at IT Professionals, Corporate (Enterprise) Users, and Small Businesses. In combination with Xserve hardware Apple offered a single-rack-space solution that could be a Directory Controller, DNS controller, multi-protocol fileserver, FTP, email and webserver, etc.. Setup is complex and requires strong IT skills, and the high price has served as a barrier to entry.

The newer Mac Mini Server makes a good basic fileserver, webserver and Time Machine backup disk for workgroups and small businesses. Using Simple Server mode and the Server Setup interface (instead of Server Admin and Workgroup Admin) more complex functions are hidden from users, and it’s easier to configure.

But now the Cloud is all the rage. How many people today want to run their own calendar and contact servers when Google, Yahoo and thousands of other cheap hosted services are available? Apple will even be offering these services themselves for free with iCloud this fall.

For an IT pro, the advantages of Server are declining. Apple’s dedicated server hardware, the Xserve, was discontinued earlier this year, and Server is now offered as an optional install on either the Mac Mini or the Mac Pro. But filesharing, web hosting, etc., are commodity services offered on much cheaper Windows and Linux systems designed as true server hardware.

Perhaps most importantly, Apple’s commitment to supporting Server is not something corporate users and IT Professionals can count on – witness the recent Final Cut Pro X debacle, and the abrupt discontinuation of the Xserve line. Apple feels no need to offer long term commitments of services nor advance notice of product discontinuations to end users. This behavior is not new nor limited to Server and Pro apps, but it significantly affects business and professional users.

So with no dedicated hardware, no pressing need for many of its capabilities, and Lion selling for the low price of $29.99, maybe just selling Server as an inexpensive add-on is the only way to go? For small businesses and savvy Mac users this is a great deal. Sure I’ll add Server to one of my Macs for $49, why not?

Well, that could be a problem. I’ll bet that many of my clients who know “just enough to be dangerous” are also going to pop for the upgrade, folks who wouldn’t have spent $499 earlier. These are people who should not try to configure a server of any kind. They will figure out ways to turn on but only partially configure DNS control or network user management, cut off their internet access, then call me panicked for help getting their Macs working again! I supposed that’s good for business, but not the way I prefer.

From Apple’s description on the Welcome screen, Server is going to evolve into a local hub for sharing data between Macs and iOS devices. Perhaps this system will also be linked to one or more iCloud accounts? Rumors of this capability getting added to Time Capsules were floating around last month, but adding these features to Server (which can run on any supported Mac) makes more sense. That allows Server to function as a supplement to cloud services, rather than an alternative to them.

So what do you think? Who is Apple targeting with Lion Server? Will you use it? Let us know in the comments.

  • Eric Hastings

    I’m thinking its more of a poke at Microsoft. Just like OS x having native Exchange support. Windows doesn’t even have native exchange support, you have to buy Outlook. People will look to Microsoft and ask “If apple can practically give it away why wont you”. Also it gives the people that think Apple is trying to take away there precious tinkering something to play with.

  • prof_peabody

    Since when has the setup of the current server been “complex”?  It’s the easiest server to set up in the world, and is done through a single dialogue box with little coloured lights to tell you if you got it right.  I mean it’s literally just fill out a few fields and press “go.”

    Also, this article doesn’t even start to deliver on the promise of the title. Who is Apple targeting with the new Server? We don’t know. The author starts to mention it only in the last paragraph and then he just says it will “evolve into a local hub for sharing.” WTF? why? what kind of “hub”? Sharing what? Why does he think this? etc. etc. etc.

  • Adam Rosen

    You’re referring to Simple Server.  Have you used Server Admin and Workgroup Admin to setup DNS hosting and Open Directory?  They’re included in the Snow Leopard Server packages.  Not nearly as easy, and far more potential harm done.  All this is part of Server.

    As for your second point, I don’t know who Apple is targeting. Why does this product exist at $49? What do you think? Please do share…

  • gavindwilliams

    Apple are probably targeting any small business with an old mac mini/mac pro about to upgrade and possibly want to turn it into a dedicated server using Lion. Once they’re tied into Lion Server, it’ll pave the way for that same consumer to use Apple’s hardware as the backbone of the business as it grows… Steve’s probably laughing. As businesses grow they’re constantly buying new £700+ Mac clients to bolt onto this easy to set up server. In all fairness… We had Snow Leopard server set up with all of our applications, workgroup manager, custom desktop backgrounds for all clients, mobile accounts Open/Active Directory, Kerberos, DNS and all of the nuts and bolts in under a day. It was literally our company infrastructure in this cool silver shiny thing.

