Waiting on Leopard Server

Martin Levins
11 February, 2008
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Our current network-enabled, instant-messaging, mobile-phoning, BlackBerry-toting world demands immediacy. With shiny things calling like sirens we try to deploy the latest and greatest for our students.

In an attempt to satisfy the crowds baying for new we look to Leopard server to provide Web 2.0 goodness but, down here at the institute, we’ve discovered that this emperor is scantily clad. It should go without saying that computer systems need stability, otherwise users will lose confidence and, rather than striding out, leading staff and students to learning Nirvana, you’ll just be taking a walk.

Like others, I’m impressed with the functionalities that the new server promises, but we’re not there yet. We’re still outside Leopard town, approaching the city boundary and looking forward to the bustling metropolis that we can glimpse ahead.

At the time of writing, we’re up to version 10.5.1, with the next point upgrade around the next turn, or perhaps over the next hill. Disappointingly, it’s 10.5.3 or even 10.5.4 that will bring true stability to the server platform.

Until then, the rumours are that the bug in Directory services that prevents recovery after a crash will remain unsquashed. It’s described here for those who need detail, but the long and short of it goes like this:

Apple Filing Protocol (AFP) is the thingy that manages storage and retrieval of data from fileservers. Before it delivers or accepts data, it checks with the Directory Services thingy to see if the user has the appropriate credentials for what he or she is trying to do. Success here establishes an AFP session.

Here’s the rub: when Directory Services crashes (we’ll have to just accept that it does) it will recover, but AFP is then blissfully ignorant of the "new" Directory Services and won’t allow the user to do anything.

The current solution is to restart AFP, but how ugly is that? Better to stay with Tiger for AFP and use Leopard Directory Services. With 10.4.11, this works well. (Note: you’ll need to update servers to this latest version of Tiger as it has been specifically prepared to work with Leopard servers.) Of course, you may say that you’ll stay with Tiger servers for everything, but then you miss out on all the shiny new features, one of which is Parental controls. Forgoing this is a dealbreaker for my school, so we’ve got to upgrade our Open Directory to Leopard.

How many schools are in this position? How many have one server, or are trying to convince the powers that they need one Mac server? It makes it hard for small installations and switchers.

Apple has made its Darwin code for the Mac OS Open Source, and has used many Open Source software solutions in its offerings (albeit with a distinct Apple flavour). This is a Good Thing: the Open Source community is strong and usually fixes problems quickly. Unfortunately AFP is not in this category.

Changes to make the Mac a better player in mixed Mac/Windows environments are similarly Good Things, but there is still fear and trepidation abroad, and a failing AFP doesn’t exactly imbue confidence. I’ve got to ask this: How does a server product pass Quality Assurance when it doesn’t serve?

Or do they also serve who only stand and wait?

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