Alternatives when migrating from macOS Server

Apple’s recent release of macOS Mojave heralded not just the latest operating system version for their desktop computing line but also significant changes for organizations relying on the Server component, which provided essential and critical services to keep businesses humming along.

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The changes made to the Server.app and macOS deprecated many of the core networking services used the world over to conduct business. Specifically, major services such as DNS, DHCP, and email to name only a few, are now no longer available through macOS Server. This means that as of version 5.7.1, organizations utilizing these services will find that it ceases to function.

SEE: Server deployment/migration checklist (Tech Pro Research)

Luckily alternatives to the excised services are readily available for all enterprises, budgets, and knowledge bases. You may even find that—depending on the requirements of the software packages your enterprise chooses—existing server hardware may be repurposed to support the migration to new service providers.

Note: Before making any changes to your existing infrastructure, please be sure to fully comprehend the requirements necessary to ensure that migrated service(s) run properly before decommissioning existing services.

What stayed?

  • Profile Manager
  • Open Directory
  • Xsan

The list of what remains included and fully supported in macOS Server is short. Namely, Apple’s directory service, MDM, and clustered computing offerings were the only services to make the cut.

What changed?

  • File Server
  • Caching Server
  • DHCP*
  • Firewall*
  • Time Machine Server
  • Websites*

The services that changed were essentially moved from the Server.app component to macOS Mojave itself. These services reside in the core macOS now and are also supported by Apple, with some caveats.

File, caching, and Time Machine servers were moved to the Sharing preference pane in macOS Mojave and may be configured on any client device. While the remaining services remain in a modified format. Firewall is integrated into the Privacy & Security preference, while Websites—utilizing the Apache Web Server native to Unix—may be configured via Terminal only. DHCP may be configured via Terminal or the Internet Sharing Service in the Sharing preference, forcing the client to act as a bridge for all devices communicating through it to use dynamic addressing.

*Note: While these services are native to macOS Mojave, its functionality is not as robust as it was before when managed through Server.app. Admins may wish to implement dedicated versions of these services, which typically allow for more robust configurations and provide greater scalability and support.

What left?

  • Airport Management
  • Calendar
  • Contacts
  • DHCP
  • DNS
  • FTP
  • Mail
  • Messages
  • NetBoot/NetInstall
  • Radius
  • Server Docs
  • VPN
  • Websites
  • Wiki

As you can see, the list is extensive and is comprised of more than 90% of the core services used by organizations to run their businesses. While it is sad to see it go, several great tools can be used in place of these functions that work just as well—if not better—and have extensive support communities built up around the functions and its daily use.

Airport Management only has one option and that is the Airport Utility downloaded from the App Store. Furthermore, with router and switch technologies continuing to advance and considering Apple’s announcement to discontinue support of the Airport line in mid-2018, it is only a matter of time before organizations begin to use third-party networking equipment if they haven’t already.

Linux distribution

DHCP, DNS, FTP, and Websites services are the most important services for enterprises to connect to and utilize the Internet for getting work done. And while their loss is lamented, admins with Mac CLI experience will feel right at home spinning up these services on any Linux distribution. For those still learning their way around Linux or simply prefer a GUI-based package manager, Ubuntu, and CentOS are two excellent Linux distros that offer a nice blend of performance and usability that will have you configuring DHCP scopes and DNS nameservers in no time.

Native to Linux is SFTP and SSH—two excellent and secure alternatives to unsecured FTP server commonly seen in the wild. Lastly, host your own websites like the professionals do by leveraging Apache to create virtual hosts and manage settings for all your hosting needs.

SEE: Side-by-side chart of popular Linux distros (Tech Pro Research)

Windows-based services

On the Windows side, versions of Windows Server going back to 2008 include these services, with Internet Information Services (IIS) serving as the web hosting platform. Additionally, all Windows-based services can be extended to non-Windows clients, as well.

