Six Months on: Lion Server, my opinion.

lion server
January marks six months since 10.7 (aka Lion) client and server was released. I’m lucky to have had the great opportunity to have installed at least five 10.7 servers into live environments for clients, in a variety of solutions and I thought I’d use this weeks blog to lay out my thoughts.
I have to be honest and say I don’t have the experience of a large number of different server versions, unlike Richard or David, but over the last few years I’ve had the chance to work with OS X Server 10.5 and 10.6 intensively on a number of projects and kind of liked the way it all worked.

Server app

The first and most obvious change is Server Admin.
No longer is this installed by default, in fact, none of the Server tools are. Neither is the underused (and arguably over-simplified) Server Preferences. To replace all of these functions, Lion Server comes installed with a new application called Server.
The name does add some confusion so I have to admit to referring to it as to help differentiate between the software and general use of the word server.
Generally speaking, it looks quite impressive. It seems largely simplified to help ‘Joe Bloggs’ setup some basic services, whilst allowing easy access to a bit more advanced (read ‘intermediate’) options by double clicking areas (such as the ‘Group’ name).
However, part of my role as a consultant requires more advanced setups or even just access to one or two advanced settings. With this in mind, after clicking around within for a while, I downloaded and installed the 10.7 Server tools. All went as expected and back came the familiar site of Server Admin and Workgroup Manager.
Where is everything?
Firstly, Workgroup Manager – this pretty much remains unchanged, with all the tabs and options it had in Snow Leopard. Great, familiar territory!
Next up, Server Admin. Large parts of Server Admin have been pulled and placed into the, leaving behind either the lesser-used services (like Netboot, NAT or Software Update) or the more complex services (like Xgrid, RADIUS or Firewall).
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing in itself as I only know a handful of sites which use at least one of these services regularly. It also allows the to remain a cleaner looking interface with minimal clutter.
However it does remove a lot of the more usual advanced options entirely from the GUI.

File Sharing

File Sharing seems to work stably and well, (as you’d hope being a standard server service for years, if not decades) you now have the option of setting each share point to be available via WebDAV, as well as SMB and AFP. As a trade off you lose the ability (in the GUI at least) of setting options such as maximum number of connections, Connect and Disconnect messages and separate naming for the same share point, accessed via different protocols.
Overall, no big loss.


Mail is a confusing one. I know a colleague who had issues with his Snow Leopard Mail server once and upgraded to Lion which managed to iron them out. The strange point with this service in Lion, which is also makes it unique, is it’s available to configure in both and Server Admin. The makes some very basic options available  (such as Web mail enabling, Mailbox quotas and Filter settings), while Server Admin provides the full options which were also featured in Snow Leopard.
On reliability, I cannot comment as I have yet to have the requirement to setup a live Apple Mail server, but I have attempted to set it up on a home server with no success (which I’ll blame on my inexperience with Apple Mail Sever rather then Lion).


This is where my main grief with Lion server lies, VPN is completely stripped from Server Admin – making the only place to run any configuration. This removes a lot of the advanced configuration, leaving just the basics.
Another sore point is that PPTP is gone (from the GUI at least). I understand it is an older technology and therefore nowhere near as good an encryption as L2TP, but of the two – PPTP is the VPN protocol I’ve had the most success configuring; connecting (including from hotel wifi!) and in use.
Apple has released instructions on enabling PPTP via the command line while ignoring the fact that the instructions had a typo in a Unix command, they still seem to fail to work.
On the flip side, you can now save a configuration profile, which can be emailed to an end user and just double clicked to configure, saving any complex instructions that can be misheard / misread.
Generally, the VPN on Lion seems to be temperamental. I have a successful L2TP connection setup to my computer at home and 50% of connections I attempt to make are greeted with an authentication error. The other 50% are successful, without changing a single setting or password!
Currently I am testing alternatives and hope to get back in another blog any successes I might have!
Well that’s enough from me, what about your stories? Please share your own views on Lion Server, and experiences, below.


Apple Lion Server
Apple Lion Server download
Apple Lion Server USB Drive
Apple Lion Server Tools (10.7.2) download