Earlier this month I’ve built and deployed a new server using ClearOS to replace Mac OS Server. So far this has been a most enjoyable experience so much so that I often forget the server is there. That’s how good it does it’s job. It didn’t bother me once and just does what it’s supposed to do. Great!
Over the first few days obviously I logged in repeatedly to check on things, tweak the settings a bit and discover the “odd” and strangely exciting Linux bits and bobs about the system. Not that there was much to discover really since the web configuration works really well for the most part. Some menus are a bit non-logical or, to my mind, silly to navigate. But overall it works really well.
And that also makes for little words. It works, it works well. And there isn’t much more to be said. But that’s a bit short…
I like how ClearOS is set up. It’s fairly easy to do. Additionally they introduced a marketplace where you can get free and paid modules for the OS like adding new services or daemons to the system. This makes for a modular system that can be tailored to your specific needs. Unlike Mac OS Server where you’re kinda forced into a default package and constantly have to be reminded about the Mail, iCal, and whatever other services you don’t use. None of that in ClearOS. Don’t use a module? Don’t install it. Simple as that.
The dashboard is clearly designed by someone who likes to do things the easy way. Which is good, because it makes it easy to use and still offers all the required options. Daemons offer more than an on/off switch and can be configured quite a bit, depending on the service of course.
And it’s stable and fast, so far, not a single hick-up that I experienced. Which to me is paramount.
A glance at the past
To give you some insight – The “old” network had one Mac OS Server, doing everything in terms of network and web services. So it handled DHCP/DNS/VPN/Httpd/MySQL/Filesharing and Open Directory. Back then the server ran Mac OS 10.6 Server and it worked relatively well.
Then Mac OS 10.7 Server came around and I’ve upgraded some software preventing me from running Mac OS 10.6 but the experience was less than stellar. The OS was plagued by bugs, incompleteness and just poor software. Quite undesirable for a server.
Somewhere in this period I’ve added another server for Minecraft handling AFP (Filesharing) and it shared Open Directory with the other server (in a Primary/Replica setup). This created a bit of a divide in services. The original server would handle networking and media streaming and the new one Minecraft and related services.
Even later Mac OS 10.8 came along which fixed many of 10.7′s shortcomings but introduced much more. The lack of DHCP for one. A broken DNS server. Horrible VPN performance. Oversimplified management that allowed for nothing. And overall just a poor experience and worse performance. So after a while I was just fed up with it and bought a PC to run a Linux server on it.
So what does the network look like now?
ClearOS solved almost all the shortcomings I found with Mac OS Server. So currently there are 3 servers. Along with several devices like switches and wifi accesspoints.
1. ClearOS 6 – DHCP/DNS (with an actual domain)/httpd/MySQL/VPN
2. Mac OS 10.6 Server – Minecraft server, MySQL (For Minecraft), AFP shares
3. Mac OS 10.8 Server – Open Directory, SMB/AFP shares, Media Server
As you can see all the essentials are on the ClearOS server. Insuring greater stability. And all the fun and less important stuff is on Mac OS Server. If one of them breaks now it’s annoying, but it doesn’t take down the entire network.
So far the ClearOS machine has performed quite well. It seems very capable of doing what it needs doing. Users of my network commented that looking up websites and local machines works much faster and actually gets them where they need to go.
And overall networking speeds for streaming media seem to have improved a bit. Possibly by taking away the burden of network services from the media server.
I sincerely hope ClearOS will at some point will support a few more “community” tools like BitTorrent (Transmission!) and Plex Media Server. Also I would like to have native support for AFP and Bonjour (Netatalk/Avahi) since aside from one PC we only use Macs and Samba has some limitations we do not wish to encounter.
Once these things are addressed I can phase out the Mac OS 10.8 server then, too. Obviously with some work I can replace the Minecraft machine already, but Mac OS 10.6 server runs just fine and I like having a desktop for it. It makes running the machine that much easier.
Conclusions? If any…
Apple seems to have abandoned real servers in favor of cheap toys. This is supported by Apple discontinuing the xServe and storage arrays a while back. Having no dedicated hardware to run a server on. Why bother making a real server OS. It’s a pity.
With quite some (semi-)Professionals now left in the dark with Mac OS Server I believe that they too will give up on using Mac OS Server, if not already. And will start looking for alternatives. ClearOS and similar organizations now have a better opportunity than ever to step into the gap and offer their products. And so far they do a great job. However, I don’t think ClearOS is a replacement for Mac OS Server if you’re using iCal and Address book services. Even though there is a groupware package called Zarafa, that’s more aimed at replacing Exchange servers.
But, if you need a stable, fast and pretty server OS for your network. You should definitely look at deploying one or more ClearOS systems. They have a free unsupported community version and a professional version for a annual fee starting at only $80 USD. This includes all kinds of support and services. For companies that’s a bargain!