Following the release of Snow Leopard, we take a closer look at Apple Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard Server.
Time was, if you needed a server for anything from a small business to a college, or an enterprise-level corporation, you were looking at a complex computer system, negotiated through a command-line interface.
Today, a server is more likely to have a graphical interface to setup and maintain it, and likely derived from some version of Microsoft Windows NT. Powerful and robust server systems requiring knowledge of console commands are still popular, often for free as open-source software, but many modern-day sysadmins fear to step outside their graphic-interface comfort zone in order to embrace the command line.
While bullet-proof Unix and Linux server systems may now also sport GUI layers for easier configuration, Apple's Mac OS X Server, like it's popular client version, has a very forward-facing and friendly graphical user interface. But if you want to roll your sleeves up and use a Unix terminal, OS X 10.6 Server is a complete POSIX-certified flavour of Unix that will respond to control through the default bash Terminal.app interface.
Snow Leopard Server new features
Now, to match this year's Snow Leopard installed now on all new Macs, comes Apple Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard Server. While the upgrade to 10.6 on the client side added few entirely new features, the same is not true of the server version.
Apple Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard Server features several new facilities that will sit well in Apple's core server markets of education, creative audio/visual media and small businesses. And it also scales up well to corporate installations. Like the client version, it majors on 64-bit performance to improve security and address huge amounts of memory. In SPEC benchmarks, Apple has shown that v10.6 Server is up to twice as fast than 10.5 in key operations such as file serving.
Installation is straightforward, with an easy step-by-step wizard guiding the initial setup immediately after the OS software completes its installation. A typical Apple Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard Server would be based on a rack-mount Apple Xserve or a Mac Pro - but it will also happily run from a Mac mini, as we found. In fact, Apple is now even selling Snow Leopard Server pre-installed on a new optical-drive-free Mac mini. Administration can be made with a headless setup, using either Macs' built-in Screen Sharing app, or the separate Apple Remote Desktop 3. Or you can simply use an open-standard VNC application.
The Mac server can be sited behind an internet modem router; or using the Mac server as an internet gateway, assuming you have at least two ethernet interfaces, taking advantage of the Mac's firewall and DHCP functions. Note that when it comes to the system firewall, while System Preferences shows the familiar On/Off slide switch, you'll need to go into Server Preferences to configure this fine-grained ipfw firewall.
If installing Apple Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard Server on a computer previously using client Mac OS, make sure your router hasn't reused the old system's DNS name, as happened to us, or you may experience network connectivity issues. We logged into our router and manually edited the Mac server's DNS name, and were then happily back on track.
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