R.I.P., macOS Server. What was once a true non-Windows/Linux server solution for all-Mac businesses is now just a pale shadow of its former self. If you followed our 7-part series on macOS Server in 2017, you’ll know that this server software could do it all: host email, contact, and calendar services, provide a web server, file sharing and wikis, be used as a common backup place for Time Machine, and even set up a full directory server for a business using Open Directory. Most of those services are now gone, with macOS Server’s one remaining useful piece being Profile Manager — a tool for deploying, configuring and managing Apple devices.
What Functions Does Profile Manager Provide?
Simply stated, Profile Manager lets administrators control all Mac computers and iOS devices in an organization while not providing the many services usually associated with a real “server”. Administrators can set up profiles for different types of users, then assign those profiles to user accounts for mail, calendar, contacts, and messages. However, they can’t actually host email, calendar, contacts, and messages anymore. Those services need to be hosted elsewhere.
Those same administrators can configure system settings to a company default, enforce certain restrictions, and set PIN and password policies (for example, use a complex password and change it every 90 days). The users can now reduce part of the administrator’s workload, since Profile Manager gives users access to a web portal where they can download and install new configuration profiles — this can be useful if a user needs certain permissions for a new project they’re assigned to.
Profile Manager’s web portal also gives those users a way to clear passcodes and remotely lock or wipe their Mac or iOS device if it is lost or stolen. Finally, Profile Manager is useful in distributing apps and other content to users based on their user profiles. That other content can include PDF, EPUB and iBooks Author files, so organizations can easily push corporate documentation to users.
For Macs, app distribution replaces a user’s Apple ID by assigning Volume Purchase Program apps to individuals who need them. Companies can choose to disable the App Store, which ties down apps available to a user to those that are approved by the company.
Can’t Profile Manager’s Functions Be Performed By Third-Party Services?
Yes, they can. One of the more widely-used configuration services for Mac and iOS is provided by Jamf, which has solutions for both small businesses and large enterprises. Jamf Pro, for example, gives administrators a way to simply hand a new user an Apple device and have the user completely configure and populate the device with apps purchased through the Volume Purchase Program through a connection with Jamf. The service also gives admins a way to keep an eye both on individual devices and apps, as well as lock down security.
Another highly-touted management web app and platform is Addigy, which also gives administrators a way to create and deploy configurations for Macs and iOS devices. It links with Apple’s Volume Purchase Program as well, making software deployment and license management easier for admins.
Where Can Administrators Look For Services Like Email, File Storage, and So On?
Companies large and small can no longer rely on having their own macOS Servers to handle tasks like hosting websites, email and calendars, or even providing a common file storage location. Fortunately, there are other solutions…
In earlier posts about macOS Server, we pointed out that using cloud-based solutions could be an answer for many organizations. For example, Google’s G Suite is a comprehensive service that provides collaboration (email, calendaring, messaging and video chat), shared storage through Google Drive and Cloud Search, a common suite of apps (Docs, Sheets, Forms, Slides, Sites, Keep and Jamboard), and a set of administrative tools to manage users, devices and data. The cost starts at $5 per user per month, which in many organizations is less costly than setting up and supporting an in-house server.
Some organizations may not want proprietary data stored in the cloud, which is why self-hosted storage solutions like the OWC Jupiter Callisto Shared Storage Server (see image above) can be a lifesaver. With web-based management tools, Jupiter Callisto administrators can configure storage, manage users and permissions, and more.
As mentioned in an earlier article, cloud applications can be mixed and matched to provide custom solutions for just about any organization. For example, perhaps G Suite is used for email, calendar and shared contact services, Dropbox for storage and file sharing, and Slack for collaborative efforts.
In a way, the slow demise of macOS Server seems ill-timed, particularly since Apple recently beefed up the Mac mini — commonly used as a small business server — and has pointed toward the release of a new Mac Pro in 2019. On the other hand, the widespread availability of low-cost cloud-based services has reduced the need for organizations to deploy servers and hire IT staff to keep businesses running.