Mountain Lion Server’s Profile Manager illustrates the future of Mac and iOS management.
Since the release of Snow Leopard Server three years ago, Apple has been steering its server platform away from large enterprise deployments. Instead Apple has redesigned OS X Server to meet the needs of the small to mid-size business market as well as the needs of Apple-centric departments or workgroups in larger organizations. That focus is very clear if you download and install Mountain Lion Server or look through the Mountain Lion Server documentation from Apple.
One of the transitions that Apple began in Lion and Lion Server, which were released last summer, was a move away from the traditional Mac management architecture that Apple has provided in OS X Server since it launched the platform more than a decade ago. In its place, Apple has built a management system for Macs that is very similar to the mobile management features available in iOS.
Profile Manager is a killer feature in Mountain Lion Server, but it isn’t the only killer feature.
Apple is expected to launch Mountain Lion next week. At the same time, the company will be launching Mountain Lion Server. The new edition of Apple’s server platform is revolutionary in a lot of ways, not the least of which is its $19.99 price tag.
Mountain Lion Server includes the basic server functionality that you’d expect from a product intended for the small to mid-size business (SMB) market. That means features like file sharing, network printing, client backups, website hosting, VPN, email services, centralized contacts for an organization, and shared calendaring. All of that is important and Mountain Lion Server seems destined to make those services easy to set up and manage.
In addition to those basic capabilities, however, Mountain Lion Server comes with some pretty incredible functionality for businesses or workgroups of any size or type. Here are ten of the big money features that are easy to overlook.
Appearances can be deceiving. Mountain Lion Server still has solid enterprise capabilities.
Apple has released two documents about Mountain Lion Server ahead of this month’s Mountain Lion (and Mountain Lion Server) launch. The first, a 25 page product guide, offered a some insights into the changes and new features that Apple wants to highlight for customers. The second is Apple’s Advanced Administration guide, an in-depth document that would be nearly 400 pages is it were printed or packaged as a PDF. This guide is the full documentation for Mountain Lion Server and it offers a lot of information about all the changes that Apple has made since Lion Server shipped last summer.
On the surface, these two guides are enough to make longtime OS X Server administrators nervous at Apple’s removal of the advanced admin tools and features that have been in nearly every previous OS X Server release. It’s very easy to look at the contents of the Advanced Administration guide and assume Apple is completing the consumerization of its server platform.
Digging a bit deeper, however, reveals that Apple may actually have a winning strategy in the way that it continues to integrate iOS and Mac management into a single workflow and that not all of the capabilities from previous iterations of OS X Server have been scrapped.
Think OS X Server doesn’t have equivalents to Active Directory and Exchange? Think again.
Last week, I compared the costs of Mountain Lion Server with the licensing for Windows Server 2012 Essentials Edition. Both products are pretty clearly for the small business market. One of the big questions or concerns from readers centered around Microsoft’s Active Directory and Exchange. The assumption being that Apple didn’t provide anything similar.
That assumption, however, isn’t accurate. To clear up confusion, let’s take a look at what the core services and features in OS X Server actually offers and the audience that can best benefit from Mountain Lion Server – small businesses looking to set up a handful of services for a relatively small number of users.
Apple release Lion/enterprise docs on its training site
Apple has added several whitepapers to its training site. All them address enterprise technologies in Lion. While many of the whitepapers have been available from Apple in the past, two of them appear to be new additions. The first of these details the use of Configuration Profiles to manage Macs running Lion as well as iOS device while the second covers 802.1X networking.
The first new whitepaper, which isn’t dated, is definitely the more interesting of the two. It discusses Mac management as an extension of mobile device management (MDM). As we reported last week, Apple appears to be positioning Macs running Mountain Lion to be managed in the same manner as iOS devices rather than using its long-standing Managed Preferences architecture that has been built into OS X and OS X Server since their initial releases over a decade ago.
One interesting moment during last year’s WWDC keynote was when Steve Jobs said that Apple was moving beyond the digital hub strategy it had embraced for years. He talked about how our computers are no longer the hub of our digital life and said that Apple was demoting the Macs and PCs and making them just another device like an iPhone or iPad.
That message set the stage for iCloud and for cord-free iOS devices that don’t need a Mac or PC for activation, backup, or sync.
There was also a much subtler message, however, that no one really picked up on at that time. In making the Mac just another device, Apple was likely laying the groundwork to change how companies and schools manage Macs – essentially treating them as just another device and bringing the mobile device management (MDM) paradigm introduced in iOS 4 to OS X and Mac management.
Mac IT specialists need a unique set of skills and knowledge
Recent data shows that nearly half of all companies offer or provide Macs to employees and that the Macs represent about 7% computers in the workplace. That’s according to a Forrester report that was issued last month and that prompted me to write a feature about how deploying and managing large Mac populations in enterprise environments differs significantly from supporting a handful of Macs.
In that that article, I covered a lot of the tools IT departments rely on to handle large scale Mac deployments. Knowing what those tools are is a great starting point, but there are also several key skills that IT professionals managing and/or supporting Macs in business need regardless of whether they’re dealing with a half dozen Macs or upwards of a thousand.
Microsoft’s Active Directory is a core component in virtually every enterprise network. When I looked at Centrify’s DirectControl for Mobile, I singled out its deep integration with Active Directory as a major feature and a leg up over some of the other mobile device management (MDM) suites on the market. That’s because Active Directory is an essential piece of technology infrastructure in the vast majority of businesses.
Despite being a Microsoft solution (and a feature of Windows Server), Active Directory is a technology that all Apple IT professionals should understand and have some skills in using. With the Xserve gone and OS X Server headed to more limited uses since the release of Lion last summer, Active Directory is becoming a de facto standard for Macs and iOS devices as much as it is for Windows PCs.