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Using Apple OS X Lion Server as a Home Server (Part 1)


[box type=”tick” style=”rounded” border=”full”]Download the Using Apple OS X Lion Server at Home eBook Now

If you’ve been enjoying our Using Apple OS X Lion Server as a Home Server series, then make sure you pick up a copy of the accompanying eBook. You’ll find additional chapters and information on using OS X Lion Server to power your digital home that won’t be available here on the site, and with all of our walkthroughs available in one convenient document (ePub or PDF), it’s far easier to install and configure your server without having to click backward and forwards to the website.

Buy Using OS X Lion Server at Home – £14.99



[box type=”info” style=”rounded” border=”full”]Articles in this series…


Come close, because I’m going to tell you a secret. Having owned and used a number of Windows PCs for years at home – desktops, laptops, netbooks, tablet and media centers – they’re on the way out. In fact, most have already been replaced by Apple Macs. For a variety of reasons, that I won’t go into in this particular post, the various Dells and HPs are now in storage. My wife and I are using MacBooks as our primary mobile computers and the office has an iMac.

We’ve made the switch.

Not fully. There’s still the mini-HTPC under the TV which runs Windows 7 – Media Center + Media Browser is still a fabulous combination for consuming media, and I’m not sure Plex can knock that combo off its perch – yet. To be fair, it started as an experiment – one which I fully expected to be short-lived. There’s bound to be pain points. After all, no one makes Mac software, do they?  But you know, here in 2011, they actually do – and anything that must run in Windows? Well VMware Fusion is simply pheomenal.

It’s not that Windows 7 is bad – it’s actually very good as a cleaned up edition of Windows Vista. But having closely followed the innovation coming out of Redmond in the last ten years, and having adopted most of it, the world’s now a different place. Different personally – I have a one year old running around, and a second baby imminent – and very different too from a technological and sociological standpoint. Microsoft simply haven’t kept up with the times in a way that’s meaningful to me today. I no longer have the time to dig into registries, work through multiple layers of dialogs of varying vintages and tweak obscure settings just to get stuff to work – sure, it’s still necessary for my work here at WGS, but at home with the wife and kids, I need to juggle my time and that means tech needs to just work. Windows 8 may be a great shift for the company, and the geek in me is interested in seeing whether it’s truly a great leap forward or a healthy serving of catch-up. But from what I can see right now, there’s little to keep me in that ecosystem on the client side.

So, it was time to get a Mac. Whilst I generally find Mac vs PC debates excruciatingly dull, here was my own personal debate evaluating the switch. Cost effective? No. Is the family happy? Yes. Decision made.

So, we’re officially a mixed OS household, which has led to our production Windows Home Server 2011 machine being used predominately as a file server for entertainment and docs, plus a remote access portal from time to time. Oh, and that HTPC running Windows 7 never misses a backup. But despite claims to the contrary, and the best intentions of the developers I spoke to during the development of the platform, Windows Home Server 2011 is not Mac friendly. There’s no out of the box backup/Time Machine support (and heaven knows what’s happened to third-party support here), there’s a LaunchPad which at best is extraneous, at worst, interferes with elements of the OSX Lion upgrade, and ultimately offers very little, if anything, extra that you can’t achieve natively with OSX connecting directly to the server over the network.

So, Windows Home Server 2011 is doing fine in its reduced role, but the lack of ability to easily back up the Macs to the Server via Time Machine is annoying. QNAP have Mac and PC Support sorted. Synology, Drobo too. Microsoft….? Yes, I’ve seen the walkthroughs online on how to script your way to some kind of compatibility – but we’re back to the theme of hacking around to get things that should work smoothly to… well, work smoothly.

This week I received a timely tweet from a reader, Nicolas De Roo (@NicolasDR_), interested in understanding how Apple’s new OS X Lion Server platform would shape up as a home server. He wrote:

Terry, any chance of a review of the new Server “function” in Apple’s Lion? I’d like to see how it compares to WHS 2011. Lion’s $50 price point may have made MS lower WHS prices. Curious to see differences in value and possibilities.

