Setting Up A Caching DNS Server on OSX Server

I’ve been running the same Linux server for about 10 years. Consequently, its pretty slow and outdated, and when I finally had time to upgrade it to Ubuntu from SuSE 9 while I was on vacation, found that I couldn’t really get anything but Ubuntu 8.04 installed on it. So it was time for an upgrade.

I opted to go with a Mac Mini server – for a few reasons. The price was basically comparable to an Intel server with the same technical specifications (minus any kind of CDROM drive, which I found out later) – but the big selling point for me was the amount of space I could save in the office with the Mini. A side benefit was, of course, being able to play with Snow Leopard Server.

After the initial set server setup – which was painless – my first task was to create a caching DNS server so that all of the machines in the house could point to the same place they were when the Linux server is shut down. One of the primary purposes of the Linux server over the years, aside from being a file server, has been to cache and manage local DNS for the machines in the house. I already had plans to run an Ubuntu Server in a VM on this box to replace my aging Linux box (I still need Linux around), but didn’t think it was acceptable to have to boot the machine, THEN a VM in order to have DNS working. I also did not want to do a DNS setup on a box by box basis on every machine in the house.

I was a little confused at first. I’m used to configuring bind directly. After some googling around and not finding much of anything around doing this on OSX Server, I posted a tweet asking if any of my followers knew of a HOWTO that would explain what I needed to do.

I actually tweeted a little too soon. I think I found the settings about 2 minutes after the tweet went out. It was way easier than I thought it would be and I thought I’d throw up a quick step-by-step tutorial so that folks wanting to do the same thing could save themselves a couple of seconds.

So here we go.

In the dock, find the “Server Admin” icon and click it. It looks like this:

OSX Server System Admin

OSX Server System Admin

When the “Server Admin” Tool opens, you will see the main screen like the following. The blue arrow is pointing to the domain you specified while setting up the server.

OSX Server Admin Tool Main Screen

OSX Server Admin Tool Main Screen

Open up the domain for your network, and you will see a bunch of services to configure. Select DNS as shown in the following screen shot:

OSX Server Admin Services Menu

OSX Server Admin Services Menu

Once you select DNS in the side navigation, select “Settings” at the top. This will show you the following screen:

Server Admin DNS Settings Screen

Server Admin DNS Settings Screen

You’ll see a box conveniently titled “Forwarders”. Add the IP addresses of the DNS servers you would like to forward requests to in this box by clicking the ‘+’ key and adding each independent IP. As you can see here, I am primarily using Open DNS with Google DNS as a backup. Trust me, contrary to the picture, OpenDNS is first.

Once you have entered your DNS IP addresses, click “Save”. Point your boxes to the IP for your Mac Mini server and voila! You have a caching DNS server.

I hope this was helpful. For those of us who are used to configuring bind with vi, it may be a little confusing or intimidating to try to mimic this functionality on OSX Server. As you can see, its really a no-brainer – and no text editors need be opened.

Leopard Upgrade Completed

Well, I got my MacBook updated to Leopard last night. I chose to upgrade over Tiger, despite reading quite a few articles recommending against it like this one. Truth be told, I read those articles after the upgrade process had already been started – so it was kind of too late to turn back.

I’ve had few issues. Leopard did wipe out my printer settings that I worked so hard to figure out (this apparently happened to others as well). I thought there was some extra magic that I had to do, as I set up the printer last night multiple times with no ability to print. As I started to look at it this morning, it wound up the Windows machine went to sleep. Once I woke it up, the printer worked fine. I suppose this would have been an easy thing to check last night but I stopped work and went to bed, opting to let Spotlight and Time Machine do their thing while I got some sleep.

All of my applications seem to work fine. I did have to reinstall the FeedBurner Dashboard Widget, and Twidget seems to be a little flaky, but honestly I can’t tell right now if its the widget or Twitter itself. I also had to update the Cisco VPN Client to version 4.9.01.0080, which I found on MacUpdate.

Overall though, everything looks fine. My impression of Leopard over Tiger at this stage can be best characterized in one word: “eh”. Time Machine is cool and I can see it will make my life much easier than manually backing things up to my external drive. Coverflow in the Finder is cool, but I can’t see a practical use for it. Spaces will be great, if I can figure out how to use it.

I guess its fair to say I just haven’t spent much time with it yet. Time will tell whether it was worth it or not. I’m just glad the machine booted.

iTunes Finally Converted to MacBook

iTunes Converted - Song List

Well, after about two days of file copying, I finally got all of my iTunes stuff moved over to the new Mac. Why did it take so long you ask? I’m not really sure.

Copying between the Windows box and the MacIntosh using Windows File Sharing just didn’t work unattended. It kept failing for some reason. After about three tries at that, I decided to install cwRSync so that I could restart incrementally, but for some reason, this would not run unattended either, and I didn’t want to spend forever running back and forth between the family room and the living room (where my desk is).

Finally I decided to copy my iTunes library up to the Linux server. I started it at about 7:00am and by 7:30-8:00pm on Tuesday the file copy had completed with no interruptions. On Wednesday, I started an rsync from the Linux server to the MacBook. Another 12 hours later and that was complete.

I had heard horror stories about moving this stuff around if you had purchased music and was a little worried that I would have to spend a lot of time getting the machine authorized and stuff like that. Not so. As a matter of fact, I found these instructions on moving your iTunes library with metadata and they worked without a hitch. I now have all of my music on the MacBook. Nice!

I really do like this environment a lot better than anything I’ve used in the past. I’m not clear as to why I had all of the copy failures I had from machine to machine, but thankfully I’ve got the trusty SuSE server to back me up.

Its the little things you notice …

Now that I have a few days on the Mac using it full time, I figured I’d post up some first impressions from a new user. More than that, observations from a new user who resisted the Mac when all his friends told him to go that way in the first place.

  1. When the light in the room gets too low, the keyboard lights up. At first glance this seems completely insignificant, but again, one of those little things that shows the care that goes into the design. It was definitely a pleasant surprise. In a normal company, something this “frilly” would have been cut to remove costs – but as a customer I was absolutely delighted by it.
  2. I like not having a key on the keyboard for every little thing. The modifier key thing is totally working for me for page up / down, etc. Its extremely intuitive once you figure it out (and it doesn’t take long to figure it out).
  3. Using two fingers to scroll with the mouse. Tom the Architect told me about this one. Much more intuitive than a touchpad with the right side dedicated to scrolling.
  4. For years I’ve been irritated with people turning auto hide on the Windows taskbar. For some reason, auto hide makes sense to me with the dock bar. Not sure why, but the whole metaphor of the docking bar works for me on levels that I couldn’t get with Windows
  5. I love the idea of one menu at the top of the screen, rather than a menu in every application. This also works for me on a number of levels.
  6. The overall look of things on the screen is beautiful compared to my Gateway box. Same applications, completely different feeling when looking at them.
  7. Installing software is really a brain dead process. Its the way software should work. On the other hand, I’m going to have to get used to not needing so much detail to get something working. I think I’m finally at the point where I’m ok with this. Must be a sign of getting old.
  8. There is absolutely no need for a “View Full Screen” option on any of these applications. I have enough of the application visible whenever I need it. I can even collapse the top of the window to get more room. Its a little thing, but another one of those “Wow” moments.

Overall, I’m completely impressed. While my initial resistance to going Mac had a lot to do with the price, there are so many little things that I’m finding that are valuable enough to make me feel better about the purchase price. You get what you pay for and I’m quite happy with the new purchase.