Mac OS X Server costs 5% of what it cost just three years ago. Whatever your needs and whatever the software’s shortcomings, this is hard to ignore. Leopard Server cost $999 for an unlimited-client license, Snow Leopard Server cost $499, and Lion Server costs $50.

For this reason alone, Lion Server will (and should) attract the attention of people who have never been in the market for server software before - home users, in particular - but it has to do so without alienating the business and education customers who currently rely on the software. These are Lion Server’s challenges: is there a real point in having it at home? And as a comparatively-dirt-cheap App Store download, is it lacking in features and power compared to previous versions?

I want to clarify a couple of things before I dive into the review proper: First, just like previous versions, Lion Server is very much just OS X with server functionality laid over top of it. In appearance, performance, system requirements, and operation, it is mostly identical to OS X client. I’ll point you to our massive review of Lion if you need to know more about any of that.

Second, know that I’m approaching this review from a different angle than the Lion client review - while most people interested in an OS X review have at least a passing familiarity with the software, this review will be the first exposure to OS X Server for many of you. For that reason, among the descriptions of Lion Server’s features and comparisons with past versions of the software, I’m going to be going a little more in-depth about how to actually configure the services. Hopefully the newbies among you can use these instructions as jumping-off points as you explore the software on your own.

Last, OS X Server can do a lot of things - some (like mail and DHCP) can be handled by many different products, but others (like Open Directory, NetBoot, or the OS X and iOS management features) are pretty unique to OS X Server. I’m going to try to at least touch upon every single service and tool in OS X Server, but I’ll generally focus more on the unique stuff for the purposes of this review.

Got all that? Good! Let’s jump in.

Comments Locked


View All Comments

  • jedimed - Thursday, August 4, 2011 - link

    Does anyone know if Lion Server supports any DLNA media streaming?
  • jay2901 - Saturday, August 6, 2011 - link

    sorry if this has been answered already...but if you aren't interested in legacy nt domain controller functionality, can you join a windows 7 pc to lion server's open directory? would love to use this in a mixed (50-50) environment with mac/pcs without needing active directory.
  • ATOmega - Monday, August 8, 2011 - link

    Such a limiting selection of hardware and functionality.

    Running a server, it makes more sense to take advantage of the strong updates and packages in Debian/Ubuntu and just run with that.

    I mean, if you're crazy about the Apple hardware, go nuts! But it's clear what Apple really does with server is integrate a handful of half baked UIs with otherwise free software packages. Calling it a "server edition" changes little from an existential perspective.

    I'll never understand the appeal of paying up to 3x more to get the same if not less...
  • tumme_totte - Tuesday, August 9, 2011 - link

    Andrew, you say that Windows computers can't join the OD since a Lion OD Master can't be Primary Domain Master for Windows. But in the documentation Apple says something else:

    Can this be verified? Windows 7 machines can't be joined to Leopard Server (neither Server 2008) and I was hoping Lion would solve this.
  • Te-Moz - Sunday, August 14, 2011 - link

    Andrew, you can set up device management with a self signed SSL certificate.
    Obviously it's 'nicer' to have one that's authority signed, but for us, we just need Lion server to control our Macs and iPads, push updates and provide some shared storage. (Educational setting)

    Great article, and if you wanted to do one on setting up a golden triangle with Lion Server OD and Win AD, then I'm sure a lot of folk would fine that really helpful also. ;)
  • reese637 - Saturday, December 24, 2011 - link

    Hi all. I'm a young tech enthusiast who likes to get his hands dirty in networks and servers and what not. As of now, I've been running our home network with two Time Capsule routers (acting as access points, web servers, backup drives, and file sharing), and many mac desktops and laptops (I believe four MacBooks and two iMacs). For a while now, I've been interested in upgrading to the Server edition of OSX, but I was afraid that it had too many requirements such as xserves, server domains, etc. Now that Lion Server seems to be a bit more consumer friendly and a lot cheaper, I was seriously thinking in upgrading. Would any of you please be able to let me know if there is anything else I need to buy/do in order for OSX Lion Server to actually work in my home? Thank you.
  • Ron Blatto - Thursday, February 2, 2012 - link

    I'm new to using any kind of server software and your guide is exactly what I was looking for.

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now