Sounded to me like a great idea for a feature series here at We Got Served. I’ve no experience whatsoever with OSX Server, and what I’ve read online in the past suggests that running an Apple Server anywhere (never mind in the home) is borderline grounds for sectioning – why fly in the face of an industry-standard platform such as Windows Server 2008 R2? So, I went over to and checked out the OS X Lion Server website.




“The server for everyone”, eh? Sounds a little familiar. Okay, it’s qualified underneath by the terms “home office, businesses, schools and more”. Does that include (non-business) home use? Could OS X Lion Server be a valid competitor to Windows Home Server 2011 and the current set of increasingly attractive and capable Linux NAS servers out there. People need to know! (Well, Nicholas and I do for a start, maybe you too…)

So, join us over the next few weeks as we deep dive into OS X Lion Server to see how it measures up to the latest home server platforms out there. We’ll take a look through it’s features, hardware and software installation, ease of configuration and assess where Apple’s server platform is headed. Can Cupertino pull off the same ease of use and simplicity on the server that they’ve delivered on the desktop (and notebook, and tablet, and phone?) We’ll also assess OS X Lion Server’s suitability for the home – whether you’re in a fully Appled-up environment, Windows all the way, or like me, a mix of both. Should be fun.

So, whilst I’m getting things set up at this end, let’s open up the debate. Have you looked at OS X Server as a viable home server solution? Tried it out? What do you consider to be its strengths and weaknesses compared to Windows Home Server 2011 and NAS Servers from the likes of Synology, QNAP and others?

[box type=”tick” style=”rounded” border=”full”]Download the Using Apple OS X Lion Server at Home eBook Now

If you’ve been enjoying our Using Apple OS X Lion Server as a Home Server series, then make sure you pick up a copy of the accompanying eBook. You’ll find additional chapters and information on using OS X Lion Server to power your digital home that won’t be available here on the site, and with all of our walkthroughs available in one convenient document (ePub or PDF), it’s far easier to install and configure your server without having to click backward and forwards to the website.

Buy Using OS X Lion Server at Home – £14.99


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Terry Walsh is the founder of We Got Served. He started the community in February 2007 with a mission to help families, tech enthusiasts everywhere figure out the technology needed to run the modern home and small business. He's the author of a number of guides to Windows, Windows Server and OS X Server and runs his own successful publishing business. Born and raised in Liverpool, England, Terry has been awarded Microsoft's prestigious Most Valuable Professional Award each year since 2008 for his work on We Got Served.
  • Ben Griggs

    I've followed similar logic in my family's switch to mostly mac clients. I've also had similar frustrations with the new WHS. I'm looking forward to the series, and learning if the "it just works' mantra translates to Apple's server software as well. Financially speaking, however, since I already have Windows compatible hardware, it comes down to, do I want to spend $50 for a file server or $1000 for a file server? For $950, I'll do a little tweaking myself 🙂

    • Hey Ben

      Thanks for the comment – interesting you've gone down the same path on the client side. Wonder how widespread a trend it is?

      Good call on the cost of a new server! 😉 That said, as OSX Lion Server is now an app, in theory, it can sit on top of a standard client – so you could switch one of your clients over to acting as the server. The question is how well that machine can be used as a "client" once the server app is running. That's something I'll be checking out.

      Obviously there's a storage limitation to sort out, if you have a large media library, but certainly that's a scenario I'll be looking at…. looking forward to the series myself.


      • Ben Griggs

        Oh, so you plan to dual-purpose ome of your existing machines? I might do that for an evaluation, but still like the idea of a dedicated server. Two things I DO like about WHS 2011, compatibility with both Windows Live Mesh and Carbonite. Now all I tell my wife is "save everything to your local documents folder" and it's automatically sync'ed and backed up offsite. It's much easier, I could never get her to save stuff to the server folder before.

    • unraid_user

      If all you need is simple file services, that work with a Mac, you should look at unRaid. Switched to it from WHS V1 and haven't looked back.

  • Kashif

    Great idea terry, I am very much on board for the ride!
    I myself have been a long time Windows aficionado (started with school homework on my fathers Siemens MS Windows 1.01 box, beta tested Win98 and even done my MSCE) but was very disappointed by the progress since upgrading my HP X510 DataVault to WHS2011.
    I still like to tinker but even then I want my things to "just work" and this is not happening with WHS2011, at least on media streaming (Metadata disaster anyone?) and their OSX support side.

