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OnlyWithMyMac
Sep 11, 2012, 11:18 AM
We have a small office. 4 MBP's, 1 G5, 1 G4, an airport extreme as our router. We'd been using Back To My Mac and transitioned when everything switched to iCloud to continue using it. It recently stopped working and a coworker mentioned he'd read that ATT has been known to throttle this connection. I've been trying to find a replacement but have been unsuccessful. I'm a graphic designers. I'm good with computers but I have no experience with a server. Here's what we need to do:

- share files but not whole hard drives both remotely and in the office
- access archive hard drives connected to the G5 at the office

We don't really need much else. OS Server might be overkill. Most of us work from home a couple of days a week, so we are each responsible for our own backups (yes, we do actually do it). We loved drop box and have tried dropbox, but our less technical people find it difficult. I tried TeamViewer but it shares your whole hard drive, which because we each own our own computers, is not ok. Any suggestions, solutions, ideas, would be helpful. We don't really want to spend a lot of money, but also want something that will work going forward and that ATT can't mess with.

Thanks in advance.



switon
Sep 14, 2012, 06:54 AM
Hi OnlyWithMyMac,

Sharing directories (folders) is easy on your office LAN, even without OS Server, as I'm sure you already know. But I would still suggest using the OS X Server because of the off-site access that you wish to have.

Mac OS X Server is actually designed to be extremely easy to set up, especially for small offices. Apple has attempted to make it essentially "one-click", with just a few setup options. [Personally, I find this frustrating since I then have to resort to commandline commands to set certain options, but for a simple server setup this is unnecessary. I believe for your setup, you will only have to use the Server.app GUI and not have to do any commandline stuff.]

So why use the Server software? First of all, it is only $20 for an unlimited number of clients and as many machines as are under your Apple ID --- so it is about as inexpensive to try as one could hope for. Secondly, Server.app has the File Sharing service that will allow you to share just the folders that you desire, and control access (user specific No Access, Read, or Read/Write) so that you can allow everyone access to project data but only your accountant has access to financial data, etc. And now for my real suggestion, with Server.app you can also run a VPN (Virtual Private Network) server that allows you to "login" to your office LAN from anywhere in the world. And once you VPN in to your office LAN, it appears that your laptop (say at home) is actually sitting in your office --- that is to say, you can use all of the office's resources as if you were sitting in your office [such as the File Shares you have setup, large NAS (Network Attached Storage) disk drives, printers, other office computers, etc.], and you can administer your office computers from home (to fix network/computer problems, for instance). I recommend doing your File Sharing this way instead of exposing your NAS disks to the Internet since the VPN connection is encrypted and typically more secure than allowing your disks to be accessed from the Internet. So, you VPN in from home to the office, and then File Share from the local LAN. [Okay, there is one caveat: since Bonjour (zeroconf, mDNS) does not announce to VPN clients, you will have to manually mount those File Shares from the VPN client, but this is easily done.]

The above two services I think satisfies your stated needs, but now I would like to suggest that with Mac OS X Server running, you might find that a few other services will make your life considerably easier. The obvious ones being Calendar, Contacts, and Mail services that allow everyone (or selected users) access to the same office Calendar and list of Contacts. In addition, the Profile Manager service provides profile configuration setup files that you can email to your users who can then "install" them on their laptops to automatically setup things like VPN connectivity for them. The Open Directory service would allow everyone network logins (if you do OD then you must also do DNS). The Time Machine service would allow you to manage everyones backup via Time Machine. The Software Update service allows you to manage and update all of your user's computers without relying on your users to do so themselves in a timely fashion. You use an Airport Extreme Basestation and thus you could also use RADIUS (Remote Authentication Dial In User Service) to control who has access to your wireless network (RADIUS is no longer a separate "pane" in the Server.app, but is switched on through the Hardware pane now) and what services each user has access to. In addition, you might want to run your own Messages service (iChat, jabber) that allows you to video conference with clients in a secure and private fashion (and not on the public jabber servers -- I find the public servers slow and flaky at times and also a potential security risk). In addition, for your clients you might want to run your own Wiki server where your wikis (say one wiki per each client) provide documentation to your clients and allow then to ask questions, and blog, about your services. You might also use a Wiki as a means to do a collaborative project where you, several of your designers, and your client all interact and modify a design in the Wiki. All history of all revisions is automatically stored for you and you can "go back" to review or recover any prior revision.

Personally, I do exactly what I have suggested above for my own clients, and they seem to appreciate it. In particular, I run my own secure (encrypted) video conferencing with a client while at the same time I use Screen Sharing to watch and help the client with my software. In other words, the client is sitting at her computer, I'm Screen Sharing with her computer so I can watch and manipulate (move their cursor, type on her screen) her screen, and at the same time I'm talking to the client through use of Messages. It effectively appears as if I'm in the client's office peering over her shoulder talking her through the use of a piece of my software. I also use client-specific Wikis that the clients can access from anywhere on the Internet that give client-specific directions and allows the clients to ask questions and receive answers from me.

In a nutshell, all of the above services (and a few more that I did not mention) are fairly easily setup and managed using Mac OS X Server even for those users without a background in server software.

...just my two pennies worth of free advice, and, as always, the quality of the advice is directly proportional to what you pay for it...;)

Regards,
Switon