Enterprise Unix Roundup: Spot the Leopard in the Enterprise?

Enterprise Unix Roundup: Spot the Leopard in the Enterprise?

December 5, 2007

Brian Proffitt

Normally here on the Roundup, we give a lot of press time to the Big Three of the Unix world — HP-UX, AIX, Solaris — and not so much to other Unix flavors. But they're out there: Digital UNIX/Tru64, IRIX, A/UX, z/OS (partially) and (now) Mac OS X 10.5.

Back on November 20, The Open Group, gatekeepers of all that is true and proper in Unix trademark-land, gave the official okey-dokey to both the client and server versions of OS X 10.5, known colloquially as Leopard. By "okey-dokey," I refer to the official UNIX 03 standards, naturally.

Getting Unix certification is probably no big deal for Leopard client users who have been mesmerized by the cool "I'm a Mac" commercials and OS X's snazzy interface. But on the server side, does it help make OS X more of a player in the enterprise space?

Reviews of Leopard Server, like those of Client, are typically positive. Most users find the Server's list of features pretty solid and steady; however, much of the enthusiasm reserved for the Client is not in abundance for the Server. In general, everybody has been pretty subdued about this version of OS X.

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Okay, let's face it, it's a little hard to get excited about things like an iCal server, or groupware functionality, or even virtualization — all features added or kicked up quite a bit in Leopard.

It's much easier to get all woozy about the Client stuff, like Time Machine's cool animations that, as near as I can tell, don't do much other than hyp-mo-tize you. From an enterprise standpoint, though, Leopard looks ready to go.

But there seem to be some limitations to Leopard on the server side that might hold it back. According to my colleague John Welch over at Datamation, there are some fleshing-out issues still to be worked out.

As a few people know, I'm a big fan of SNMP, and in Mac OS X 10.5, and Mac OS X 10.5 Server, SNMP got a huge update. But still, to set it up on server, the only thing you can do with Server Admin is to turn it on. To configure it, you're deep into snmpconf and the .conf files. Really, it's not hard to put a decent UI on this.

If Apple was smart, they could lead the way towards encouraging the use of SNMPv3, which allows for encryption and 'real" authentication. NTP setup? On/off. No way to set any options. Same thing with SSH.

Welch also has concerns that the Directory service seems to only display the first 500 entries. "Directory will not display all records if there are more than 500 entries in what you're displaying. You can't even manually select it." Even though Directory does indeed support more than 500 users/groups, this limitation could be inconvenient enough to take Leopard Server out of the enterprise-level deployment category and into the department- or division-level niche and the domain of small to midsize businesses (SMB).

It's not just this one reviewer. Joe Brockmeier, a solid Mac user who's also the new editor in chief of Linux Magazine, put forth an excellent point in his examination of OS X Server. In terms of available hardware platforms, there's a relative scarcity of options compared to other Unix servers:

Assuming I'm willing to buy hardware through Apple, what are my options? You have the 1U Xserve, which is a respectable 1U system that can handle up to 32GB of RAM (at a whopping $23K for eight sticks of 4GB RAM ...), two quad-core Xeons up to 3.0GHz, and three drives, and you have the Xserve RAID for storage.

"And that's it ...

Troublesome, indeed. Without flexibility of platform choices, it seems unlikely Leopard will be deployed on the enterprise level any time soon.

Curiously, OS X is in a mirror market position compared to its distant cousin Linux. OS X has solid desktop market share and offerings, and not so much in the server arena. Linux, on the other hand, sports a kick-butt server deployment record and a spotty history on the desktop side. Both operating systems could stand to learn more from each other, but the historical animosity on the part of the developer communities makes this unlikely;.

Even if Leopard Server isn't ready for the enterprise yet, getting it into the SMB or departmental space is still an important task, since this is an area Microsoft would love to push into ... just as soon as it figures out how to fix its own desktop woes.

Brian Proffitt is managing editor of JupiterWeb's Linux/Open Source channel, which includes Linux Today, LinuxPlanet, and AllLinuxDevices.