PDA

View Full Version : Mac Mini Server and Configuration Advice




geltab
Jun 18, 2010, 01:39 PM
Hello All, I just ordered the 2010 Mac Mini Server edition and have a few questions and would like this forums expert advice.

So basically my set up is that I do my work solely on my 17" MBP. I am purchasing the MM server to act as a HTPC and a server. I have a few configuration questions and am asking your recommendations. Basically what I want to do is keep my MBP 17" pretty clean of media files and load up the Mac mini with all my media and have it also act as a server/backup.

First and foremost, is it possible to be saving files that I am working on on my MBP to the mac mini, but also saving the files to my MBP? I know in the past when I worked in an office, I was just saving everything to the server and then would have to pull the file from the server to my MBP at the end of the day. I want to be able to save to both locations at the same time if possible. This kind of would act as a backup since I would have files in both places.

Second, on the mac mini, it comes with 2 500gb drives. I have thought about raid configs for these drives, but am more concerned with not wasting one of the internal drives on backing up everything. I really only care about backing up my work files that are on the server and not the media... Should I just time machine a specific work folder every hour or so to an external drive or the second internal HD in the mac mini? For instance, I usually have all my work on my MBP under a folder called "Freelance". I would carry this folder over to my Mac Mini when I set it up, saving all work under this main folder. So everything needed to be backed up is in this one folder. The main thing I am trying to figure out here is what you guys think would be the best configuration to back up. Using and external, or just backing up to the second drive on the mac mini, still using the 2nd drive as a possible storage area for extra media that doesn't need back up.

Finally, with the server software, how hard is it to create a vpn? I just want to be able to be saving files to my mac mini from my MBP, or working in a similar fashion as explained above, when I am not at home... in case my laptop gets damaged or stolen, I still have the work I created.

Thanks for any and all help! There is so much to consider when setting up a system and tons of ways to do it. I appreciate everybody's opinion on this.



VideoFreek
Jun 19, 2010, 03:02 PM
First of all, I assume that you realize that you don't need SL Server at all--it certainly is overkill for what you want to do. If, on the other hand, the reason you've chosen the server option is because you prefer the hardware--2 HDs, no optical drive, etc.--then that is understandable.

To save files on both the server and your MBP, SL Server can very nearly do what you want. It is possible to configure a "mobile" server account, and then Mac OS X will automatically sync your Home folder between the server and your client. Synchronization happens at login, at logout, and at an adjustable interval while you work (default is every 20 minutes). Not quite the same as simultaneously saving your files to both places, but good enough, I think. I've had a mini server for about a month now, and in my testing so far the Home Sync feature seems to work reasonably well. Note that it does not reliably sync the iPhoto library, however, and researching this on Apple's discussions boards shows that this has been broken for quite some time and Apple just haven't gotten around to fixing it. Other than that, I've had no problems other than occasional sync errors and conflicts that are easy to resolve.

The bad news, however, is that configuring OS X Server entails a fairly steep learning curve--the product is built for IT admins and not for casual home users. You'll need to spend time reading Apple's documentation, or invest in a good tutorial book to learn the ins and outs of configuring the server. For example, to configure mobile Home folders, there are a variety of picky setting you need to get right for DNS, AFP, Share access, etc., or it won't work at all and it is often not at all clear why it is not working. If you have no experience administering servers, you might find this a bit daunting.

A better option might be to simply use the server to host shared folders, and then use a sync product such as ChronoSync (excellent, but not cheap at $40) to sync your files between the MBP and the server. Setup would be much more intuitive.

Regarding setting the two internal drives in a RAID 1 configuration, I see a lot of threads on Mac Rumors where guys are doing this, but frankly I don't see the point. The purpose of RAID is to improve reliability (uptime) by storing data redundantly so that a single drive failure does not prevent file access. Important here is that RAID is used only to improve reliability--it is NEVER a replacement for backup. Now RAID makes a great deal of sense when a failed drive can be replaced quickly or even on the fly (e.g., on a machine with hot swap bays), but in the case of the Mini, if a drive were to fail you'd need to shut it down and perform surgery on the Mini to replace the failed drive, anyway, so what does RAID really do for you that a good backup strategy wouldn't? Given that implementing software RAID on the Mini would almost certainly exact a performance penalty, I just don't think it's worth it.

