One of the biggest announcements from Apple with OS X Mavericks was not part of the WWDC 2013 keynote. Instead, it is buried deep in a technical document on Apple’s site. This is the announcement that the Apple Filing Protocol (AFP) is being deprecated in favor of Server Message Block version 2 (SMB2).
While this announcement may not mean very much to general consumers, it is certainly going to be a large change for those who integrate Macs in enterprise environments. SMB2, also known as CIFS, is the main file sharing protocol for Microsoft Windows, and also has excellent support on Linux through Samba.
Apple has long supported SMB in some form on OS X, but as it was not the default, it did not receive the love and care that AFP did. In the past, Apple simply used the open-source Samba project to gain this functionality, and there was much outcry from many Mac admins when Apple ditched Samba for its own implementation beginning with Lion.
Now, it is clear why Apple needed to replace Samba with its own SMB implementation, as it needed to do this to be able to best integrate the Mac.
This is sure to be a great change for at least two use cases:
OS X as a client in an Active Directory environment
Use of Macs has grown steadily in enterprise environments due to many factors over the last few years, and Apple’s native Active Directory plugin has become a much better client as well. This has made it easier to use network accounts outside of Open Directory, but file sharing has never been fully compatible, with quite a few quirks to deal with.
Many administrators have chosen to implement AFP file sharing though third-party solutions, such as the netatalk project or GroupLogic’s ExtremeZ-IP. While this software generally works, it is either open-source with no vendor support in the cast of netatalk, or expensive in the case of ExtremeZ-IP.
With SMB2 becoming the default, it is clear that Apple is putting real effort behind making OS X a great enterprise client.
OS X Server in a small, mixed environment
While OS X Server probably is not the best choice for hosting a file server in a large environment, it has been embraced by many small businesses due to its ability to run on a relatively inexpensive Mac mini server, and the easy to use features. OS X Server has been great when all clients are running OS X, but when a Windows client comes into the mix it becomes quite a bit more complicated, requiring running both AFP and SMB, with SMB not being a full implementation, and having problems with some Windows clients.
In addition to OS X becoming a better client in a Windows environment, this should allow the Mac Mini server to become a much more attractive solution in small business environments, as with one file sharing stack almost any client will be able to connect without worry, and presumably be trouble-free due to Apple embracing SMB2.
Do not fret – AFP is not going anywhere for now, and OS X Mavericks still includes it. However, for those who are actively using it, it is now time to seriously think about making the transition to the modern SMB2 protocol for file shares.
Apple continues to make great improvements to OS X to make it the among the best enterprise clients on the market, and OS X Server remains a good solution for small businesses. As we move towards the fall release of OS X Mavericks, administrators should be much more comfortable knowing that Apple is fully supporting the use of Macs in Active Directory environments, and there should be even fewer issues connecting to shares hosted on Windows Server.