    • Glad to have you on board, Kashif! Maybe wanting this stuff to "just work" is a sign of getting old (LOL) but certainly the changes in WHS 2011 have led to users needing to be a little more hands on with the product, which is a shift from WHS v1.

      Will be an interesting experiment!

  • Marcel

    Hi Terry Walsh,

    Looking forward to this series about Mac OS x Server. I beta test WHS 1 and used it for awhile but got disappointed with Microsoft. I switched two years ago to Linux (Server).

    I have only have one Windows 7 machine at the moment it's 4 years old now and needs to be replaced next year. I'm think of buying a Mac. I experiment a bit with a Hackintosh to feel Mac OS X and I'm positive about it. The first thing you notice is the speed and the lightweight OS.

    Concerning my server… i don't know yet… Maybe a Mac Mini server. I've checked Plex it looks cool.

  • PhilipSmith72

    As an IT professional I was always firmly in the MS camp! Then 3 years ago I bought a PowerBook from a colleague… Pretty soon the wife and I were converted. I still have the HP media smart whs v1 running but now it serves a Mac Pro, and 2 MacBook Pro's. I love the whs for what it does but an all apple alternative is appealing. Looking forward to the rest of this article.

  • Seth Wickline

    My server is still a WHS v1 which is starting to show its age, and has been relegated to nothing more than a file server as well. I passed on WHS 2011 due to the loss of DE and have been looking to upgrade to something more capable, in both hardware and software. As such, I'm eagerly looking forward to this deep dive on OS X Lion Server.

    I too am in a mixed environment and a similar life circumstance as Terry, (young children, etc.). It became apparent to me about four years ago that I could no longer keep up with my "second job" as IT Engineer at Casa de Wickline. I bought my wife a Mac Mini, the first Intel C2D, and neither of us have looked back. I'm still on Windows myself, but only because I received Windows 7 for free for my 5-year old Dell C2D. However, the Mac is where all of our important stuff lives: photos, home videos, etc.

    • motr

      This is very much what is happening at my home. We used to have four Windows machines at home, now have WHS V1 and one Win 7 client and three Mac laptops. The Win 7 machine is aging and will be replaced by an MBA and then the only use for WHS is file sharing and Time Machine. Would be interested in experiences here on Lion Server…

  • Ldavies283

    Cheers Terry – yes I've moved from have whs v1 to whs 2011 running on a vm on the htpc to running just the htpc as the file server (might as well use the 2tb drives for something!) and from windows xp to vista to win7 to MacBook pro for nearly a year and now I'm on iPad because as others have said – it just works. Backup is sorted with #crashplan to the htpc which seems a lot more reliable than whs mac backup systems. Be interested in how this pads out 🙂

  • RevBernie

    With the combination of OS X's built in file sharing, iTunes Home Sharing and the upcoming free iCloud services, I see little reason for most households to be running Lion Server. The is especially true if you are or are on the way to becoming an all Apple household. That being said, the capabilities, ease of use and price of Lion Server make it ideal for home use if you need the additional capabilities. For the price of a Mac Mini, maybe a ram upgrade and the $50 to upgrade to Lion Server, you have one pretty awesome server for about $700. Throw in a Bluetooth keyboard and trackpad and you can be doing everything including web surfing from your couch if you hook it up to a TV with and HDMI port.

  • Tom

    Great idea, been very interested in OS X Server. I've always wondered if this could be a replacement for WHS as I have a bunch of Mac already and only really need iTunes to run my media and Time Machine for my backups. WHS v1 is a fantastic product and coming from an Apple fan boy, that takes a lot.

  • Peter

    I have a mixed household as well. Wife and kids still on Windows 7 and I made the switch. First with a Mac Mini next to my Windows 7 laptop and now iMac only. And then a Windows Home Server (first v1, now WHS 2011).
    I'll try to upgrade the Mac Mini to Lion as well (will require a bit of a hack) would be interested if the Mini Lion Server could use the shares of the WHS, so also on the server side best of both worlds.

