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An Informative Look at Lion Server | Macminicolo Blog - Tips, tutorials and reviews on running a Mac mini server

An Informative Look at Lion Server


Recently, Apple gave a preview of their two upcoming operating systems Lion and iOS 5. They both look great. Along with Lion, they also gave more info on Lion Server. I've noticed a good number of questions about Lion Server, and considering my day job, I thought I'd dig in and get familiar with it. Now that I have installed and cloned and downgraded and cloned for a few hours, I'll share my findings here. I'll answer some questions I've been sent about upgrading, pricing, and the operating system in general. (Though, we can't view it as an "operating system" anymore. More on that later.)

Two things to keep in mind before we start:

  1. Whether a Macminicolo customer or not, please don't consider this official and absolute advice. This is still beta software and some of it may change before Lion is officially released. For the MMC customers, we'll be sending out an email as we get closer. 

  2. This isn't a tutorial on how to setup Lion Server. We'll be providing that a little later and will make that available free. (Follow @macminicolo to know when it's ready.)

Alright, with that said, let's run thru some items. 

The Upgrade Process

Lion and Lion Server will be offered via the Mac App Store. Naturally you need version 10.6.6 or higher of the OS you are currently running since the Mac App Store was made available with that update. The price will be $30 for Lion and $50 for the Lion Server app. 

I've seen a lot of confusion on what the upgrade process will be from different operating systems, how it will work, and how much it will cost. So, let's run thru it. According to my tests, here is what it will take to get to Lion Server.

  • Snow Leopard - $80 - First you will upgrade to Lion. Once there, you'll be able to run the and it will walk you thru the setup process of starting services, creating users, setting your hostname, etc. 

  • Snow Leopard Server - $80 - You can not upgrade to Lion directly. If you try to run the Lion installer on Snow Leopard Server, it will first look for the in the "Application" folder of the Mac. 


When you have that in place, the installer will first install Lion. Then, when it restarts, it will walk you thru some very minimal steps for the (hostname confirmation, admin email, etc). At that point, the will take your Snow Leopard Server settings and upgrade them. This will include migrating OD to 10.7, updating LDAP, importing data, etc. This can take some time. 

Once it is done, you'll see the new and the services will be active. For the most part, my testing has shown a smooth transition though I think it will get better with the official release. If you've done a lot of work manually with the CLI, prepare for things to break. They always do. Also, gives some informative notifications on errors and how you might be able to fix them. 

  • Lion - $50 - If you buy a Mac that comes with Lion, you will download Lion Server from the Mac App Store and run it in place. The initial download will be small, but as you install, the Mac will download additional components of the install. Once installed, you'll walk thru the process of adding users, which services to setup, etc. It's a very, very simple upgrade. 

  • Lion Server - $0 - Since the Lion Server components are now available from the Mac App Store, some people have assumed that all Macs will come with Lion and leave it to customers to upgrade once installed. But, in a confirmed tip to Macminicolo, when Lion is released, there will still be server versions of Mac Pro/mini and will come pre-installed with Lion Server. (So, when you startup, you'll go thru the regular process of creating users, services, etc.)

Other Tidbits


 First: Lion and Lion Server can be upgraded remotely. This has always been possible on a LAN, but not remotely. (Just ask our list of customers who tried to upgrade or re-install their Mac minis from afar. We were glad to jump in and help.) But with Lion, you can start the upgrade process, give it about 25 minutes to install offline, then it will come back up ready for the configuration. Also, Lion creates a recovery partition that you can boot into as it will keep the network settings. In a business like ours, this is huge. 


Second: OS X really, really doesn't like it when you change the hostname of a machine. It's possible, but certainly not fun with the command line. To do it completely, it usually takes a clean install of the OS. With Lion, it's still not recommended to change after an install, but at least it gives you a GUI to do it now and explains the different options for hostname. 


Third: By default, Server Admin is not installed. Right now, it's available as a separate download. And you'll need to install it if you want to access things like DHCP and DNS. Instead, you'll use (and Apple recommends) Services like iCal and iChat are only available in

It's clear that Apple wants to make Lion Server very simple for the many small business who will run it. For instance, the firewall settings are found in System Preferences rather than because that is where it's familiar to OS X users. 

This brings me to my final point.

Where is OS X Server headed?


Lion Server is not an operating system. Phil Schiller was clear about this in the keynote:

Server isn't another operating system. It's just a bunch of applications you can purchase to run on top of Lion. 

Here is one way to look at it:

When you want to get serious about photography on a Mac, you ditch iPhoto and upgrade to Aperture.

When movies get important to you, you move from iMovie to Final Cut. 

And when System Preference -> Sharing isn't enough, you make the $50 upgrade to the Lion Server app. 

This is not going to make everyone happy. Enterprise will consider it not "Enterprise ready."  Instead, it is very simple for small business.  And Apple likes this because this means they sell a Mac, iPhone and iPad to every employee of the business. In fact, I'll put it this way, the software has been lowered in price because it's availability will sell more hardware. 

Lion Server is going to be a great upgrade. The Profile Manager, Push Notifications, and iPad document sharing will be very popular. I'll have more thoughts/insights on it later as we near the official release of Lion. (And feel free to send me questions @brianstucki.)