how easy is OS X Server / Xserve to manage?

applewhore

Registered
Hi all

My website is currently being hosted on a Windows (*cough* *splutter*) server of some sort.

At the moment we're getting a ton of traffic and we've been told we have to get our own server as we're adversely affecting the performance of the other websites hosted there.

I saw that Apple was offering a special "lease" deal on Xserve and Xserve RAID

http://www.apple.com/uk/financing/xserve/

and thought it would be a good time to make the move.

However, the guys who look after my website have said:

"With regards to the move over to x-serve are you sure about this? In the hosting world I haven't heard the best things about these servers, it might be better to move the pzizz site away from windows and run it on an Intel machine, then at a later stage shift it over to the Mac OS. What are you thoughts on this?"

The trouble is - I don't know what my thoughts are! I'd understood that the Xserve, coupled with OS X Server was rock solid...

Am I wrong? Can anyone with experience tell me whether there really are problems with Xserve / Xserve RAID / OS X Server?

Thanks in advance

ed

:(
 

Go3iverson

Registered
I have no troubles with my Xserves. When looking at hosting a website, your talking Apache, which is very nice to work with.

I've deployed many OS X Servers, some on Xserve hardware, some on desktop hardware, as well as a few Xserve RAIDs. I haven't had one of them fail. I run my own site, www.district13computing.com, on Mac OS X Server and haven't had a moment of downtime and its running web and email for me, as well as a few other services. :)

What are their specific pains in this move? The biggest 'issue' that gets brought up is the lack of a secondary power supply in the Xserve units. Of course, that can be properly overcome by using two Xserves by leveraging failoverd, heartbeatd and, in 10.4, launchd. This will give you redundancy on every component in your server. In some cases, the cost of the second Xserve is not much more than proper parts kits.

Let me know if there's anything I can do to help, though I may hit you up for some cool pzizz stuff! ;)
 

applewhore

Registered
Hi Go3iverson

Thanks for your reply! Much appreciated...

I'm not sure exactly what their concerns are! As I said, I'd thought that OS X Server / Xserve was effectively the best one could get?

I'm happy to use any type of server, but when it gets busy on the pzizz site, we get those terrible Windows "errors" on customers' screens. Given that we've only launched the pzizz software for Mac so far it's embarrassing to see these errors!

I'm happy to buy 2 Xserves as you suggest to give redundancy, but probably need to find out what the real issue is with the guys hosting the site for me at the moment. Perhaps they're just not experienced with OS X Server? I don't know...

I'll ask and report back. Thanks for the offer of help - I'm sure I can send some pzizz stuff your way! ;)

If anyone else has any experiences with the above, good or bad, I'd love to hear from you.

Thanks again

ed
 

Go3iverson

Registered
Whoops! I got so into talking about the overall product, I didn't get into the administration! :)

Ok, so, I find that there are a few groups of folks that use Xserve/Mac OS X Server. There's a group that's used to Mac OS 9/ASIP and finds Mac OS X Server confusing because there *is* a command line and tinkering that may have to take place. There's the OS X Generation, that feels right at home on these machines and learn the UNIX as they need. Then, there's the converts from Windows Server/Linux/Unix. They're used to LDAP and some Directory Services, or they're completely at home in a command line environment, so they adapt quite nicely as well.

The tools Apple provides are exceptionally nice. Server Admin is where you'll set up your Apache (web service) and configure your websites. You can use WebDAV for authoring of your pages and create secure realms to keep folks out of specific areas. You can deploy tools like AwStats very nicely, which will give you reports on who's accessing your site and when, even how long they're staying. That'll help you decide on any planned downtime for upgrades. There's also the command line. You'll use that to add in any open source projects you'd like, but I rarely have to touch it for my web server.

Hope that was a little more on topic! :)
 

applewhore

Registered
Hi Go3iverson

Thanks for the detailed update...

However, I'm afraid you're talking way over my head. I am but a humble "user"!

As far as I understand, the guys hosting my website currently use a Windows Server.

I'll pass on your feedback - from what you say there really shouldn't be an issue with OS X Server...

Thanks again!

All the best

ed
 

Go3iverson

Registered
As far as I can see, there shouldn't be, but there could always be platform specific applications they're using. Make sure to post back their opinions or feel free to email me. I'm always curious to see how these work out! :)

Mike D
 

applewhore

Registered
I'll certainly report back to give their answers...