Regarding backup, first of all using one of the internal drives to back up the other is a really, really bad idea--don't do it! If some internal component failure zaps the machine or starts corrupting data, you're screwed. A proper backup strategy involves regularly moving data off to one of several external disks, and then the disks should be regularly rotated offsite as a precaution against fire or theft. Another option might be to consider online backup to "the cloud," using one of the many available services (Mozy, Amazon S3, Carbonite, CrashPlan, etc., etc.). An advantage of this approach is that offsite backup can be completely automated in a "set it and forget it" manner, but a disadvantage might be cost, depending on how much data you have to back up. You also need to think about recovery time--if you have 200 GB of data in the cloud and a slow internet connection, it's going to take a while to get your files back!

Regarding Time Machine, I've read mixed opinions on how well it works to backup Server. To be sure, I would use a dedicated backup program--there are several thread in here that deal with this topic. Actually, if you invest in ChronoSync, it could be used to back up your server to an external drive as well as to sync your MBP to your server.

All that said, I will share with you the strategy I'm currently implementing at home using my new Mini Server. My five clients (MBPs, iMacs) are set up with mobile accounts, so that each family member's Home folder syncs automatically to the server. I use ChronoSync to handle media separately (e.g., photo libraries), and to keep iTunes libraries in sync across the various machines. For further redundancy, I use a ReadyNAS NV+ as a Time Machine target for the clients. On the server, I use ChronoSync again to back up the user Homes (which I set up on the second internal drive, separate from the OS drive) to an external RAID box (the Promise SmartStor 4600) connected to the server via Firewire 800, and I then use Arq for external backup of documents, etc. to Amazon S3. For the heavy-duty media files (movies, etc.), I avoid S3 (too costly) and just back these up periodically to externals, which I then bring to my office.

Regarding VPN, yes server does this but no, I have no experience with it and will leave it to someone else to advise you. You could also consider using Hamachi (currently in beta for the Mac) or LogMeIn Pro for this purpose if all you need is remote file access--would be a lot easier to set up and you wouldn't need to worry about setting up DDNS.

Enjoy your new Mini Server--I know you're going to love it! Good luck.

myjay610
Jun 21, 2010, 08:55 AM
First and foremost, is it possible to be saving files that I am working on on my MBP to the mac mini, but also saving the files to my MBP? I know in the past when I worked in an office, I was just saving everything to the server and then would have to pull the file from the server to my MBP at the end of the day. I want to be able to save to both locations at the same time if possible. This kind of would act as a backup since I would have files in both places.

No. When you save files it has to be one location, so you'll have to have a "master" location like the MBP and use some solution to sync back to the server periodically. As the previous poster said, you could use some commercial software, do it by hand by setting up an AFP share for the specific files you're talking about, or have a lower level solution like an automated rsync via ssh solution (but you'd probably need to have a UNIX savvy friend set that up or research it online) Sure you could have your profile/home folder stored on the server but that could be problematic if you're traveling and want to access the server remotely. Could also probably use automator + some apple script to do auto backups via AFP. The bad thing with AFP is that it will have to copy over the files in their entirety each time. Rsync only copies over the new files and the ones with changes, which cuts down on syncing if you have a lot of files (rsync will also sync deleted files is specified). Keep in mind that rsync is a native command line tool in *NIX and therefore OS X but there have been some attempts and making GUI apps for it.

Second, on the mac mini, it comes with 2 500gb drives. I have thought about raid configs for these drives, but am more concerned with not wasting one of the internal drives on backing up everything. I really only care about backing up my work files that are on the server and not the media... Should I just time machine a specific work folder every hour or so to an external drive or the second internal HD in the mac mini? For instance, I usually have all my work on my MBP under a folder called "Freelance". I would carry this folder over to my Mac Mini when I set it up, saving all work under this main folder. So everything needed to be backed up is in this one folder. The main thing I am trying to figure out here is what you guys think would be the best configuration to back up. Using and external, or just backing up to the second drive on the mac mini, still using the 2nd drive as a possible storage area for extra media that doesn't need back up.

I wouldn't recommend RAIDing the two drives it comes with. This all really depends on how big your files are and how much space you think you will fill over time, do you eventually delete anything? You could use the 2nd 500GB drive for your most recent back ups, and when that fills up you could then move that to an external drive and start again. Don't forget you'll have the remaining space on the system drive, you should still have at least 400GB+ on the system drive that you can reserve (or even partition the sytem drive) into let's say a 100GB and 400GB partition. This way you'll have a 100GB drive for the OS (which is generous if you aren't installing much else on it) and then a 400GB and 500GB partition for storage.