  • Michael

    I'm actually moving from WHS V1 to a MacMini/Pegasus R6. It wasn't just the home server, it was that there are five machines and eight people in my house that use the systems, and WHS just could not scale (don't do 1M files+), with the marketing limitations – it was crippled. We'll see how well OSx Lion and available apps work…

    Some early notes – 10.7 Server is NOT what it was in 10.6. Apple is in the middle of simplifying the utilities, and I've already spent a bunch of time in the 10.7 version of admin tools. First big discovery, is that you have to use the "Server Admin Tool" (not the "") to enable users to logon remotely via SMB/AFP – so the Mac Client can connect to the Mac Server… two hours to figure that out.

    I've not found a capable replacement for WMC. I'm using EyeTV, but it does not understand the concept of "background service", and does not operate headless. I had to setup an EyeTV user, auto-logon the server to EyeTV user on boot, set the EyeTV user to auto start EyeTV on logon, and then drop into the screensaver…

    The jury is out still on how well OpenDirectory users+home directories is going to work with the very mobile laptops… So far, I've not been able to logon to a laptop with an open directory user when not connected to the local network…

    Gear is: MacMini (thunderbolt), Pegasus R6, (3) Lion Macbook Pro's, (2) HP Win7 Ultimates, an EX495, Two Sony Net TVs, an xBox360, Network Printers, and a small number of IOs devices. This is the reality of our homes now…

    • Hi Michael

      Would love to know how the Pegasus is working out – looks great, and Thunderbolt is phenomenal. There's definitely still a weakness in the Mac world as you say with regard to Live TV/WMC replacements – Plex is heading in the right direction on the latter, but it's not there just yet.

      As we'll discuss later in the series, Lion Server definitely look like a transitional product, but one which is definitely headed in an interesting direction…

      • OS X Server Noob

        Is there any solution to not being able to log in to a machine as an open directory user when not connected? Also can’t seem to log in more than one user at a time over the network (login window instead of log out).

  • John

    I've read through Lion OSX srver reviews and it seemed fairly simple, if running a lot of Apple systems it would be the better choice but if running Microsoft clients then the Windows Home server product was more useful. As my home network is mostly Windows machines (no Apple hardware) then Whs makes more sense for me. I've never had this epiphinay when using Macs in fact quite the opposite, having to support them has put me off them completely. Strangely my Windows machines work without issue or detailed tweaking unless I'm doing something more exotic of my choice which probably wouldn't be possible with Apple.

  • irgodfrey

    When is Part 2 coming, looking forward to learning about this! Many thanks

  • Chuck

    Terry thank you so much for starting this series. The only apple devices I use are iPhones, appletv’s and iPads, but with whs2 I’m loosing support for some tasks I did with whs1 and gaining a whole lot more headaches. I’ve been tempted to make the switch just for piece of mind and am very curious about your conclusions!!!

  • hakke

    My family switched back from macs to windows during 2009-2010. In 2007 we decided it was time to try something else than vista and bought five macs – one laptop each and an iMac. Later I bought MacMini as a HTPC. At first everything was a bliss. Until two of the laptops broke, iMacs hard drive broke and we couldn't change it ourselves, mysterious software and hardware issues started, time machine backups wouldn't work…etc. Nothing different from using vista PC:s.

    Now we have four laptops, two desktop computers – all using win7 – MacMini and WHS1 server. Everything works a whole lot better than in Mac-enviroment.

    And the reason for not using lion-server – because I was really thinking about it at first? It's not possible to use generic hardware but instead you must buy a whole computer from apple (of course, it's apple). Pretty expensive if you need something like 6TB's of space.

    • mat

      Same here… I purchased a Mac mini many years ago… Mac OS is nice, but when things break, lllloooookkkk out! I also ran support in a lab that had close to 1000 computers, maybe 20% of them Macs. The Macs gave us the most trouble.

      Heck, a Mac tech came out to fix a screen issue and broke one of the connectors. 🙁

      Windows 7 simply works…. not sure why it does not for some people.

      • tbar

        I so agree! I manage multiple servers and desktops at work and we spend much more time managing the Macs than our much more numerous Linux machines. At home I use Windows including WHS v1 since it came out and starting to use WHS v2 for a few weeks. I've been using Windows mostly because of the arguments of using Apple, I don't have to be an administrator at home. From what I've seen if you do things Apple supports with Apple products it mostly works. If not, they just haven't invented it yet.

