I love answering a question with a question. Is asr still in OS X? Is NetInstall still in OS X Server? Can OS X still NetBoot? Does System Image Utility still work? The answer to all of these is yes. Therefore, the answer to “Is imaging dead” is clearly no. Is it on its way out, maybe. Debatable. Is it changing? Of course. When does Apple not evolve?
What have we seen recently? Well, the rhetoric would point to the fact that imaging is dying. That seems clear. And this is slowly coming out of people at Apple. The word imaging is becoming a bad thing. But, as a customer recently asked me, “what do you do when a hard drive fails and you need to get a system back up”? My answer, which of course was another question was “what do you do when that happens with an iPad?” The answer is that you Restore.
What is the difference between an Image and a Restore? Yes, I meant to capitalize both. Yes, I realize that’s not grammatically correct. No, I don’t care. It’s my prose, back off. But back to the point. What is the difference between the two? Am Image can have things inserted into /Applications, /Library, and even /System (since it’s not booted, it’s not yet protected by SIP). An Image can have binaries and scripts automatically fire, that Apple didn’t bake into the factory OS. On an iPad, when you Restore, you explode an .ipsw file onto disk that can’t be altered and acts as an operating system.
The difference here is that one is altered, the other isn’t. Additionally, iOS ripsaw files only contain drivers for the specific hardware for a given device (e.g. one for iPad Mini and another for iPhone 6). But, you have pre-flight and post-flight tasks you need to perform. Everyone understands that. Think about automation via profiles. You can run a script with a profile. You can apply a profile at first boot. You can install a package (the future of packages is IMHO more debatable than the future of images) and a .app with a profile. These might take a little more work than it does with a NetInstall and System Image Utility. But then, it might not. You’d be surprised what’s easier and what’s actually harder (for now) with this new workflow. Complexities are more logistical than technical.
So, Imaging is dead, long live Restoring? Arguably, any older workflows you have will be fine for some time. So any good article has a call to action somewhere. The call to action here is to try to subtly shift your deployment techniques. This involves implementing a DEP strategy where possible. This involves putting the final nails in the coffin of monolithic imaging. This involves moving to as thin an image as possible. This involves (I can’t believe I’m saying this) de-emphasizing scripting in your deployment process. This also involves completing the move that you’ve hopefully started already, from MCX to profile or mdm-based management.
What else do you think this involves? Insert running commentary below!
Mountain Lion Server is now available on the OS X App Store and as with the last few updates there are some things missing that you might be expecting and depending on. First up, three major services are gone: Podcast Producer, RADIUS and dhcp. You can still do dhcp as you always did with OS X client as those features work on OS X Server, but the more granular controls available in OS X Server are now gone. The biggest impact of dhcp is probably in testing NetBoot services when there are network issues and you need to prove to network admins that it’s the network and not your server…
I had written an article before about FTP still being in OS X Server from the command line, but now it’s back in the GUI, which should make many an administrator happy. NAT is also gone from the GUI, but natd and natutil are still available from the command line. Might as well just use the Sharing System Preference pane for such things though… Server Admin is now gone (long live Server Admin!) and Workgroup Manager is now a download to be performed and installed following installation. Support for Managed Preferences is gone, even though most manifests technically still work.
Many services also got some pretty nice updates. These include:
Calendar – There are a few updates on the client side, but not on the server side. Most notably, the option to publish calendars is now gone. If you used that, it’s time to get used to manually exporting, copying to a share and then distributing links. This is going to likely cause more use of the Calendar server itself, to some degree. Also, it’s not iCal or iCal Server, it’s now Calendar and Calendar server. Seems to me that this isn’t obviously an Apple-centric naming structure as with most other things they do, but sometimes you’re gonna’ have that…
Contacts – Nope, it’s not called Address Book server, it’s the Contacts service. Same with the client side application.
DNS – DNS management is moved into the Server application. You can also now restrict who you do lookups for in the GUI. Under the hood very little changes.
File Sharing – Nothing really changes with file sharing, except the wiki integration described in the Wiki section in a little bit.
FTP – It’s a quick and easy single share solution from the GUI. Using the sharing command there’s still tons available to administrators.
Mail – Authentication mechanisms and domains are in the GUI, but very little changes otherwise.
Messages – The service name has changed from iChat to Messages in the GUI but is still jabber from the command line. The big change with this service is that the client side is now able to leverage iCloud to instant message mobile devices as well. Therefore, the text messaging component is client-side and has no impact on the jabber service itself.
NetInstall – The “NetInstall” service is NetBoot. It can host NetRestore or NetInstall images, but the heavy lifting for that stuff is done in System Image Utility. And the output of the SIU commands are now more scriptable through the automator command line interface. The NetInstall screen is now in Server app and is a good port from Server Admin in that it’s similar in look and feel to the NetBoot screen in Server Admin. A feature that isn’t in the GUI is diskless NetBoot, which is fine because I documented how to do it when I realized it would be an issue for a few customers.
Open Directory – Given that Server Admin is gone, something had to happen with Open Directory. The Open Directory screens have been moved to Server app where it’s fast to setup and tear down Open Directory. Open Directory based Users and Groups are also created through the Server App, although Workgroup Manager can be downloaded and used still. Immediately following upgrades, the add and remove users buttons are gone for previously stand-alone hosts. Also the Manage Network Accounts option is now gone from Server app, replaced with the traditional ON button supplied by Apple for other services.
