And now Server.app, too!

I have written a book which expands on this topic and is regularly updated. Please check it out: “macOS Installation for Apple Administrators

There is a common understanding that celebrity deaths come in groups of three. Maybe Apple was aiming for that, too. After killing off Imaging and NetBoot/NetInstall, now there is a new support article:

Prepare for changes to macOS Server – Apple Support.

In this article Apple announces they will change the macOS Server app “to focus more on management of computers, devices, and storage on your network.” All other services will be deprecated.

The article lists the deprecated services and provides links to some open source alternatives.

  • Calendar
  • Contacts
  • DHCP
  • DNS
  • Mail
  • Messages (Jabber)
  • NetInstall (NetBoot)
  • VPN
  • Websites (Apache)
  • Wiki

In the beginning these services will remain available when you upgrade from an older version where they are activated, but will be hidden from new installations. In some unspecified future version of macOS Server, the services will be removed.

There are few services not listed here. They were already deprecated or moved to the ‘normal’ macOS in the last Server release. Open Directory and Software Update Server were deprecated and automatically hidden in Server 5.4 (the version which was released with macOS High Sierra). At the same time, Content Caching (Caching Server), File Sharing and Time Machine services moved from the Server app to the Sharing preference pane on macOS (and are available on every Mac, without having to purchase macOS Server). Xcode Server has moved into Xcode 9.

If you are using macOS Server for one of the above solutions, what should you do?

Don’t Panic

Apple is not killing off these services immediately. Server 5.5, which was released together with macOS 10.13.3 still has all the ‘normal’ services. Apple will hide the services in the UI to discourage their use in a future release. For the time being you can continue to use them. However, you need to start planning your move away from macOS Server.

While many Mac administrators would argue that macOS Server is not and never was a “professional” server, or even a server for any kind of deployment, it has found a niche in some small network environments. While the UI was certainly never perfect is has always been somewhat easier than messing with config files.

The replacements that Apple suggest in their article are worthy solutions if you need to maintain the services locally. Many are the open source projects that Apple used inside macOS Server themselves. While this removes the UI for monitoring and configuring the services, it also takes Apple out of the loop for updates and security patches. By getting the software directly you can get more timely updates. It also requires more maintenance and effort from the administrator, especially when you are using multiple services.

To the Cloud!

However, many of the above service are better replaced by cloud-hosted services, such as Office 365 or Google for Business/Education. These will also cover user identity management (replacing Open Directory) and file sharing with cloud storage systems.

For obvious reasons, DNS, DHCP and VPN cannot be run in the cloud. For small networks, these services are usually run on the router. However, if your router cannot run these services then you can run them on a dedicated box.

For my home network I am considering (i.e. finally found an excuse for) a Raspberry Pi.

NetBoot is still dead

Apple recommends NetSUS and BSDPy for NetBoot and NetInstall. These are certainly worthy solutions to host your nbi folders.

However, NetInstall functionality (this has been discussed before) is not present with the iMac Pro. It is to be expected that future new Mac hardware releases will follow the iMac Pro.

If you currently have a NetBoot/NetInstall based imaging or installation based workflow hosted on macOS Server, you need to be exploring alternative onboarding/setup workflows instead. DEP + MDM is the solution that Apple is pushing here.

Whatever solution you will find for your setup, it will require a lot of effort to get working smoothly. Rather than spending time and effort to move your NetBoot setup to BSDPy or NetSUS, leave it where they are for as long as they will still work and spend time on building a new supportable and supported workflow instead.

Whither macOS Server?

The Apple support article states:

macOS Server is changing to focus more on management of computers, devices, and storage on your network.

I would guess that ‘storage on your network’ means Xsan. Which some people still use. Seems weird to leave this as part of macOS Server and not split it out like other services. On the other hand it seems hard to imagine that this is some new server management feature.

What remains, is Profile Manager.

Profile Manager is considered Apple’s reference implementation of the MDM protocol. Most would not recommend using it in professional environments and few do (even fewer happily).

Now, that Apple is effectively reducing the functionality of macOS Server to Profile Manager, the question is: will it remain a mere reference implementation or will Apple finally put the resources behind Profile Manager to make it a usable, affordable and scalable solution?

Or maybe I get to write Profile Manager’s eulogy in a few years time as well. Only time will tell.

Does this mean Apple is leaving Enterprise business?

Really!? No.

In some ways Apple has never been able to enter Enterprise business with their own server products, hardware and software.

But they have been able to enter Enterprise business with their devices, Macs and iPhones and iPad. And because those devices are popular and trendy with Enterprise users, the Enterprises need to support them. That is what the MDM protocol and DEP are for.

With this step, Apple is making it clear that they are not even trying to play in the server business. They are happy to provide the MDM protocol and a reference implementation. They will support the infrastructure necessary to make DEP, MDM and VPP work. Apple is not interested in being the hardware that runs DNS, DHCP, file shares, Mail, calendaring and chat etc. Maybe not even the MDM server. Apple is very happy to leave this business to others. Apple sells devices.

macOS Server has been a neglected step child since the demise of the Xserve. I am surprised it took Apple this long to make it obvious.

I have written a book which expands on this topic and is regularly updated. Please check it out: “macOS Installation for Apple Administrators

4 thoughts on “And now Server.app, too!”

  1. I guess by “storage on your network” is more likely just File Sharing rather Xsan.

    Best regards

    Kostas

    1. No. File sharing controls moved entirely to the Sharing pref pane. Nothing left in Server app.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.