        • JSivla

          I don't understand why having new kids requires new Apple hardware (Unless they are iKids). I tried the Original Version of WHS with the HP 4bay headless box. 4x500gb array. it was slow, and it failed. So I built my own out of a Dell i7 with 3x1tb sata array. this started giving problems too. My Answer was Dell PowerEdge T110 with Ubuntu. Why does people always come up with Apple is the only answer? I have more devices running windows 7 without ANY issues and at home. my mixed environment is Windows 7/ ubuntu Natty. 2 Mac Mini's are sitting in a corner gathering dust, and the only time I ever use my Powerbook (yes Powerbook 12' Titanium), is to sync my iPod. I have barely spent 2 hours for the last month, "administering" over 7 laptops and PC's at home. If 2 hours is too much, perhaps it's time for paper and pen or Slate and chisel.

    • It's a fair challenge, but remember, now that Lion Server is an app, you can run it on top of an existing Mac client – that's what we'll be doing on this series.

  • NickD

    Hi Terry! Thanks for the mention (it's Nicolas without the h though ;-)). Looking forward to reading all the parts of what seems to be a very interesting series of articles! Personally I am not a mac fan at all (price issue, difficulty of hardware customization…), but I am curious as Apple seems to be quite good at conquering niche markets and mass marketing them.

    • Whoops – edited (apologies!) Thanks again for the request – looks like a lot of people are interested in this topic!

  • AlfieJr

    I understand why folks have used home servers up to now. but for Mac households running mostly Mac software, with Home sharing, Screen/File Sharing, iCloud, AirPlay, etc., why bother from now on? yeah, until Adobe and MS come out with Lion ready updates, it's not quite as slick for them, but that is small potatoes. e.g., if you have a Mac anyplace, an iPad and Apple TV, you just don't need an HTPC anymore (I had one for years too).

    so what are the advantages for a home server from ow on? i think this series should have started with that.

    • More likely a separate feature, which we'll take a look at in the Autumn once iClod is released.

  • Alfster

    This will be an interesting read however I will resist the Borg and the Collective. I’m running WHSv1 but have brought up an Amahi server. So far the only thing I don’t like is adding another drive to the pool and would prefer to run it on Ubuntu which I know they are working on.

    • 🙂

      If the guys over at Amahi can improve ease of installation and drive management, then they'll have a great product, but as you say, there's a little way to go there…

  • bodogbodog

    You know Terry I might not be that far behing you in moving to Apple and Macs – I don't think Microsoft are quite as hot as they used to be…
    Probably take it in stages but I'm starting to seriously think about it!

    • Definitely take it in stages – OS X takes a little bit of time to get your head around – it's not complex, but is just different from Windows in some respects, so a little like using the wrong hand for a while.

  • gcerullo

    Hi Terry,

    First time visiting your site and looking forward to reading your take on Mac OS X Lion Server in the home. I've being running OS X Server in my home since version 10.0, first on a PowerMac G4 I purchase specifically for that purpose (this was before Apple released the dedicated Xserver hardware) and later on a retired G5 (still serving but unfortunately restricted to version 10.5.8) after I made the move to an Intel Mac Pro. Some things I wanted to point out from my own experience and understanding about Apple and Mac OS X Client and Server.

    Mac OS X Server has always been a bunch of apps and services running on top of Mac OS X Client it's just that now, in the Lion incarnation, the Server portions are being packaged and marketed differently. Where as before you would purchase the Mac OS X Server package, in either 10-client or unlimited client editions as a whole, now with Lion, you buy the Client version and add the Server functionality as a separate package, and at much reduced cost. So, in other words, previously when you purchased Server you still got all the same apps that came with Client in addition to all the extras that made it a Server.

    Now, I know next to nothing about Windows Home Server and Windows Server used in the enterprise but I can confidently say, as you will soon find out, that Mac OS X Server is much more akin to Windows Server used in the enterprise than it is to Windows Home Server.