Finally, with the server software, how hard is it to create a vpn? I just want to be able to be saving files to my mac mini from my MBP, or working in a similar fashion as explained above, when I am not at home... in case my laptop gets damaged or stolen, I still have the work I created.

VPN is pretty straight forward to use on server. Best bet would be the IPSec/L2TP option, just make sure you have the right ports forwarded on your home router so you can get in. I believe 500, 4500 and 1701 for UDP, UDP, and TCP respectively for the VPN option mentioned above. If you decide to just use AFP you can just port forward 548 to your server instead...the standalone encryption of AFP is secure enough that you wouldn't have to use a VPN to secure your traffic

There are a lot of options here, the right ones depend on how comfortable you are with setting up the server.

You might want to also considering signing up for a dyndns.org account if you will be accessing your server outside of your home network (like a client's house, hotel, etc...)

geltab
Jun 21, 2010, 02:48 PM
Thanks for all the information guys! Just getting set up now. I am sure this advice will become very useful in the near future. Still fiddling with users and stuff.

talmy
Jun 23, 2010, 09:39 AM
I'd strongly recommend downloading all the documentation from the Apple website (the booklet provided with the Mac mini server is inadequate) and reading it thoroughly. Better yet buy a copy of "Snow Leopard Server for Dummies". Don't be put off by the title, it's pretty thorough. I've also heard good things about Lydia.com. Without study, you will almost certainly get something set up wrong and get poor or no performance.

Heed advice about backups. I use SuperDuper! to make a nightly image backup which I have tested by booting and running from the backup. Use external drives for this and keep at least one offsite in case of theft, fire, or other disasters.

I actually run my Mac mini server with the drives in a RAID 0 configuration, which gives it a fast 1TB drive. It's more prone to failure, but with my backup scheme I'm not worried about it.

VideoFreek
Jun 23, 2010, 09:47 AM
I actually run my Mac mini server with the drives in a RAID 0 configuration, which gives it a fast 1TB drive. It's more prone to failure, but with my backup scheme I'm not worried about it.
That makes a lot more sense to me than RAID 1, but you're right--you're playing with fire and need an absolutely bulletproof backup strategy. Sounds like you have it covered, though.

geltab
Jun 23, 2010, 11:36 AM
looks like i need to do a lot of reading since i can't even set up users properly. do i need a domain name to run a server? i will pick up that "server for dummies", good suggestion.

talmy
Jun 23, 2010, 12:53 PM
looks like i need to do a lot of reading since i can't even set up users properly. do i need a domain name to run a server? i will pick up that "server for dummies", good suggestion.

Yep. Hoffmanlabs.com is a good site on setting up a domain name. See particularly http://labs.hoffmanlabs.com/node/1436

geltab
Jun 24, 2010, 11:43 AM
so, do i need a domain name? what advantages does that give me vs. not having one?

thanks

talmy
Jun 24, 2010, 12:47 PM
You can make up a domain name as long as you follow a few rules as stated in that link. If you buy a name then you can have it point to your system which gives you access from outside your LAN. I use this capability for VPN and SSH access when traveling.

geltab
Jun 24, 2010, 02:58 PM
gotcha. that is what i want to be able to do too. so i guess i do need a domain name. if i already put a fake one in, do i need to reinstall and start over? or is that in some preferences? thanks

talmy
Jun 24, 2010, 03:25 PM
if i already put a fake one in, do i need to reinstall and start over? or is that in some preferences? thanks

Changing it is a PITA. The hoffmanlabs site explains how. This is why getting a domain address is step 1 of the install. If you don't have much time invested in your set up, it probably would be easier to start over.

joecool99
Jun 24, 2010, 10:46 PM
Regarding setting the two internal drives in a RAID 1 configuration, I see a lot of threads on Mac Rumors where guys are doing this, but frankly I don't see the point. The purpose of RAID is to improve reliability (uptime) by storing data redundantly so that a single drive failure does not prevent file access. Important here is that RAID is used only to improve reliability--it is NEVER a replacement for backup. Now RAID makes a great deal of sense when a failed drive can be replaced quickly or even on the fly (e.g., on a machine with hot swap bays), but in the case of the Mini, if a drive were to fail you'd need to shut it down and perform surgery on the Mini to replace the failed drive, anyway, so what does RAID really do for you that a good backup strategy wouldn't? Given that implementing software RAID on the Mini would almost certainly exact a performance penalty, I just don't think it's worth it.

I don't care about space. I need redundancy. If i use RAID 1 with the 2010 mini, what i wonder about, IF one of the drives will fail, will the system still run so i can shut it down when i can and replace the failed drive ? Would i need to reconfigure the raid again ?

