Do I need Mac OS X Server?


I manage a small network that has evolved haphazardly over the years. A Sun SparcStation running Solaris 8 handles internal DNS, and IMAP and SSH servers. A Windows/XP box handles POP and SMTP mail. Both systems are - how shall I put this - nearing retirement.

The rest of my network consists of Macs, running various OS-s, printers, etc. I want to convert one of those Macs into a "server" to handle the items mentioned above. Do I need Mac OS X Server? Or can I cobble together standalone software to do the job?
Unless you're Terminal shy or don't want to configure things by editing text files. Basically, the Server version is the same as the Client version, but with a bunch of really nifty GUI applications to make the administration "easier".

Personally, I don't like these apps, and don't want to pay the premium for them either. There are a few exceptions though: Active Directory / Open Directory administration and Network booting. If you want to manage your clients in an AD / OD hierarchy, you'll probably be better off with the server version. Same thing if you want to enable Net Booting (where you don't install the OS on the clients, but instead allow them to boot off a disk image on your server). I doubt that either of these is interesting to you?

All the stuff you mention, DNS, SMTP/POP, IMAP and SSH can be "cobbled together" on an off the shelf Mac OS X Client. Since you probably know a thing or two about 'nix like systems, coming from Solaris, you shouldn't have too much trouble getting it together in less than a days work.

Browse around on DarwinPorts, and you'll probably find what you need:

IMAP servers for instance, are here:

Have fun!

Forgot to mention one thing: neither BIND nor Postfix runs with a Startup Item in Tiger, as they did in previous versions. They use launchd instead. Here's a page that describes how to get BIND started in Tiger (you still need to know how to configure it though):

And while I'm editing, I might as well give a link to his postfix page too:

Whitehill said:
Thanks very much. This will keep me busy all weekend.

You're quite welcome. I'd like to ask a favor in return: could you please try to document what you do, and post a "How-To" in our "HOWTO & FAQs" forum when you're done and everything works? I'm sure that a lot of people would appreciate it!
Doesn't everyone need a Mac OS X Server? ;)

Personally, I'd say go for the OS X Server. This is a business, correct? Most companies I work with want a server platform that's supported, rather than created. Sure, you can go out and compile hte open source projects and put them on a PowerMac G5 or such, but why? For nearly the same price as the PowerMac, you can have an Xserve, with much more robust monitoring features and an unlimited OS X Server license.

You made no mention of what platform your email server is on or any directory services. Migrating to Open Directory from an NT style domain is fairly easy to do and cost effective.

Just my $0.02 though. :)
elander, yes, I will. I'm not sure when this will happen, however.

Go3iverson: Yes, it's a business, but basically a 1-man branch office. The load is never very heavy on any service. I don't run any directory services, unless you lump NFS in there. My Solaris box is an NIS server, but not for home directories.

My primary mail server is VPOP3 from Paul Smith Computer Services running on a Windows/XP machine. I run an IMAP server on the Solaris machine, CommuniGate Pro from Stalker.
Go3iverson said:
For nearly the same price as the PowerMac, you can have an Xserve, with much more robust monitoring features and an unlimited OS X Server license.

I agree. If you're buying a new box, and really need high performance, go for the XServe. But that wasn't the question here, this was a question on wether to buy the server version of Mac OS X or not.

My point is this: when you get Mac OS X, the applications you get are the same wether you buy the server version or the client version. The difference is that you get GUIs for the server applications with the server version, and a few extra applications (like iCal, iTunes etc) in the client version. The power of the server applications is the same on both platforms.

If you already have the computer, and a Mac OS X Client, why pay for a new license of what is basically an identical OS? Since Whitehill mentioned Solaris, I guessed that he was reasonably comfortable with CLI and text file based configuration. He also mentioned that he wanted to use one of the old Mac's, and that's what I based my recommendation on.

But your points are valid: if you're buying a NEW machine, and you need a high performance server, the XServe is often your best choice.

I can think of an exception though. In small businesses, say around ten to fifteen people, this might not be your best alternative. If one or more of your workstations is getting a bit old, you could be better off replacing it with a new workstation. Then use one of the old computers as a server. This can often give you more value for your money than buying a server.
Whitehill said:
Do I need Mac OS X Server? Or can I cobble together standalone software to do the job?

Any working solution wil of course do, but i migrated last year from novell to mac os x erver and i never regretted the step. I use it for all regular tasks like DNS, MAIL (imap, pop3, smtp, mailinglists), webserver, webmail, file server (mac and pc), ldap server (sharing user info over the network), ftp etc.

The power of the system is easy setup in general (graphic environment), huge information on handling problems (BSD / linux /unix information on web) and remote access by mainly ssh (and workgroup manager and serveradmim).

So adding users, groups, mount-points, configuring mail, mailinglists, file-server etc. is quite easy.

So i will continue to keep using mac os x server for some time. I only needed a new fileserver, i ended up with a lot more ... You do not even need a terrible fast system, i currently use a 1.6 ghz single cpu with 1 gigabyte of memory and 2 drives, 1x 80gb and 1x 400gb.

The xServe is a nice system, but the harddrives are terribly expensive. Also buy a video-card with it, it will make (at least) installation a lot easier for you.