    Mac OS X Server, even in the slightly simplified Lion incarnation, still runs Apache Web server, Postfix SMTP server, Dovecot IMAP/POP server, SpamAssassin/ClamAV/AMaViS, OpenLDAP in the form of Open Directory, Open SSL, WebDAV, CalDAV in the Calendar server, CardDAV in the Address Book server, RADIUS, Xsan, HTTP Live Streaming server, Wiki Server, XMPP (Jabber) in the iChat server, L2TP/IPSec and PPTP VPN server, AFP/SMB file server, Bind 9 in the DNS server, and on and on (check the specs for the complete list These are all enterprise class server services, most of which you'll find running on the Linux servers that power the Internet today.

    In that respect, although the vast majority of those services would not be turned on for a home server, don't be fooled by the price tag and the simplicity of the interface to manage them. Mac OS X Server can be a very complex beast if someone wanted to tackle some of the more complex configurations and services. In Mac OS X Server as in Mac OS X Client, Apple has done what they do best, put a friendly face on top of some very powerful and complex services.

    Now, not to get to far off the topic of your post, Apple realized that despite how powerful the software they deliver can be, people just didn't buy it for the enterprise capabilities it apparently has. The reality is that, in the enterprise, it's still seen as, at best, a departmental workgroup server. As such many people were not buying the enterprise class Xserves to host it on but Mac Pros or even just a bunch of Mac Minis and putting them in departments that needed them. The volume of Xserve sales just did not justify the cost of continuing to build and sell them. Apple has gone back to its roots of not building dedicated server hardware but rather selling their server software as an add-on to whatever hardware you wanted to run it on. Apple's only other foray into dedicated server hardware was in the mid '90s when they sold the Apple Network Server which ran IBM's AIX software and that was only for about a year.

    As Apple's Mac marketshare continues to grow and with the growth of Apple's iOS devises I fully expect Apple to make another foray into dedicated server hardware. As the demand to manage larger groups of Macs and especially iOS devices grows and the ability to rack-mount that hardware becomes more of an issue Apple will be forced to address that need once again.

    • Thanks for the excellent summary – you've provided a great overshot of the recent history of the platform! Thanks too for your first visit – hope we can persuade you to stick around from time to time…

      The interesting difference between WHS and OS X Server is that whilst Microsoft lock out much of the Enterprise class server features in their home server product (e.g. Active Directory support, Group Policy settings, global client updates), it looks like a lot of that kind of functionality is available within OS X Server under the hood, with some easy switches and settings wizards over the top.

      Whilst undoubtedly, there's a lot of depth in Apple's server platform, we'll be working through a compare and contrast of the core features that you really need in the home and seeing if you can firstly hit the same feature set as Windows Home Server, and from there, checking out what else you can do. I have a hunch that the simplicity that Apple are building into OS X Server may well make the product ideal for the home – at a time when Microsoft seem to be walking away from the market.

      I'm loving the feedback this series is getting, even just two parts in – keep the comments flowing!

  • Tim Barnes

    Hi Terry,

    Great article, I’m on board.

    I too am in the same boat, my wife and I have a 2.5 year little girl and another on the way, any day in fact. I need a network of computers that can serve up Snow White on the Apple TV 2 from the server, whilst backup an iMac and MBP and store movies, music, and a rather large collection of photos (iPhoto) my wife has, (she takes the photos and I’m responsible for backing them up and NEVER loosing them *gulp*).

    I currently have WHS v1 that served up to my windows boxes, but has limited life in my OS X and iOS household. I have considered a FreeNAS install, and also offerings from QNAP and Thecus. I’m not too keen on the FreeNAS because if it fails, I can expect a call from home asking to fix it, who knows maybe FreeNAS is bulletproof if setup correctly, but I don’t want to run the gauntlet and find out that the photos are gone. I need a set and forget system.

    Anyway, let the good times roll.


  • Eric

    The only thing that's stopping me right now is DNS. I would like my Mac at home to run Lion Server and be a web and mail server for a small group of friends. (About 20 people.) Also throw in the Wiki Server and we'd have a great way for our photo group that's been together for over 20 years

  • Eric

    …to communicate. My network is on Cox Cable (which blocks port 80 and 25) and I have an Airport Extreme. Ideas?

    (Sorry, somehow the end of my message got cut off.)