I've written to them pointing them in the direction of this thread, but it's "the weekend" in London where they're based so I don't expect an answer before Monday..

Thanks!

ed
 

MDLarson

Registered
We just got an Xserve for a new business and while I don't have any experience with hosting web content on it (yet), I can say that there was a steep learning curve for me, a traditional "user". I am very GUI oriented myself, and was hoping that features in Mac OS X Server would be absolutely obvious.

Well... it might be for the average IT guy, but almost everything I was trying to do was brand new territory for me. I wouldn't want to get into details, but generally speaking, it is not an iMac where there is step 1, step 2... and no step 3.

Overall, I'm finding things are coming along and am pleased with the way Apple has setup Mac OS X Server.
 

Captain Code

Moderator
Staff member
Mod
I know of 2 web hosting companies that rely solely on OS X Server on XServes. There's xrackhosting.com and itsamac.com

They are running OS X server and have been for a while without any problems. It sort of sounds like the people that told you there were problems don't really know what they're talking about and are just saying that to keep you with what they know.

My dad's has his company website on an XServe from itsamac and there's been zero down time in over a year.
 

applewhore

Registered
Hi MDLarson and Captain Code

Thanks for your replies...

MD - I can understand that the there would be a steep learning curve if I were trying to set this up myself as an end user, but I would have thought that, for the guys who do web hosting for a living, if you can understand one system you can understand another. (Obviously, that woudn't work if you were going from Apple to Windows! ;))

Anyway, congratulations on getting to grips with it - most impressive! I guess if my guys are seriously worried about it, then it might not be such a good idea at the moment. We're about to launch a Windows version of our software, and the traffice we generated on just the Mac version brought everything, including our ISP (supplying us with a 5 megabit / sec line) to a halt... I need everything to be 100% stable.

Captain Code - great to hear the experiences of your father's hosting on an Xserve - zero down time is a lofty goal - and he's achieved it... I hope to join him in Xserve land sometime soon...

All the best

ed
 

Go3iverson

Registered
I'd think if you have folks that run the servers for you, you should be more than fine. While Panther/Tiger is far more advanced than the 10.1 Server I began with in my dorm in college, I was able to get Web, Streaming Server, etc all running fairly easily back then, without any prior server experience, if that makes you any more confident! :)

You'll see a larger learning curve for more advanced uses, obviously. Most basic setup is pretty straight forward. Since your looking at Web serving, here's a quick run down:

- Use Server Admin to open up the Web service
- Create a new Site designation
- Specify the IP of that site and port to serve it on
- Select the path to your web content for the site
- Specify your default pages, Error page and Admin email

With just those steps, you can have a basic website up and running. Now, of course, you have options to specify Proxy servers, add in additional Apache modules, set up special MIME types and content handlers for your whole webserver. For specific sites, you can check box your way to include a performance cache, which will imporve your throughput on static content serving, enable webdav, webmail and CGI execution, as well as creation of realms, set up logging options, SSL and aliases.
 

applewhore

Registered
Thanks for this, Go3iverson - I'll make sure to pass on your advice!

All the best

ed
 

Viro

Registered
If you're going to run an Xserve, make sure you know the command line well. I've found that Apple's tools aren't too ... flexible. They work well and are very simple to use, especially if you have _some_ knowledge of administrating a system. Even if you are a complete newbie, the documentation is very good and you'll get started in no time.

One thing I might suggest though, if you are going to run your own Xserve, get a video card. The Xserve I'm working with doesn't have a video card, and everything needs to be administered remotely. Blech! Don't try to save a few dollars by skimping on the video card. You'll find it handy some day.
 

Go3iverson

Registered
Viro said:
If you're going to run an Xserve, make sure you know the command line well. I've found that Apple's tools aren't too ... flexible. They work well and are very simple to use, especially if you have _some_ knowledge of administrating a system. Even if you are a complete newbie, the documentation is very good and you'll get started in no time.

One thing I might suggest though, if you are going to run your own Xserve, get a video card. The Xserve I'm working with doesn't have a video card, and everything needs to be administered remotely. Blech! Don't try to save a few dollars by skimping on the video card. You'll find it handy some day.

