Computerworld: Leopard Server vs. Windows Server

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Prior to Leopard Server’s release, Parallels had begun developing a server-specific virtualization package for Mac OS X Server, and it seems likely that this package will eventually include support for virtualizing Leopard Server along with other server operating systems. This will significantly expand the virtualization options for Leopard Server. At the moment, however, virtualization tools for Leopard Server have yet to reach the breadth of what is available for other server platforms.

Which server is best for small business?

Small businesses form a unique market in the IT sector. They often need the features of a server platform but do not have the budgets to employ a full IT staff — or any IT staff in many cases. They also need a solution that will support future growth. For this market, Microsoft ships a lower-cost version of Windows Server known as Windows Small Business Server that includes many Windows Server features, including Active Directory and Exchange.

While this is adequate for many businesses, the product has some distinct limitations for future growth. Active Directory support is limited in that only a single domain controller is supported with no replication options. That domain controller can’t establish trusts with other domains, essentially limiting an organization to a single domain.

If an organization starts with or grows to multiple sites, the lack of replication means that every user log-in — or other Active Directory query — must be process across the network links between sites, often at the cost of slow performance and network congestion. Larger numbers of users can also result in decreased performance, even at a single site. (Microsoft suggests that Small Business Server is appropriate for organizations of up to about 75 users.) It also relies on a separate client-licensing method from other Windows Server products and typically has a limit to the maximum number of CALs allowed. When an organization outgrows Windows Small Business Server, it can purchase a transition kit to upgrade to one of the other Windows Server versions.

Mac OS X Server’s unlimited client version may actually be more expensive than an initial Windows Small Business Server purchase, depending on the number of CALs. However, it provides organizations with significantly more room to grow. There is no limit to the number of users or for replication to additional servers.

More importantly, Apple has designed Leopard Server specifically for smaller organizations that have little or no IT staffers. The product features a simplified setup process that entry-level technicians or power users can master. It also has a very simple management tool known as Server Preferences, with an interface borrowed from Mac OS X’s System Preferences utility.

The sheer simplicity of this interface and its ability to help manage many server features (file sharing, calendaring, e-mail and messaging, Web services, etc.) is amazing. It can be grasped by anyone with a moderate level of technical knowledge, though some troubleshooting will probably require a call to Apple’s technical support or to a consultant. As an organization grows and staffers are hired or trained in more advanced server management, Leopard Server’s simplified interface can be traded for the more traditional administration tools.

This combination of an easy interface and planned growth options makes Leopard Server a much more attractive option than Windows Small Business Server for small businesses and other organizations. Since it offers full multiplatform support, it provides an excellent option for all-Mac, Mac/Windows and even all-Windows shops. For this market, Windows Server’s limitations for growth and the lack of truly simple setup and management make it notably less than ideal by comparison with Leopard Server.

Which is best for midsize to large infrastructures?

While Leopard Server stands to deliver a clear win for small business, larger organizations can be a different matter. In many cases, larger organizations tend to have an investment in an existing system for servers and/or clients. While migrations are perfectly possible, many organizations will likely be in a situation of integrating both platforms rather than making a complete switch. Leopard Server’s innovations in terms of Active Directory integration make it a strong contender in many environments, particularly those that have even a modest number of Mac clients.

The emphasis on low-cost e-mail, messaging and calendaring make Leopard Server a particularly attractive option for organizations that are just beginning to look for multiplatform solutions. At present, there are no options for direct integration with Outlook or Exchange, which don’t support the open CalDAV standard that Leopard Server uses, but some developers are already looking into developing such systems.

Also, the ease of configuration of collaborative tools and the fact that Apple has based them on open standards makes Leopard Server — by itself or with Windows Server — an ideal platform for any moderately sized organization looking to make staff interaction and project management easier. The new Directory application that leverages directory services for organizational, staff, departmental and even facilities information also makes Leopard Server as attractive as an administrative tool as it is a server platform.

For midsize organizations that want a solid system without the cost or confusion associated with Windows licensing, Leopard Server is an ideal candidate as well. With a listed price tag (US$999), Leopard Server costs the same as an initial investment in Windows Server Standard edition when the latter is purchased with five client-access licenses. Leopard Server also has a range of features typically found in some of the more expensive Windows Server releases. Again, Leopard Server’s multiplatform support provides great flexibility and easy setup for environments with Mac and Unix/Linux clients in addition to Windows workstations.

Which is best for enterprise and data center environments?

Although effective in the enterprise arena, Apple has never quite managed to position its server products (beyond the popular Xserve RAID and Xsan storage products) as effectively as they deserve to be. There are any number of explanations for this, including that Apple didn’t really ship enterprise offerings for many years and that, even though Apple is now shipping high-quality enterprise products, the company refuses to publish long-term road maps for them. Apple’s own enterprise-level support and service have also proven problematic. Given the power and scalability that Apple’s Xserve and Mac OS X Server offer, along with Mac OS X Server’s relatively low cost, it is a shame that Apple has yet to get the right footing in the enterprise market.

That said, many of the technologies in Leopard Server are enterprise-worthy. While climbing some learning curve may be required to move to Mac OS X Server, the platform should not be immediately discounted. The technologies that it employs are robust and often very well-designed with a solid basis in open standards and open-source systems. This open-source architecture makes Mac OS X Server much more flexible because experienced engineers can easily expand on Apple products.

Finally, as Apple gains more traction in the desktop market, Macs are appearing in greater numbers in both new and traditional Apple-friendly markets including education. Several universities, including Princeton and Cornell reported an record increase of Macs this semester.

In addition, Apple’s share of computers connected to the Internet climbed to a new record in September, with about 6.6% of all those online running Mac OS X, according to a recent report from Net Applications. And for the quarter ended Sept. 29, Apple reported that Macintosh sales were up by 34% over the same quarter last year, breaking its old record by 400,000 machines.

If this trend increases or even just continues, the need to support these users will become a greater requirement in shops of all sizes. Given the added possibilities that Mac OS X Server offers beyond simple client management, it is worth consideration in many organizations, ranging from small businesses to enterprise networks.

Ryan Faas is a freelance writer and technology consultant specializing in Mac and multiplatform network issues. You can find more information at www.ryanfaas.com and can e-mail him at ryan@ryanfaas.com.

This story, "Computerworld: Leopard Server vs. Windows Server" was originally published by Computerworld.

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