View Full Version : Best Use Scenario for ML Server at Home
Dec 10, 2012, 11:02 AM
I recently received an early 2009 Mac Mini. I put in an SSD and a large HDD (removing the optical drive). I intend to consolidate my household media (iTunes media and apps, iPhoto libraries, home videos, etc) onto the one Mini, and install ML Server. I'm going to attach a 2 TB FW 800 drive, and backup all my household devices to it as well via Time Machine (including the Mac Mini itself). We have an iMac, a MacBook Air, 4 iPads, 2 iPhones, and 2 AppleTVs (I should get a discount by now...). The wireless network is provided by an Airport Extreme and extended with an Airport Express (which also streams music to my AV receiver).
Now, my question is this: What exactly does Server do for my usage scenario? I'd like to have a situation where anyone can log into any computer and have all their user settings/documents on any computer. Can I do that? What other things should I set up to maximize the utility of Server in a home environment?
Dec 10, 2012, 02:44 PM
The Mac OS X Server provides you with a number of servers/services that make life easy (easier?) for a setup like yours.
But to be clear from the start, you don't need Mac OS X Server to do almost all of the things you want to do.
That said, then let me start by saying that Mac OS X Server is designed to be roughly "one-button" configuration for each server/service. It is designed to require very little further administration beyond the initial "one-button" configurations. As such, this is both a blessing and a problem. It is a blessing because it requires so little user interaction and very little server knowledge on the User's part. It is a problem because if you wish to do anything even slightly out of the ordinary or if you have troubles, then the "one-button" GUI is not going to be much help.
So, just what can you do with the Mac OS X Server that would help you with your setup?
(1) Run your own DHCP with Reservations to assign LAN IP addresses (you are probably already be doing this with your routers).
(2) Run your own DNS server to assign easily remembered hostnames to the devices on your LAN, such as AppleTV-1.private and MyiMac.private.
(3) Run your own Open Directory (OD) service with Kerberization so that any user can log in at any machine to the same networked account - to the User it appears that every machine is one and the same machine. Kerberos allows you to only have to type your password once and Kerberos takes care of all future authorizations.
(4) Profile Manager used to setup and manage your iDevices.
(5) Software Update to download software updates once, store them locally, and allow all machines to get their updates from your local copies.
(6) VPN server to allow you to log in to your home LAN when you are on the road in a secure fashion. VPN does strong authentication and encryption, and gives you every resource that you have at home but when you are on the road.
(7) VPN and Screen Sharing allows you to administer your computers, including your headless Mac mini, when you are on the road.
(8) Calendar and Contacts services allow everyone, whether at home or on the road, access to everyone else's calendars and contacts (of course, access is controlled by permissions to specific users).
(9) Messages allows you to run your own jabber video conferencing server. I find this useful for two reasons. First of all, some of my clients for security reasons do not allow use of the public AIM, Google, Skype, Yahoo jabber servers, but by VPN-ing in to my LAN and running my own jabber server, the video conferencing is encrypted and secure. In addition, sometimes the public jabber servers are slow when their traffic load is great, that never happens on my own jabber server since I'm the only one (and my clients) ever using it.
(10) Mail server allows you to run your own email.
(11) File Sharing (AFP, SMB, NFS) allows you to serve networked disks to anyone on your LAN, including users that VPN in to your LAN from the external Internet.
(12) Time Machine service allows you to manage TM backups of all of your computers from your server.
(13) The Websites and Wiki servers allow you to have a system-wide website presence (say http://myservername.dyndns.com), allow individuals to have their own web pages (say http://myservername.dyndns.com/~username), allow anyone (with permissions) to make wikis (say http://myservername.dyndns.com/wiki/funvacationstuff.html) for any subject that they please. The wikis also can have their own RSS, mail, blog, and calendar. Notice that I have specified "myservername.dyndns.com", this is a DNS hostname administered by the Dyn corporation to provide users with an Internet DNS name that is updated to their ISP assigned IP address.
(14) Mac OS X Server also generates SSL certificates for any of the other services that require them, say if you wish to run a secure web service using https on port 443, for instance.
(15) You configure and manage all Users and Groups for your entire network at a single place.
(16) You can, if you wish to have greater wireless security, configure a RADIUS server that does strong authentication, authorization, and accounting for your LAN network.
(17) Alerts of events happening on your network are funneled through your Mac OS X Server to notify you on any device.
(18) Logs and statistics of usage are recorded by the OS X Server.
I'm sure I'm leaving something important out, but this is a start for what Mac OS X Server can provide you. In a nutshell, it allows all of your users to log into any computer and have it appear that they are logging in to a single machine all the time with the same Home Folder. It manages setup, backup, and administration for all of your devices and machines. It runs private websites, wiki sites, calendars, contacts, mail, and video conferencing for you.
P.S. While Mac OS X Server is designed to be simple to use, and in general it succeeds in this endeavor, don't be fooled into thinking that you won't ultimately learn more details about the inner workings of servers and services.
Dec 10, 2012, 11:03 PM
switon - that would have to be one of the best posts I have read on this site in answering someones question directly and so eloquently.
I have also thought about running my own server repurposing my Mac mini from just a second (more flexible) apple tv.
Your post gives me much food for though. I especially like the idea of a server side home drive/log in.
Many, many kudos to you for taking the time and effort into such a thorough reply.
Dec 11, 2012, 03:50 AM
Thanks for the very kind remarks. They are much appreciated.
Good luck with your decision whether or not to repurpose your Mac mini as a server. As I stated in the second paragraph of my longwinded post, you don't really need Mac OS X Server to perform most of these tasks. In particular, if you only want to Share a network disk and allow logging in (SSH), that can be done under Mac OS X without the need for Mac OS X Server. The Server software makes it easier(? some might question this) and more secure, and gives you the ability to do OD for network accounts for an unlimited number of clients. That said, for $20 you really can't go wrong, and people here on MacRumors will help you configure your services if you run into trouble, plus there are tutorials available. If you don't like Mac OS X Server, you don't have to use any of the servers/services, as the server software is just an app that runs on top of the regular Mac OS X. It is not a separate OS, in other words. With Mac OS X Server, you can begin slowly with just the services you want, say DNS, VPN, and Files Sharing; and then over time you might find yourself expanding to OD, Profile Manager, Calendar, Contacts, Messages, Software Update, Time Machine, Websites, and Wiki servers.
Dec 11, 2012, 07:37 PM
Thanks VERY much for such a thorough and thoughtful reply! I decided to bite the bullet and buy Server (hey, it's only $20) and see what I can do with it. I'm starting to get certain services running, just to see how it fits into my day-to-day. My first order of business is to get all of my Macs backing up via Time Machine server. Do you know if I have to start new backups, or can somehow move my old backups into the folder I designated for TM backups on the server's external drive?
Next comes Open Directory so I can get all the various profiles centrally located. Is there a way to move my existing user profiles on various machines around the house into the server?
Thanks for all the excellent help!
Dec 12, 2012, 10:58 AM
The Time Machine service will require you to move your backups to a folder/folders that is/are available on the Mac mini. It can be on an external drive, but the drive must be mounted on your server.
Before doing OD, you will need to get your DNS service configured and running properly since LDAP/Kerberos are going to want to have proper domain names, etc.
Once OD is running, then look at the Profile Manager service. This will let you manage all of your Mac OS as well as iOS devices, centrally from your Mac mini server.