  • AnthonyFear

    As a long time MS guy – I ‘stumbled’ across SL Server about a year ago and was immediately drawn to it’s simplicity of use and it’s unlimited client licenses. 
    At $1000 for both hardware and software (Mac Mini Server) it was WAY cheaper and thus more attractive than a windows server equivalent for many clients who didn’t require full on Exchange email features.
    I’ve moved a number of, previously, MS customers over to it – who have then subsequently “seen the light” and replaced many workstations with iMacs. By configuring Open Directory it was even possible to emulate a Windows domain so we could have a mixed environment of Windows and Mac machines all controlled from an environmentally friendly, simple to use, reliable, server-class operating system. However Lion Server has taken a step back, in my opinion, that makes even it’s $49 price tag too much and has significantly reduced it’s appeal to IT pros and small business clients – which is exactly where I thought it was supposed to aiming?.They’ve dropped Samba and implemented their own system instead. This does not have the ‘PDC’ emulation feature anymore so no more windows domains! I have had major issues getting file sharing working properly with Windows Vista and Windows 7 clients (could be just me – but lots of people have complained in forums during the betas) – which makes it almost useless as a file server in a mixed environment.

    I thought with Apples new small business services recently announced – they were trying to attract small businesses? 

    Q) So who is Lion Server Aimed at? 
    A) Geeks who want a server at home? 

    Unfortunately I don’t think this version is going to win them many new small business clients – which is EXACTLY where I think they should be aiming!  Small businesses buy multiple machines, upgrade regularly, need support contracts etc. 

    I, for one, am very disappointed! 

    OK Rant over – thanks for listening.

  • DaveFlash

    plus adam, you already have basic server capabilities in the standard version of mac os X. such as a fileserver (appache) and i thanks that’s the thing most users who are scared of the old pricepoint don’t know, that for running you’re website from your mac you don’t need the server add on

  • jim

    It seems Apple drop server at some point. Cas in point, Lion imcludes xsan at no additional cost. That was a $999 product per client. Now its free. I can remember when they dropped the price of WebObjects and now that ls long gone. iOS is Apple’s future in the Cloud. No more local server stuff. I wonder if they will offer a SMB iCloud deal someday. 

  • Rob

    Adam, I have used every version of OSXServer admin since the very beginning and it is easy to configure, even if you only have to read the manual a couple times. OSXS is meant for installations that already have some infrastructure services, especially DNS, so you don’t have to worry about that service. Simple server or full server, it’s still a very good package and one someone with some experience doing system administration should not have a problem handling.

    The biggest reason to continue OSXS is it’s ability to handle NetBooting properly (especially diskless booting). It is very easy to configure the boot image and configure all the users when using OSXS. Replicating this service on other servers is difficult. 

    The cloud is not for everyone, even those corporate IT managers who think they know what they’re doing by putting all their corporate data into someone else’s hands. One breach and that company fails. Apple also knows that corporate America just can’t get their heads out of their dark place and quit relying so much on Microsoft products. All computers end up having to bind to Active Directory even if Open Directory is better for Macs. PCs can’t easily connect to anything except Microsoft products so Mac installations have to suck it up and let the children have their way.

    I hope Apple continues to support OSXS because it combines several good services into an easy to install and use product that small to large organizations can use. I don’t see the need for home use unless the user has a dedicated IP address available to the world, then it could benefit them if they wanted to host their own web site.

  • dale2000

    “I don’t know who Apple is targeting. Why does this product exist at $49? What do you think? Please do share…”

    Adam, I think what Prof Peabody is saying is that an article titled “Who is Apple Targetting?” implies the promise of an answer to the question that led the reader into the article to begin with.  Cynics would say that you have “baited and switched” the reader.

    Edit> Furthermore, you categorized it as “Speculation”, but did not actually ever speculate on who it is you think Apple might be targetting.

  • Adam Rosen

    No bait and switch intended – I literally don’t know who Apple is now targeting with Server.  The title is an honest question, no more than that.  Thanks for your feedback.

  • 300AShareMakesMeSmile

    Yeah, Simple Server was easy and quick to use, but those other two server applications left me bewildered.  I would have had to sit down with some manual just to figure out how to use them.  Not that I needed them since I only had three working computers in the house at the time.  Ha.

    I’ve heard some speculation about Apple will be using a BTO Mac Pro to support Lion Server, so Apple likely will have some server a bit more powerful than a Mac Mini.  The low cost of Lion Server Unlimited is absolutely unbelievable.  If a company already has Snow Leopard on their computers you’d figure any small business would jump at the chance of upgrading to Lion Server.

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About the author

Adam RosenAdam Rosen is an Apple certified IT consultant specializing in Macintosh systems new and old. He lives in Boston with two cats and too many possessions. In addition to membership in the Cult of Mac, Adam has written for Low End Mac and is curator of the Vintage Mac Museum. He also enjoys a good libation.

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