Mac OS X 10.7 Lion Server review

A server operating system that costs just £35 and is easy to configure must have a catch. Ian Betteridge ventures gingerly into the Lion's den to find out in our review.

Lion Server is a bit of a mixed bag. It remains an incredibly easy server operating system to set up, and the new Profile Manager is extremely powerful (if your installed base runs Lion, of course). But compared to its predecessor, some standard server management processes are actually harder to achieve, and there are elements which used to be catered for by a GUI but which you'll now need to go to the command line for.

compared to its predecessor, some standard server management processes are actually harder to achieve.

For enterprise users, particularly ones who have not upgraded their user base to Lion, there's little to recommend Lion Server over Snow Leopard unless you need Profile Manager. Although there are some nice new elements, more things have either been pushed back into CLI-land for configuration, or simply removed altogether.

These customers, of course, are also the ones most likely to be concerned about the lack of a rack-mounted server from Apple, and least persuaded by the options of using either Mac Minis or Mac Pros. Given, though, that Lion Server can live happily as part of an Active Directory, Windows-based server environment it's arguable that some Lion Servers could find a home even in the enterprise, simply for Profile Manager.

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For small and medium business customers, Lion Server is more attractive, particularly for companies without full-time systems administrators who nevertheless need server capabilities. Buy a configured Mac Mini Server, and you can be up and running services for your users with an hour, with minimal configuration afterwards. You'll have something that, out of the box, is more capable than a simple Network Attached Storage device, and can be expanded a lot further too.

In some ways, I wonder if Lion Server isn't Apple trying the same trick that it pulled with Final Cut Pro X: ignoring its existing high-end user base, even taking features out, in order to build the foundations of something better.

So what's our verdict?

Verdict

For small medium businesses, Lion Server is a bargain-priced and easy to configure server operating system. For enterprises, it's not as clear cut given Apple's numerous odd design choices and lack of rack mountable hardware, but the Profile Manager alone may make it worth deploying a single Lion server in an otherwise Windows or Linux-dominated environment. Lion Server won't be suitable for everyone, but at this low price there's little to lose in trying it out for yourself.

Processor: 64-bit dual core Intel processor

Memory: 2GB or greater

Operating system: MacOS X 10.6.6 or later

Hard disk: 7GB required for installation

Broadband internet connection

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