Managed User Environments and Computer Deployment
One of Mac OS X Server’s powerful components is Open Directory, which enables administrators to centrally manage a number of factors about users and computers in a network. One of the most advantageous features of Open Directory from an end user perspective is that it enables a user to log in to any computer in a network using the same user name and password. If network home folders are used, that user has access to the same home folder, preferences, and experience regardless of which computer he is using. Open Directory also includes support for mobile computers that leave the network and for managing the user experience to control which applications and Mac OS X components a user might access or to automatically set user preferences.
I mention managed user environments and Open Directory because they are a major facet of Mac OS X Server and can be used in very powerful ways. Most small businesses won’t need to make extensive use of these features. However, for any business that has public computers or where you need the utmost control or security of a workstation, they’re worth investigating.
As with Open Directory, the advanced deployment features of NetBoot and NetInstall are not likely to be something small businesses typically need. However, it isn’t impossible that users in a small organization might need a way to rapidly set up and deploy or erase and reinstall Mac OS X workstations. All Mac OS X 10.4 computers can run Apple Software Restore—a command-line tool for rapidly deploying Mac OS X computers complete with applications and settings from a disk image. Apple Software Restore actually predates Mac OS X Server and will suffice in almost any situation in which you don’t need to do mass deployments on a frequent basis.