Profile Manager goes well beyond simply configuring clients for networking, VPN, and mail. You can set hundreds of group policies. For example, you can prevent iOS and Mac users from accessing the App Store, prevent Mac and iOS applications from launching, block users from making changes to system preferences, block Macs from accessing external storage devices or optical discs, prevent iOS users from watching YouTube, set parental controls, and much more. (Users can see the settings applied to their Mac in the new Profiles system preference, or in the familiar Settings app in iOS.)
The drawback to Profile Manager is that the Mac clients it supports must run Lion. Fortunately, the old Managed Preferences for older versions of Mac OS X clients is still available through Workgroup Manager.
Still, Profile Manager does more than Managed Preferences, and it does more automatically, and in way that is easier and faster to set up, no command line necessary.
But even here, one item may rub IT managers the wrong way: The data stores for Profile Manager, Address Book Server, iCal Server, Webmail, and the built-in wiki are bundled in one database in a location that cannot be moved: on the server's boot disk. I suppose the thought is that consumers usually have only one hard disk.
So what does IT do now with Mac OS X Server?
Lion Server's debut poses a dilemma to many IT shops using Mac OS X Server. Of course, IT departments can keep running Snow Leopard Server to serve clients that include Mac OS X Lion, older Mac OS X versions, Windows, and Linux. Or you can use both the Lion and Snow Leopard Mac OS X Server versions. For example, if you wanted to keep the Windows PDC functionality but also want Profile Manager, you could run Snow Leopard Server as an Open Directory master (and PDC) and bind Lion Server to it. You could even run both servers in virtual machines on a single Mac.
But in the longer term, I won't be surprised to see some enterprise sites phase out Mac OS X Server and move to Windows Server -- even as they embrace more Mac clients. When you consider Lion Server's truncated capabilities along with the discontinuation of the Apple Xserve rack-mount hardware, the signal from Apple seems to be it's not that interested in keeping businesses on Mac OS X Server.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.