I will of course also have a external drive backup, but i want the system as reliable as possible.
Would the SW raid eat too much performance ? If so why?

I will have about 5 PC's connection to shared folders and working on MS WORD doc files. Hundreds of 150KB files.

VideoFreek
Jun 25, 2010, 12:14 AM
I don't care about space. I need redundancy. If i use RAID 1 with the 2010 mini, what i wonder about, IF one of the drives will fail, will the system still run so i can shut it down when i can and replace the failed drive ? Would i need to reconfigure the raid again ?

I will of course also have a external drive backup, but i want the system as reliable as possible.
Would the SW raid eat too much performance ? If so why?

I will have about 5 PC's connection to shared folders and working on MS WORD doc files. Hundreds of 150KB files.My point was that RAID 1 on the Mini only gives marginal reliability benefits. Yes, the system should continue to run if one drive fails, but you will still face a prolonged outage when you get around to replacing the failed drive (it's not trivial to do this on the Mini), and then you'll have to deal with significantly degraded performance while the array rebuilds itself. I suppose the main benefit would be that you'd have some choice as to when to shut down the server, so if your concern is that the server might fail at an inconvenient moment, then redundancy indeed buys you something. Personally, I think having an external disk image that you can boot from, such as Talmy describes above, is a better approach.

Regarding performance, RAID 1 may degrade performance on WRITE operations because the disk controller has to write out the data to two drives simultaneously (more overhead). READ performance, on the other hand, may actually improve to near RAID 0 levels if the controller can read a given file off of both drives--I don't have experience with the RAID implementation in OS X to know for sure. So, it's a mixed bag.

joecool99
Jun 25, 2010, 02:49 AM
My point was that RAID 1 on the Mini only gives marginal reliability benefits. Yes, the system should continue to run if one drive fails, but you will still face a prolonged outage when you get around to replacing the failed drive (it's not trivial to do this on the Mini), and then you'll have to deal with significantly degraded performance while the array rebuilds itself. I suppose the main benefit would be that you'd have some choice as to when to shut down the server, so if your concern is that the server might fail at an inconvenient moment, then redundancy indeed buys you something. Personally, I think having an external disk image that you can boot from, such as Talmy describes above, is a better approach.

Regarding performance, RAID 1 may degrade performance on WRITE operations because the disk controller has to write out the data to two drives simultaneously (more overhead). READ performance, on the other hand, may actually improve to near RAID 0 levels if the controller can read a given file off of both drives--I don't have experience with the RAID implementation in OS X to know for sure. So, it's a mixed bag.

i just looked up the tear-down. who the hell designed this ? especially as a server edition i would expect easier access to the hard drive in case of a failure...

sucks big time...

talmy
Jun 25, 2010, 10:24 AM
i just looked up the tear-down. who the hell designed this ? especially as a server edition i would expect easier access to the hard drive in case of a failure...

sucks big time...

As a server it does suck some, and for more than just dis-ease of repair. However if one of my internal drives fails I can still run (albeit slower) from an external backup. Other failings as a server: too much memory (256MB) wasted for the display (and who needs ports for a dual monitor as well), no ESATA for fast drive expansion, needs a second built-in ethernet port, and they could have left out the WiFi, Bluetooth, IR (actually, does it even have this?), and speaker.

But OTOH, the mini is the most reliable Mac and consumes the least power. In my case it replaced an eight year old power-gulping Dell, but it won't beat the reliability of that unit, which never failed in continuous, 24/7, use.

belvdr
Jun 25, 2010, 10:48 AM
IR (actually, does it even have this?)

Yes it does.

I find all those other features useful, as I use it for a higher capacity HTPC.

satcomer
Jun 25, 2010, 07:23 PM
This is just a suggestion. If you are going to do a server then bookmark the web site AFP548 - Changing the world one server at a time (http://www.afp548.com/). They have some good guides.

talmy
Jun 25, 2010, 11:58 PM
I find all those other features useful, as I use it for a higher capacity HTPC.

Well they should have the dual HD mini with the client Snow Leopard for that use. See plenty of posts here from frustrated customers who buy it for this use and then have to wrestle with SLS.

And then if the Mac mini with SLS was really customized for the server market (and it seems like lots of them are really bought as servers because of their attractive price) server customers would be happier and it might "scare" HTPC customers to the correct product. :)

I really can't imagine what I'd control on my server with the Apple remote. A bit hard to use since mine faces the wall so I get better access to the ports on the (now) front.