Macintosh servers and workstations might not be the black sheep of network and systems management any longer.
The reason, IT executives say, is that a new version of Apple’s Unix-based operating system – Macintosh OS X 10.2 – is giving them the long-sought-after tools to bring these machines into the management nuclear family.
“Macs and management. Have you ever heard the expression ‘like herding cats’?” asks Shane Wilson, coordinator of network services at Centre College in Danville, Ky. “Macs have always been this way.”
The advent of Mac OS X 10.2, however, is changing that attitude. Network managers who formerly managed Macs with proprietary software and hardware can now use some of the same software they used for their Intel- or RISC-based servers and workstations to manage Macs. Mac OS X for the first time really supports standards-based enterprise qualities such as security, protocols and tools, which make management easier.
Mac OS X supports many of the same applications and command-line tools that IT managers use to configure, install and manage Windows, Linux and Unix machines. That’s possible because OS X, unlike OS 9, is built on FreeBSD, an open source operating system for Intel, Alpha and PowerPC-based servers that is based on BSD Unix, an implementation of Unix developed at the University of California, Berkeley.
“The deployment of Mac OS X is the primary reason for the sudden attraction of Macs at our organization,” says David Bratt, technology architect for H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla. “The researchers with Unix workstations like it because it is basically FreeBSD with an interface. Now that we have the quasi-Unix look and feel with Mac OS X, we have several options for managing Macs.”
The newest version of the Macintosh operating system is causing network executives to re-examine long-held assumptions.
“We are currently looking at our future and determining where Macs will fit and how we’ll support them,” Bratt says. He says Macs are being installed more often in Moffitt’s research division, where they are used for computationally intense bioinformatic applications that are often written for Linux or Macintosh servers and workstations.
Bratt has a mixed network with Linux and Windows NT servers and one Apple Xserve, and an assortment of 900 client workstations that he backs up with Veritas Software’s NetBackup. More than 100 of his workstations are Macs. Bratt’s IT staff also uses an inexpensive shareware product from Famatech, called Remote Administrator, to remotely manage and install software on the company’s Windows, Macintosh and Linux workstations.
“Mac OS X has all the communications and network/systems management tools BSD Unix has, so it can integrate quite tightly into a TCP/IP network,” says Dan Kuznetsky, research director for IDC.
Another user says that remotely managing Mac servers and workstations is much easier now that he has upgraded his Macintosh workstations to Mac OS X from OS 9.
“Most of our workstations are now running OS X, so we do more remote maintenance on those systems than we did with OS 9,” says Tim Price, IT specialist for Architectural Research Consultants in Albuquerque, N.M.
Price has a mix of Windows, Linux and Mac servers and workstations in his network that run open source MySQL and PostgreSQL databases.
As the boundaries of manageability have been stretched with Mac OS X, Macintosh users have for a long time been able to store files and share printing on NetWare, NT and Unix networks. They’ve been able to be backed up with the same software that works with other operating systems and to access applications running on these operating systems with products such as Samba or Citrix’s MetaFrame terminal services software.
Casey Riddell has used Macs, Windows and Solaris workstations with business-critical applications for the last six months.
“I have a Citrix server for the Macs to get all of their needed applications such as [enterprise resource planning] and proprietary applications [from Windows],” says Riddell, network systems administrator for Anchor Group, an apparel manufacturer in Sacramento, Calif.
Riddell uses the Mapics ERP application with Windows and Macintosh clients. He explains that even though he has not always been a fan of Macs in his network, he is softening with the advent of Mac OS X.
“Recently with Apple’s OS X, I have completely changed my stance, and I am seriously considering the new XServe servers for a few minor Web projects,” Riddell says.
Back-up tools and applications aside, the management tools Apple offers for managing Macs in heterogeneous environments have been limited. However, IT managers now can rely on familiar command-line utilities and applications such as FTP, which lets IT managers transfer files, patches or applications from one machine to another.
Mac OS X also supports Remote Login, a command-line utility that uses a Telnet connection or Secure Shell (SSH) for authentication and lets IT managers log on to a workstation or server as if it were a local machine. The SSH utility, which incorporates Secure Sockets Layer, also lets them distribute Unix scripts or run Apple’s NetBoot or Network Install to remotely boot PCs or distribute software to client workstations.
For authentication and encryption, Mac OS X supports Windows Active directory and uses Windows password authentication, and Kerberos, letting IT managers securely manage remote Mac desktops as clients on Windows networks. In addition, Apple recently added a journaling file system to Mac OS X, which allows larger file sizes and increases in performance.
The possibilities for management don’t stop with file transfer and identity management, Apple says. Mac OS X supports IPv6, IP Security and SNMP, letting applications that use those protocols potentially support Macs.
“You send out the SNMP traps for anything you want to monitor, [gather information in], so you don’t have to live in front of the console,” Moffitt Center’s Bratt says.
Hewlett-Packard is among the first vendors to embrace the new Mac OS. The company’s SNMP-based OpenView network, systems and storage management includes support for Macintosh servers and clients.
As for IT managers using Apple boxes to manage Windows, NetWare, Linux or Unix servers and workstations, the company says it’s not going to happen. Apple has no plans to include that type of management in its products; instead, a spokesman says, the company will rely on third-party vendors such as HP to support those capabilities.