  • cmark

    Thanks for doing this series — very timely for me as I am just getting ready to download Lion Server and do a similar setup myself. I was searching to see how people used a Lion server for their home networks and to look for any guidance, so glad I found this series. We have several Macs, an old Windows computer I am planning to phase out rather than upgrade. I don't have experience with WHS … just the networks at my workplace and with Oracle/Sun Solaris environments, so am really looking anxious to follow along (and also implement my own).

  • benbtg

    Just discovered your post and I completely agree. As a long time Windows and WHS user I too have steadily made the switch along with the rest of the family and to be honest, we couldn't be happier.
    As a software engineer I'm perfectly comfortable messing with the registry, updating drivers and generally tinkering to get stuff to just work, but as a father I have far better things to be doing with my time and don't mind paying a small premium for an easy life!
    Following a recommendation from a friend I recently tried FreeNas for a few months and as expected found it to be far more trouble than it's worth especially recently since Lion was launched due to it's limited AFP and Time machine support meant my are no longer accessible without a huge amount of effort.
    So I'm definitely ready to go for an Apple solution but the only problem is cost. As much as I'd love to splurge £2k on a dedicated Mac Pro Lion server I'm on a bit of a budget so will have to find a more cost effective option! A Hackintosh is tempting assuming it isn't even more effort than FreeNAS.
    Any ideas?

    • As you'll see in part 2 of the series, you don't need dedicated hardware – we'll be loading Lion Server on to one of our existing Macs and using it for common client tasks, as well as for server use. That's £2k saved. 🙂

  • Wow does this sound familiar. I haven’t even started to read the comments above but I will assume you (we) are not alone in this “transition”. Been using WHS since day 1. Ex470 and now a 495. Getting ready to migrate data, wipe and eBay. Picked up my first Mac pro less than a week ago and it runs windows (Parallels for me) better than the actual PC. The wife, kids and myself all have Mac books and my Mac mini is my media center (xbmc). Moving to a Mac based file server is the next logical step it seems. I can’t wait for your final review. Thanks in advance for your input on this.

  • Jason Page

    I went through a very similar discovery process myself over the last couple of years. I had always criticized macs as being overpriced, over-praised computers that offered only marginal usability improvements over their Windows counterparts.

    I was wrong.

    I bought a Mac Mini about three years ago as an experiment to see what I thought of OS X. This was after an extremely painful Windows Vista failure that left me cursing the name Steve Ballmer.

    I could not believe how easy OS X was to set up and use. I still had my Vista machine but after setting up the Mini I was not using it any more. I work with Linux a lot at the office and loved the fact that under the hood OS X is still just UNIX.

    This experiment resulted in purchasing a Macbook Pro for my wife and an iMac for me. My support time for my wife went from a minimum of an hour or two of support every couple of weeks with her Vaio laptop to virtually zero support hours with the Macbook.

    In fact, when her hard drive died, I had the most painless recovery experience I have EVER had with a modern computer. I replaced the drive and had her up in running with all apps, a full virtualized backup of her Windows machine, etc, all in a couple of hours with almost zero effort on my part.

    I still have my WHS, but it has been demoted to the most minimal of uses, such as driving some surveillance cameras, running a few Windows only server apps, etc.

    For everything else now I am using a Synology DS1511+ which is a tank (and also makes a good Time Machine device).

    My wife still has a WHS at her office, which does nightly backups of all the XP PCs and serves files. It has been mysteriously going offline periodically for the last few months, so I am now looking into replacing it with either a Mac Mini server or a Synology box.

    • Jason Page

      I should also point out that when anyone points anything even mildly flattering about OS X or Mac equipment the Windows die hards rush out of the woodwork to complain about how hard Macs are to fix, etc. I swear, some of these people are on the MS payroll.

  • Nice post!  I did the exact same thing in 2003 when I too started a family.  My kids loved Macs, especially the single button mouse.  I liked that as a professional Microsoft developer, I wasn’t tempted to tweak the thing into oblivion.  But 8 years later, the equipment getting old, and the kids using PCs in school – that and frankly having at least 4 computers in active use – we’re back to Windows again.  Family Safety helps me centralize the parental controls, and Home Server ensures every PC on the network, and even my father and nephew’s PCs, are backed up.  They out grew the Wii too and moved to XBox.

