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Administering a Windows Network on a Mac January 9, 2014

Posted by audiomatron in Uncategorized.
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This is my first post in a while. A few months ago, I made a commitment not to let this blog die again, and I plan to follow through on that commitment. However, rather than post just to be posting, I feel that I should not post anything unless it is worth posting.

I know this post has nothing really to do with virtualization, but rather more to do with “other tech goodness” as mentioned in my blog header.

For over a year now, my travel companion for work has been a MacBook Air. Even though I administer a PC network, I’ve found the MacBook to be a capable laptop when I need to do something beyond what can be done quickly and easily on my iPad. Still, even when I’m using my laptop, I spend much of the time remoted into a PC. I have for some time wondered if I could use a Mac to do my day to day work, but never really entertained the idea much further than that. That is, until a few days ago when one of my bosses told me that he wants his next work computer to be a Mac.

This boss of mine uses Filemaker a great deal, which he claims is “just better” on a Mac. He made further arguments that he never uses AutoCAD anymore, and that if there were a Windows program he needed, he would use Parallels. He prefaced the whole conversation stating that it would probably make me mad, but honestly, I saw no problem with it. This got my gears turning – could I use a Mac to administer my Windows network? There was only one way to find out.

 The Test Subject

I brought my 2008 Mac Pro from home to the office. I needed a desktop Mac so I could run my dual monitors and install it at my desk, thus forcing me to use it. I pilfered a hard drive from an old server, popped into my mac Pro, and loaded a fresh copy of Mavericks on it. I knew I there was no way around running certain Windows programs (like Newforma, Ajera, and some of my phone system admin software), so being the VMWare fanboy I am, I bought a copy of VMWare Fusion 6. My mac was ready for action!

 Joining The Domain and File Sharing

There are many articles on the inter webs about joining a Mac to a Windows domain, so I won’t go into specifics here. I did, however, have to take one further step. After Mac OS made the mobile account for my domain account, I had to log out, then log in to the local admin account, and make my domain account an administrator on the computer. Otherwise, I noticed certain things would not work correctly.

Our company uses our file server a LOT. Suffice it to say, I would need a good way to have access to our network “drives” easily on the MAC. To do this, I had to temporarily enable the feature in finder preferences that shows mounted network servers on the desktop. Once the shares show up on the desktop, I made aliases to each of them so that when the computer restarts, there will be a quick way to get back to the shares. I then disabled showing the network shares on the desktop to avoid having duplicates of everything.

 Server Administration and RDP

On Windows I am used to being to able to run the server admin tools (like ADUC, WSUS admin console, DNS admin, etc..) locally on my Windows desktop. I knew that this wasn’t going to happen on the Mac. Instead, if I needed to use one of these tools, I’d RDP into one of the servers and use the tool from there. For example, if I need to use ADUC, I can just remote into the domain controller.

For RDP I used Microsoft’s RDP client that’s now available on the app store. The old RDP client sucked, but this new one works very well. The RDP client allows the user to build a list of all of your remote servers. From there, it is a matter of double clicking on the server’s name to get into it.

Nearly all of my servers reside on VMWare vSphere. In the past administering vSphere with a Mac would have been difficult. However, now, since the release of vSphere 5.5, administering vSphere from a Mac is no problem! The preferred way to administer vSphere no is to use the web client. In Mac OS, Chrome or Firefox is required since the server consoles use HTML 5.

 VMWare Fusion

VMWare Fusion is the Mac equivalent to VMWare Workstation (or similar anyway). Basically, in this scenario, I loaded a copy of Windows 7 in a VM in Fusion, joined it to the domain, and loaded my Windows-only applications on it. Fusion has a cool mode called “Unity” that presents the Windows application’s windows as though they are running natively in Mac OS.

 Office

I have a copy of Office for Mac from my Technet account. What can I say? It’s Office.

 Other Observations

The only real issues I ran into were minor application specific things. We are an engineering firm, and I’ve noticed that we run some weird software compared to some “normal” companies. The applications ran fine in Fusion, but in particular there was application, Newforma, that I had one issue with.

Newforma is a project management program, and part of its functionality is that it allows easy filing and searching of project related emails. It does the filing via an Outlook plug-in. This plug-in, obviously, won’t work in the Mac version of Outlook (since it is for Windows). Also, Newforma relies on Office being installed in order to render content from Microsoft Office documents. So, unless I were to install Office in my Fusion VM, this functionality is broken, and it would be overkill, to me to have to copies of Office installed.

Conclusion

Overall, my experiment went very well. If all the PCs in the world caught on fire, and I had to manage my network with a Mac, it would be totally doable. Plus this has given my an excellent point of reference for how to integrate a Mac into my network in case my boss makes good on his plan to get a Mac.

Of course, I could have just P2V’d my Windows box, put the View agent on it, ran the view client on my Mac and called it a day… but what fun would that have been?

What about you? Any of you sys admins using Macs regularly?

Holla!

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Comments»

1. Dominic - December 9, 2014

Very nice article, I am not a Windows fan anymore and am in the process of becoming the Sys Admin for my office and will honestly be looking at using the Mac to administer it. The info you have given is very interesting and helpful. So thanks and keep up the good work. Your blog is most welcomed.


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