PDA

View Full Version : Mac Mini Server viable for small business?




ZilogZ80
Aug 5, 2010, 03:04 PM
I run a small business with 3 employees. A friend who works in IT recently recommended running my own server for my website and email. He hates Macs but I am a complete convert now so I am interested in knowing if this is really viable using either the latest or previous generation Mac Mini?

Basically it would just need to run a mail server with a handful of mailboxes (I see on the Apple website that it can now do push email?) and a low-traffic website with e-commerce capabilities. Obviously as much uptime as possible is ideal; the website is not mission-critical but the email is.

Is OSX Server really as easy to set-up and administer as Apple say it is? Are they reliable with a software RAID setup?

Will the mail server integrate OK with Windows PCs running Outlook?

It is not strictly a question of money and I am not really interested in hearing about how shared/dedicated hosting or whatever would be better value/more reliable/etc, I would just like to hear peoples' honest opinions (or real life experience) to try to judge whether it would be viable.



balamw
Aug 5, 2010, 03:11 PM
http://www.macminicolo.net/ certainly seems to think so. ;)

Seriously. If Outlook is a real requirement something with Exchange (SBS) sounds like a better option.

B

ZilogZ80
Aug 5, 2010, 03:33 PM
Thanks for the link, very interesting reading.
I especially like the idea of using the UPS for remote rebooting when necessary, very clever.

If the hardware is up to the task then I suppose it is just a question of: is my internet connection reliable enough?

balamw
Aug 5, 2010, 03:38 PM
is my internet connection reliable enough?

Which is always a major decision point of where/how you want to host things.

A real benefit of remote hosting (even like macminicolo) is that They deal with all of the issues that affect your server uptime. Redundant power and net connections, being closer to the backbone, ...

B

ZilogZ80
Aug 5, 2010, 04:05 PM
Assuming my Internet connection is sufficient though, is setting up & administering a web/mail server on osx a reasonably trivial task? Or would it be hours of work per week & potential headaches?

Gav2k
Aug 5, 2010, 04:16 PM
For what you want it's basic and can be done in an afternoon. Providing you put the time in to start with once you have it how you want it it'll look after you. However if you rush it'll bite you in the ass!

You will need to contact your service provider as most do not like you running email servers or site hosting unless you have a business line so double check that.

dantiston
Aug 5, 2010, 05:15 PM
The church I work for recently purchased a mac mini server at my recommendation for webhosting/mail. For the most part, I've loved it. It's not as amazing as I would expect from an Apple product in terms of ease of use and making setting up a server easy, but I occasionally have the feeling that if I didn't have OSX server, I would be even more confused and not able to do anything. I had some, and continue to have, some troubles getting the webhosting to work properly, but honestly I think that's the problem of my lack of knowledge on how webhosting works, and not on the server, as all the problems I've solved so far have been domain/Dynamic DNS/etc.

Which I should mention... unless you have a static IP from your ISP, you'll have to get something like no-ip or dynDNS that will automatically reset your domain to point to your new IP when it changes. I bought my name from NameCheap and set it up with dynDNS, which I don't recommend doing as it adds layers of complications and possibly points of downtime (measured in minutes). When I transfer the current domain name from the current webhost, I'm going to purchase from no-IP I think.

ZilogZ80
Aug 5, 2010, 05:24 PM
Thanks, that's encouraging. I would definitely invest in a static IP from my ISP.
Does the mail server work OK with Outlook on Windows PCs? That is my main area of concern at the moment.

belvdr
Aug 5, 2010, 05:53 PM
How are you planning to backup this data?

You could do POP/IMAP with Outlook but I am not sure if it would do calendar integration.

ZilogZ80
Aug 5, 2010, 06:03 PM
Backup would be via Time Machine onto NAS RAID (unless I get some better suggestions!)

Calendar integration would be nice but it is something we make use of only occasionally to be honest.

I have been googling and have come across some free alternative mail servers, eg Zimbra which runs on OSX and allegedly integrates with Outlook. Anybody have experience with this product? (or similar)

balamw
Aug 6, 2010, 08:15 AM
You could do POP/IMAP with Outlook but I am not sure if it would do calendar integration.

Yeah, that was my point above. Outlook + Exchange is a different tool than Outlook + some random IMAP/POP3 server. If Outlook is a real requirement stay with Small Business Server. It's not just calendaring. It's shared contacts, public folders, etc...

I seem to recall that there was an effort on the linux side to re-implement a MAPI server to replace Outlook. Wonder how that's going...

EDIT: I was thinking of Evolution which is more of an Outlook replacement.

Backup would be via Time Machine onto NAS RAID (unless I get some better suggestions!)

Calendar integration would be nice but it is something we make use of only occasionally to be honest.

I have been googling and have come across some free alternative mail servers, eg Zimbra which runs on OSX and allegedly integrates with Outlook. Anybody have experience with this product? (or similar)

So why Outlook? It's a pretty lousy e-mail client if you don't make use of the features enabled by Exchange on the back end.