    All I’m saying is – enjoy the Macs, I did.  Enjoy spending time with your kids even more.  But know that you may come crawling back as I did.

  • Hi Patrick

    Nice insights – hey, I’m always open to swapping back and forth – as well as running the two concurrently! Whatever platform works best for what’s needed…. 

  • Is it possible to the whole article as a single pdf document…

  • Sean

    agreed that the MAC add-in doesn’t replace just doing the steps yourself.  it’s not challenging and WHS2011 can report on the backups –

  • Just discovered this article series today. I’ve read a couple of the sections and it looks good. I have looked at a number of solutions for a home server / centralized storage solution and I believe that an Apple Server would be the best solution for me. I have looked at WHS, unRAID, various NAS boxes, and I have tested FreeNAS. I believe the combination of a new Thunderbolt Mac Mini and one of the Pegasus RAID enclosures from Promise would not only make a great Home Server but could also double as a Media Center box using Plex.

    I would like to run the Mac Mini as a home server from the living room where it could be directly attached to my HDTV. There’s enough horsepower in the new Mac Mini to playback 1080P video and to handle some transcoding tasks as well. In my household a Mac Mini acting in this dual purpose role could work fine.

    I have been using and supporting OS X servers at work since before 10.0. We had two of the original OS X 1.0 “Rhapsody” servers running for several years at the school district where I work. If you’re reading this and don’t know what I’m talking about Google “OS X Rhapsody”. I’ve always had a love / hate relationship with OS X server in an enterprise environment, but if you’re looking for a server with full and complete support for OS X clients it’s the best choice. It’s the only true server with full AFP and HFS+ support. If you want full support for Mac clients and forked files a Mac server is the best choice.

    Before someone corrects me, yes there is ExtremeZ-IP which you can load on a Windows 2008 or even on a WHS server but the minimum price for the software is $800. ExtremeZ-IP is a great product to enable full AFP support on a Windows Server and it’s worth every penny for a business but at $800 for 3 clients its cost prohibitive for a home server.

    The only thing that’s holding me back from setting up a new Mac Mini with a Thunderbolt RAID enclosure in my living room in double duty for a home server and media center is the cost. The base Mac Mini, the 4TB Pegasus RAID and a Thunderbolt cable with set you back about $1800.

    • Nice insights – completely agree with you on the cost. Not helped by the fact that Thunderbolt is being positioned as an Enterprise (Media Business) technology at this point, with costs that can be prohibitive for consumers. Fingers crossed those devices come down in price soon.

  • Adam Stockwell

    Well written article Terry!

    I came to a similar conclusion regarding the Microsoft vs. Apple debate about 3 years ago. It was prompted by the painful upgrade to Vista in our household which eventually led to arguments with my wife over the amount of time I spent trying to get all the devices on my home network playing nice with each other.

    I consider myself a relatively adept user of technology and have a long career in the computer industry working for companies like IBM and Oracle over the years, but in my opinion Microsoft has really missed the boat on dealing with the emerging technology landscape.

    Your point about end users no longer interested in playing the ‘geek’ just to get things working smoothly, not only is true of the consumer space (where Apple plays) but also of the enterprise where IT budgets no longer extend to complex implementations and high levels of end user training or support.

    In general I think we are all fed up with technology that doesn’t deliver, and if Apple can maintain their ‘ease of use’ story for both consumers and business I for one will happy to see the dinosaurs become extinct.

    I’m going to go out and get my self a Mac Mini Server today!

  • Terry,

    I just want to say thank you for this guide.  I am an IT administrator for a small company and I am preparing to upgrade our Snow Leopard Server to Lion.  I’ve scoured the web and put together my own little guide to follow during the process and the information you have provided has been the most thorough of all sources on the internet.  I really appreciate the work you’ve put in here.  I also run a tech blog on the side and I plan on writing a short article about Mac OSX Lion Server that points directly to this tutorial as I believe this guide deserves as much exposure as possible.  Thanks again!- Anson

    • Hi Anson – really appreciate it. Glad it’s been of help. Good luck with the migration!


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