Hands-on: Making Leopard servers simple

Leopard Server, the newest version of Mac OS X Server, sports many updated features. One of the most innovative is a new interface that simplifies server setup and management. This interface is designed primarily for small businesses or small workgroups within a larger organization that need server functionality but don't have the resources to hire a full-time systems administrator.

This new approach doesn't offer access to all of Leopard Server's features, but it does offer an intuitive and easy-to-use interface for some of the most common server needs. Services that are available when using Leopard Server's new user-friendly simplified setup modes include the following:

  • File sharing
  • Shared calendars via iCal Server
  • Jabber instant messaging via iChat Server
  • Mail services
  • Web and collaborative services
  • Remote access via virtual private networking
  • Client backup via Apple Inc.'s Time Machine

Streamlined server setup

The actual install process of Leopard Server is largely the same, regardless of whether or not you want use the simplified setup modes. The process involves booting the server from the install DVD (or using a second Mac in Target Disk Mode if the server lacks a DVD drive), choosing a language and installation volume (such as hard drive, partition or RAID array), and optionally customizing the install by eliminating additional language translations and printer drivers. The install process can be performed locally on the server or remotely by using the Server Assistant application.

Once the install process is complete, the server reboots and launches Server Assistant and guides the user through the process of defining the initial server configuration. Again, this can be performed locally or remotely by launching the Server Assistant on any Macintosh running Mac OS X Leopard. Remote installation and setup relies on Secure Shell (SSH) and uses the first eight characters of the server's hardware serial number as a password or the numerical sequence 12345678 if there is no serial number. The act of connecting using Server Assistant is similar to previous generations of Mac OS X Server; full documentation accompanies the Leopard Server install DVD.

During initial setup, you will be asked to choose one of three server modes: standard, workgroup or advanced. Standard and workgroup are both examples of the simplified setup. Standard is designed for small organizations that do not have an existing infrastructure. Workgroup is for departments within a company or school that already have an existing infrastructure and network user accounts.

Advanced provides the traditional Mac OS X Server tools (all of which have been updated in Leopard Server) and the full range of functionality, much of which requires a more detailed knowledge or servers and networking as a whole and/or Mac OS X Server as a platform. For this reason, I'll be focusing mostly on standard and workgroup in the rest of this article.

Once you have chosen either standard or workgroup, you will be asked to provide basic information to configure the server. An easy-to-follow worksheet is included as a PDF file on the install DVD that new users can fill out prior to installation to ensure that all the correct information is included.

Key choices in the setup process are:

  • Language and keyboard layout
  • Mac OS X Server serial number (license key)
  • Setup of the initial server administrator account (the password of which is also set as the root password for the server)
  • Network/Internet configuration for each available Ethernet port
  • Network name, including the name that clients use to identify the server for file sharing as well as the Domain Name System name/address, which can be set by automatic lookup from a DNS server
  • Time zone and network time server
  • Server backup options using Leopard's Time Machine (Note: Time Machine can only be used to back up Leopard Server in standard and workgroup modes because it is not designed to be an enterprise backup system for larger environments.)
  • Options for e-mail services, including the designation of a specific host to relay outgoing mail (if required by your Internet service provider) and a welcome message for new users
  • The option to enable VPN access
  • The option to allow client computers to use the server as a Time Machine backup location and to designate where backups will be stored
  • Options for setting up the server as an Internet gateway or router

At the end of the setup process, you can create new user accounts. This is optional, and you can skip this step and create them later using the Server Preferences application. Once the interactive setup process is complete, Server Assistant will attempt to verify that all network and related information is accurate. If there are problems with network or Internet connectivity, it will alert you and give you the option to go back and correct them.

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