Profile Manager – This deserves its own post, which is in the queue, but suffice it to say that while you can’t tell when looking in Server app, there are a number of upgrades to Profile Manager.
Software Update – Management of the service is moved from Server Admin to Server app. There are now fewer options in the GUI, but the same in the command line. Cascading is a little different.
Time Machine – Time Machine server is the same… The versions option from the Time Machine Server preference pane is gone and the layout is a little changed, but the server component is identical in functionality as well as look and feel.
VPN – Unless you add another supported VPN protocol there’s not much to do after fixing most issues in 10.7.4. Except fixing the last issue with search bases, seemingly resolved as it’s working for me pretty well.
Websites – There are more options in the GUI for new sites. The default site appears twice (once for 80 and once for 443), but there are more options, such as the Web App functionality that comes with a default Python “Hello World” app. Also the server is still called web from the serveradmin command line, but is now called Websites through the GUI.
Wiki – The wiki has themes again, although they’re just color schemes. And you can create your own custom banners and upload, which brings back two of the most common feature requests from people that hack the look and feel of the wiki in versions previous to Lion. But the most substantial aspect of the Wiki to change to me is the document management options, available to users in WebDAV or through the portal. This allows for a very mobile-friendly file management tool. Blogs and wikis for the most part stay the same and have a very clean upgrade process from Lion. The command line tools also feature some new options for indexing, etc., which many will find helpful.
Xsan – cvadmin, cvlabel, cvversions, etc are now stored in /System/Library/Filesystems/acfs.fs/Contents/bin/ and Xsan has its own entry in the Server app. Despite hearing people question its future, I’ve never seen as many questions flying around about how to do things with Xsan than I do now. Storage sales are up, monkey chatter on the web is up, deployments are being booked and Xsan looks here to stay. The Server app only really shows you a status of things, but the Xsan Admin app is now embedded in the Server app and available through the Server app Tools directory.
Configuring Websites in Server app
The Alerts options are much more robust in Mountain Lion than they were previously. You can now get alerts on a myriad of things, incuding certs, disks, space, storage quotas, virus detection, network changes and software updates.
Configuring Alerts in Mountain Lion Server
The Server commands also moved and in fact the whole file and folder structure mostly fit nicely inside of the Server app. There are certain things that haven’t been dealt with in this regard such as NetBoot’s library, but for the most part Apple is getting Server to the point where it’s very self-contained. The ramification of which is that upgrades for future releases (and from Lion to Mountain Lion for that matter) are much simpler. Simply downloading a new version informs administrators that the app has been replaced and is good to go, service data in tact. In real world, this has been a little hit or miss but should prove to make our lives much easier in the future.
Reducing scope, aligning with better development practices and all the work to merge all of the remaining services into Server app are huge undertakings. I would fully expect no further support or updates to Workgroup Manager, no more testing of managed preferences in deference to profiles and a few other culture shifts that still need to shake themselves out. Most of us are going to seem underwhelmed (if that’s a word, no it’s not ’cause I looked it up -> awesome video below --> ’cause affection has 2 fs, especially when you’re dealin’ with me). But here’s the thing, with an incremental update, you’re not going to get massive changes. Instead we will get slow and steady updates hopefully continuing to build faster towards a better end goal. What’s important is that the foundation is actually better now, given changes to other parts of OS X and so Server is likely now better positioned than ever for great new features in subsequent releases.
Oh, and did I forget to mention that Xgrid is gone. I guess no one really noticed anyway…
The directory services command line (dscl) command can be used to create a group. Here we’re going to use dscl to create a group called Local Admins (or ldadmins for short). First up, create the group:
dscl . create /Groups/ladmins
Now give our ladmins group the full name by creating the name key:
Why create a group with just one member though… We can’t use the create verb again, with dscl or we’ll overwrite the existing contents of the GroupMembership field, so we’re going to use append instead:
The “.” that we’ve been using has been interchangeable (in this case) with /Local/Default. Now let’s look at making a little shell script to do a few of the steps to use with imaging, touch a file called createladmins.bash and then give it the following contents:
But if you’re building your image from a host that has already fired up once then there’s likely to be a 2GB or 4GB file called sleepimage in /var/vm. This file is recreated on startup if it’s not present and needed. This will allow you to reduce image sizes by 2GB to 4GB. If you want to get rid of the file permanently on your imaging station you can run the following command:
pmset hibernatemode 0
Since you’ll likely want systems to use this feature run the command on your imaged clients with a 1 at the end to re-enable it.
Another item to look for is documentation. There is a lot of documentation located all over your systems. htdocs, docs, etc are great folders to look for to find various help files for Unix apps and sometimes entire web portals that you aren’t likely to use.
Of course, there’s Garage Band and all of the other iApps (and their supporting files in /Library/Application support) but you likely disabled these on install and will be deploying them as post-flight packages (if not let this serve as a nice little hint to do so).
At this point my base image is now 3.2GB. I have also removed some of the unused .kext files in this image and placed them into a stand-alone package, but I don’t know that I would recommend doing this in most environments unless you have one hardware build total.