First Look: Computerworld's Guided Tour of Leopard Server

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Recently, I had a chance to sit down with a few folks from Apple who gave me a guided tour of Apple’s upcoming server operating system, which is slated for release sometime in the spring of 2007. Mac OS X Server 10.5, or Leopard, will be the seventh release of the server operating system since 2000 and the second version to run natively on Intel processors.

Since the release of the new operating system is not too far around the corner, be sure to purchase server maintenance, which provides 36 months of upgrades for $999. Given the release history, that could tun into three upgrades for the price of one—a very good deal.

Overview

Leopard server is a 64-bit operating system that can seamlessly run 32-bit applications and extensions. Unlike other operating systems, there is just one version of the software, and any application and driver, be it 64- or 32-bit, will run natively and without penalty.

This iteration of the server operating system is not just Unix-based, but will be certified as UnixAE, meaning that it can run any Unix-certified application after being recompiled for the platform and does not require any modification to application programming interfaces or other code. Included in Leopard Server will be 64-bit versions of MySQL 4, MySQL 5, Apache 2 and improved 64-bit versions of Postfix and Cyrus for mail handling.

Installation

The setup shows that there are two core audiences: professional IT/data center workers and the small business/workgroup environment. You can choose to build the box as a simple stand-alone server that uses only the basic services, you can choose to be in a workgroup environment where the server will automatically integrate with an existing directory server and mail system, or IT pros can choose advanced setup and customize the server build as they have always done.

A new feature called network health check will query the addresses and ports required for selected services and inform the administrator of availability issues prior to executing the build. As part of the stand-alone build for small and midsize businesses, the administrator can define user accounts during the build. The workgroup build allows the administrator to import user accounts from an existing directory services system, pointing to that account for authentication, not replicating it. When client machines are built and connected to the server, their account information and configurations will automatically be pushed out to the client machine, simplifying setup and the overall administration process.

Administration

Keeping with the two-user-community theme, Leopard Server has two sets of administration tools: Server Prefs and Server Admin.

Server Prefs are modeled after the system preferences control system and have a limited set of choices and options for controlling the server, providing only the truly necessary controls for basic administration. There is a simple way to manage user and group memberships and a new directory management application.

Server Admin is the full-featured administration tool now included with the OS X server; it includes a few new options that are in line with the added services provided in OS X Server 10.5. Most notably, there is true tiered and distributed administration capability, which allows a super administrator to distribute rights to servers, services and users—not just services and users as was the case in prior releases.

Other features that Leopard Server users will appreciate are a Dashboard widget for monitoring the server at a glance and an adaptive firewall. That second one is a big deal. Firewall rules are notoriously complex for most administrators, and responding to attacks while still providing service can be quite a resource drain. The adaptive firewall will activate the ports required for services that are active on the server. It will also do things like monitor authentication challenges and SSH attempts. If a threshold is reached, the firewall will automatically put a rule-blocking service on that port. After a set period, it will remove that rule and check for continued offending behavior. Furthermore, it will make log entries and alert an administrator.

This is a boon to anyone without extensive security resources—in other words, most of us—and is helpful to anyone who is not monitoring his network interface cards at some point in a 24-hour period (again—most of us).

Finally on the administration front is the most important administrative tool on any server: the backup system. Leopard Server will incorporate Apple’s Time Machine software as its backup system, enabling an administrator to easily configure, backup and restore files. Moreover, it will include a backup feature so that after a catastrophic failure involving the operating system drive, a backup can be restored to the desired point in time during the operating system build process—not as a postbuild action. That makes restoration a less complex and time-consuming process, something any admin who is sweating his way through restoring a crashed system will appreciate.

New services, odds and ends

One of the first major upgrades in services for Leopard Server is in the Spotlight service, which will preindex all server content—including attached drives—thus putting less of a load on the system when queried. More importantly, Spotlight Server will now respect access control lists so that when your users conduct searches on your storage-area network volume, they won’t get any results that their permission levels prevent them from seeing.

There is also a Podcast Producer service that will allow an end user to remotely record audio and video via a workflow engine. This same engine does H.264 encoding and is Xgrid aware, allowing the production system to scale across many servers. And of course, there is an auto publish feature that will integrate with the other collaboration services.

Speaking of collaboration services, Leopard server will have the weblogs and mail available in the current OS X server operating system, plus they are adding a simpler listserver administration, a calendaring server and a wiki. There will also be support for mail clustering using an XSAN volume, something Apple has been unwilling to support in its current version.

The Calendar server, iCal server, supports the CalDAV standard and will integrate with Mozilla, GroupWise and Outlook. The wiki is based on Subversion and uses that back-end system with an Apple-written front end. This means the end user will not have to learn wiki tags and it will be driven by Asynchronous JavaScript and XML with drag-and-drop tagging.

The entire collaboration system will allow users and workgroups to easily post and share information.

The verdict (so far)

Leopard server promises to be an exciting release with many new features for both the enterprise and small-business environments.

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