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.
Server app is now Apple’s primary OS X Server interface
Apple’s 2007 launch of Leopard Server was the beginning of a new business strategy for the company. Leopard Server included a number of new features – shared calendaring with iCal Server, Apple’s wiki-based collaborative tools, and streamlined Podcast creation and hosting through Podcast Producer were some of the highlights. The biggest new feature, however, was the introduction of a simplified setup assistant and Server Preferences – a utility designed to look and feel similar to System Preferences that enabled easy management of key server features for smaller organizations with limited technical knowledge or resources.
Fast forward nearly five years to today and you can see the focus that Apple introduced in Leopard Server has become the core of Mountain Lion Server. You can also see that many features that used to be OS X Server staples are gone (or at least are being handed their hats and coats). What remains is a very inexpensive but still relatively powerful server OS with a focus on easy setup and management as well as collaboration.
Apple offers an early glimpse into Mountain Lion Server and Mountain Lion Mac management
Apple has quietly posted an overview guide to Mountain Lion Server. The 25 page PDF document is available from Apple’s OS X Server Resources page, which barely references Mountain Lion at all. The generically named OS X Server Product Overview link in the page’s Documentation section, however, links to the new Mountain Lion Server product brief.
The overview guide is listed as being updated for June. That implies that it was deliberately placed there in advance of next month’s Mountain Lion release (as opposed to going live early by mistake). The guide primarily focuses on introducing the various features in Mountain Lion Server. While not in-depth, it definitely provides a sense of where Apple is going with Mountain Lion Server as well as with Mac and iOS management.
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.