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Thursday, August 15, 2002


Apple Xserve Setup

Today, I had the opportunity to set up one of Apple‚??s new Xserve file servers running OS X server. It was a whirlwind setup, as the client needed it in place before heading off on family leave. In just a few hours I was able to migrate off of one server and onto the Xserve.

Firstly, I was impressed. The installation went smoothly. Apple has done a very good job of putting this unit together so that your average computer geek can set it up in about 30 minutes to an hour. The machine is notably faster than the existing PowerMac G4 server. Call me an old-timer, but I also like the status lights on the front of the unit. I like knowing the status of the machine at a glance.

The unit is much larger than I thought it would be. The photos I had seen only showed the cool front panel display, so I never got a feeling of what the rest of it might look like. While the unit is only 1U high (about 3‚??) it is almost 3 feet long! It runs the entire length of the rack. My client had already installed the unit in the rack, so I didn‚??t have to worry about that, although he did say it was a bit cumbersome. I actually had to pull the unit out of the rack in order to jot down a serial number needed for setting up the software. (I later realized that I could have gotten the number off the outside of shipping box. Oh well, live and learn.) The unit is cumbersome to remove and re-insert into the rack, but hopefully you won‚??t be doing that very often.

I can agree with all the other reports I have heard about the unit...IT IS LOUD! The fan noise is quite prominent and would quickly annoy you if you sat in the room too long. This is definitely not a server you can stash in a bread rack or other open installation if there are people nearby.

If you don‚??t plan on using RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) you can start using the system right out of the box. If you do want to use RAID, you need to reformat the drives, setup the RAID and install the Mac OS Server software again. Something that Apple doesn‚??t make very clear in their documentation. (See below)

To setup the Xserve, you run the Server Assistant Program, either remotely or locally, supply the necessary network information and start adding users. The included Server Admin and Server Monitor applications are solid and allow you to do almost all setup and management remotely if you wish. Our unit will be managed remotely almost exclusively.

If you are planning on configuring the Xserve remotely, I came across a tech note that recommends connecting the Ethernet cable to the built-in Ethernet port. Otherwise, Server Assistant might not find it on the network. This seemed to be the case with our unit.

There is also a problem with the Server Monitor if you are running in an environment without DNS services. This tech note will explain the issue and help you to correct it.

We wanted to make a RAID mirror out of the 2-120GB drives we had installed. This required attaching a monitor and keyboard (as far as I know) and booting from CD-ROM. Once the CD has loaded, you can run the Disk Utility program to create the RAID. With that completed, you can run the Mac OS X Server Installer to install the default configuration. All told, it only took about 1 hour to restore the unit to working condition.

Since I was migrating from an existing PowerMac G4 Server , running Appleshare IP 6.3, I was pleased to find the ASIP 6.3 Migration tool in /Applications/Utilities. After logging into the existing server using and Administrator-level account, the migration tool was able to read the existing Users & Groups Data file and recreate the user structure on the new server.

Once the users were in place, I copied all the existing data to the new server, set the privileges so users could see their data and (after a few minutes of testing) made the server accessible to all the users. Despite a few small cosmetic changes, their access to the server is much as it was before. They have little to no indication that the server has changed, except that it seems much faster than before.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive review of the Xserve unit, only a quick note on how our, rather typical, installation proceeded. I had no previous experience with the Xserve, but using the manuals and provided software, I was able to proceed with the setup with little trouble. As I spend more time with this unit I will pass on any other info that might be useful.


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