Awww, c'mon! Running Xserve's headless isn't that bad! :)

It sounds to me that he's going to have a hosting team work on them for him. If they're not too familiar with the technology, a video card may help them a bit, though I'm not 100% sure what they can accomplish with video that they coudln't between SSH and the Server Tools. If they're not going to be at the location with the Xserve after installation, they'll want to get VPN running ASAP and possibly consider ARD 2 to help them, if they want to see the desktop.

A video card does come in handy if your having difficulties with your machine, though, that's for sure, especially if it's a network related issue, so SSH might not be your first line of defense! :)
 

scruffy

Notorious Olive Counter
They only have single power supplies? What an odd design choice...
 

Go3iverson

Registered
scruffy said:
They only have single power supplies? What an odd design choice...
The Xserves have singular power supplies, while the Xserve RAIDs have two supplies. I've never had a power supply fail and you can buy a parts kit with one of most each key component for the Xserve.

Remember, the PowerMac G5's are large, thick, boxy (yet slick looking) units. They only hold two HD's, one power supply, one optical, etc. The Xserves are much slimmer, a bit wider and a bit longer, but have the same two processors, three HD's, optical drive, etc. They also include many more thermal sensors and fan arrays to keep that beast cool! :)

Personally, if I had parts fail in my Xserve, I'd prefer to use the failoverd route and let a secondary server pickup all of my services, so I can properly replace the components and give the whole unit a once over to be sure no other components are on their way out or damaged. Besides, the Apple reporting tools (Server Monitor in this case) are exceptionally detailed. You can almost know when your server is going to experience an issue before it does!
 

Ace

Registered
Incidentally, most other 1U rack-mount servers are single-power-supply as well. Shoehorning two power supplies in can mean some serious trade-offs in terms of the other things you can fit in there, or, worse, in terms of cooling issues.

I'd have to say, myself, that I think that using normal Mac software has really spoiled me. I frequently use the GUI tools for MacOS X Server, and frequently find myself thinking, 'Oh, come on, this could be SO much easier to use. I mean, really, if you just put this here instead of there, it would be obvious how to do that, and then you could make a sheet that took...' Well, you get the idea. I see the tools as being very crude UI compared to the rest of the Mac.

Occasionally I am shaken awake enough to realize how good they still are, compared to the competition. A group in my company had to set up an OpenLDAP server (Apple calls it OpenDirectory) for a project we're doing. Windows makes this... well, semi-easy, with Active Directory, but it would have cost up about $4000 extra to do it on Windows, plus the admin tools are really strange and nonintuitive, and automating new user creation from java has some serious pitfalls when it comes to AD.

We started to do it on Linux, and it took us almost a week to figure out that it was going to be a major pain to get it set up, and a disaster waiting to happen when we upgraded our Linux boxes to a new distro in a couple months. And then I said, 'Well, won't this just work on the backup box we have down at the colo site? I mean, it's not really doing anything much, so we can at least prototype it that way.' And the box is one of the older xServes, a G4/1.33 gHz, if I recall correctly.

So we opened up the tools, took a look. It wasn't set up as an OpenDirectory master, which I thought would be a problem. Two clicks later, it was no longer a problem. And fifteen minutes after that, we had it set up well enough that we could start prototyping our stuff.

Since then, we've had three other projects get stuffed onto that machine, because it 'isn't doing much, right?' and is so amazingly easy to set up and use... compared to the other ones.

So, really, they're right... the Mac OS X Server tools are crude and non-intuitive. Which means that they're only a hundred times easier to deal with than the competition.
 

applewhore

Registered
Thanks, Ace!

So far, no real disaster stories! I particularly liked your closing comment!

I'm working on it...

Thanks again

ed
 

Pengu

Digital Music Pimp
I'm using Workgroup Manager and Server Admin, (plus ARD in some cases) to manage my G4 server and I can't quite get what you mean about "crude" and "non-intuitive"

Ok. they don't have a Wizard for everything. whoopy doo. one would hope you have SOME idea what you're doing before fiddling. The UI is clean, crisp Aqua. The buttons/menus do what they say. Some things require a bit of technical know-how to understand (Firewall config, for example) but to assume Apple can make a management tool that is idiot-proof is asking a bit much.
 

Go3iverson

Registered
I would have to say that the admin tools are nicely refined. Some folks take issue to them since you still might need some command line experience to unlock specific features of the OS or to do some finite configurations, but most of those topics would be fairly advanced anyway.
 
Top