Calendar, Contacts, and Email serve as the lifeblood of an organization by allowing users to manage appointments and communicate with and share vital client information with other users. The whole ecosystem works hand-in-glove and can continue to do so with hosted services available, such as G-Suite from Google or Office365 from Microsoft, which provide hosted email and collaboration tools which are platform agnostic and can be used on computers and mobile devices alike.

For self-hosted services, Microsoft Exchange provides management of all your communication needs, while Postfix provides rock-solid mail server services on Linux servers. Kerio Connect can be deployed either as single or multiple servers, virtualized, or cloud-hosted, also providing calendaring and contact serving as well.

Back to Linux for a sec, CalendarServer—an open source WebDAV and CardDAV-compliant server developed by Apple is available to manage client appointments and information, as is Radicale.

Messages server was a great productivity and collaboration tool for businesses to communicate and share ideas with. Alas, it only applied to Macs, and given the structure of iMessages, each Mac can communicate with other Macs in a decentralized model over the network, it was only a matter of time before this feature became unnecessary. Furthermore, in today’s socially-driven landscape, all devices should be able to communicate regardless of platform, and with great hosted offerings such as the work-focused Slack or all-encompassing WhatsApp, Google Hangouts, and Microsoft Teams services, there is no shortage of great software to stay in touch. For hosted apps, Openfire is an excellent alternative that requires minimal resources and is also platform agnostic.

SEE: 20 pro tips to make Windows 10 work the way you want (TechRepublic download)

NetBoot/NetInstall is a dying technology between APFS and Apple’s T2 security chip being included on all current and future builds of the desktop and mobile computer line. The secure boot implementation found in the T2 chip makes the deployment process typically executed by NetBoot/NetInstall null and void. However, for those that may be running legacy devices and are not looking to make the jump to APFS or Mojave, NetSUS and BSDPy for Linux both offer the environment necessary to continue to use these deployment technologies.

RADIUS, the technology used on networks to authenticate users and/or devices against directory services has an open source offering in FreeRADIUS for Linux. Admins with an existing Windows Active Directory environment can add the Network Policy Server (NPS) feature to implement the Microsoft version of the RADIUS authentication protocol—both of which work quite well and are platform agnostic.

Server Docs is another in the line of Apple-only services that was overshadowed by technologies that leverage standards like WebDAV to provide a seamless, platform-free way to create, edit, and share documents with users around the globe—not just those with Mac computers. Today, cloud-based storage giants such as iCloud Drive, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Box, or Dropbox all offer better, simpler, and more reliable tools for next to nothing compared to the fraction of performance of Server Docs.

VPN service

VPN service is an absolute must for all remote connections—double-down on that when you have to manage access from a mobile workforce using any public available hotspot. There has been a growth of private VPN providers marketed at consumers, but corporate clients are better served with rolling their own server based off the industry standard: OpenVPN. Whether being run from Linux or Windows, or as a virtual appliance through Azure, AWS, Google Cloud, or in-house hypervisor, OpenVPN provides the security and privacy businesses need to protect data over untrusted networks. Additionally, many corporate router manufacturers provide a built-in VPN server to establish and maintain connectivity to the internal network from remote locales. Cisco also has a great product with its AnyConnect Secure Mobility client if your organization uses Cisco Routers.

SEE: Vendor comparison: Microsoft Azure, Amazon AWS, and Google Cloud (Tech Pro Research)

Lastly, Wiki is an excellent example of software that is typically underutilized but highly useful for sharing information that is ever changing and must be editable and cross-referenced. There are different wiki engines available that accomplish mostly the same goal, however, MediaWiki stands out as being among the best available, plus its open-source nature means its available for both Linux and Windows IIS.

Have you migrated your environment from macOS Server services? What pitfalls did you encounter or software gems that made the transition smooth? Share with us down in the comments section.

Also see

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Image: nortonrsx, Getty Images/iStockphoto

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