I know you specifically said you didn't want to hear about remote options, but if I were starting a small business today I'd just simply use Google Apps for Business http://www.google.com/apps/intl/en/business/index.html instead of considering running any of my own servers for e-mail/office/etc... They've done the work to make everything Outlook compliant. And for $50/year for Premier service it's very hard to beat.

You'd still need a web host.

B

belvdr
Aug 6, 2010, 09:01 AM
Backup would be via Time Machine onto NAS RAID (unless I get some better suggestions!)

Calendar integration would be nice but it is something we make use of only occasionally to be honest.

I have been googling and have come across some free alternative mail servers, eg Zimbra which runs on OSX and allegedly integrates with Outlook. Anybody have experience with this product? (or similar)

Time Machine doesn't backup OS X Server completely, so it's not a simple restore process as in OS X. You don't want to go there.

Rather than look at issues, what benefits did your friend propose by moving the server in-house? I'm an IT guy, and I can honestly say that we get overzealous sometimes. What's right for me to do isn't necessarily right for you.

Argon21
Aug 6, 2010, 04:00 PM
If you're just backing up the mini's internal disks, skip the time machine nonsense. Just buy an external firewire drive of the same capacity, and then once a week, once a month, whenever you want, clone the internal disk to it using Carbon Copy Cloner.

Keep this backup disk locked in a filing cabinet somewhere, preferably off site, to keep the data safe against fire or flood.

The advantage of the CCC backup, is that it's also bootable. Lets say your system disk died and the server is down, you can simply plug in this external backup disk and boot up off it, and you're up and running again! Note that it must be Firewire (not USB) for this to work.

satcomer
Aug 6, 2010, 05:02 PM
Backup would be via Time Machine onto NAS RAID (unless I get some better suggestions!)

CronoSync (http://www.econtechnologies.com/)

Carbon Copy Cloner (http://www.bombich.com/)

These are just two I can think of. IMHO a bootable backup in one of the strengths of OS X. Just in a network make sure you use CAT 6 cables (I get my CAT 6 cables cheaply at MonoPrice (http://www.monoprice.com/products/subdepartment.asp?c_id=102&cp_id=10232)) and switches. At home I use the D-link 8 port Green switch (http://www.amazon.com/D-Link-DGS-2208-8-Port-Desktop-Switch/dp/B000FITKK8/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=electronics&qid=1281131897&sr=8-2). This should work good in your situation.

Lastly bookmark the site AFP548.com (http://www.afp548.com/). It is a great resource for OS X server users.

belvdr
Aug 7, 2010, 05:06 PM
If you're just backing up the mini's internal disks, skip the time machine nonsense. Just buy an external firewire drive of the same capacity, and then once a week, once a month, whenever you want, clone the internal disk to it using Carbon Copy Cloner.

Keep this backup disk locked in a filing cabinet somewhere, preferably off site, to keep the data safe against fire or flood.

The advantage of the CCC backup, is that it's also bootable. Lets say your system disk died and the server is down, you can simply plug in this external backup disk and boot up off it, and you're up and running again! Note that it must be Firewire (not USB) for this to work.

USB should work just fine. I've booted from an external USB disk cloned via CCC.

Also, a filing cabinet will not protect it from a fire in that building.

talmy
Aug 8, 2010, 10:15 AM
Be aware that CCC or SuperDuper! will not correctly back up databases such as the one for Open Directory. These must be backed up separately. Open Directory can be backed up using Server Admin.

mlts22
Aug 9, 2010, 10:33 AM
The utility I've used since 1989 on Macs has been Retrospect. Retrospect 8 should be exactly what one needs in this case, although the cost may be a bit prohibitive.

Here is what it does that most Mac programs don't do:

1: Synthetic full backups. No need to worry about a full/incremental/differential schedule. Just schedule your backups and walk off. The first will take a while, then subsequent ones just back up changed data. This way, one doesn't need to worry about restoring a full, then incrementals after that.

2: Encryption of backups. This is important if you have confidential data.

3: Ability to move backup sets around. Without re-backing up your machine, you can copy all your data from one backup drive to another and take that one offsite for safekeeping. You can also save data to tape, Blu-Ray media, or CDs/DVDs.

4: Remote backups. This may get expensive, but having a dedicated backup server is nice, because it allows you to copy all the data on desktops and servers. Plus, the backup server can be given a couple Drobos, locked away in a back closet (with adequate cooling), and nobody would need to have access to the physical hardware, as clients would be able to do their own restores. Then, buy an external hard drive or two to copy the critical data, and swap those in and out.

talmy
Aug 9, 2010, 10:57 AM
Pricey indeed! But you can do all of these with SD or (I expect) CCC, with less finesse and less automation than Retrospect. Both do the "Synthetic full backups" out of the box. You can back up to a sparse disk image for encryption, easier movement of backup images, and remote backups. Performance drops, but presumably you are scheduling backups in the middle of the night, and being smart backups they will run pretty fast.

Silencio
Aug 9, 2010, 02:53 PM
If you want a real Exchange replacement, get Kerio Mail Server. It rocks! A little extra expense, but much cheaper than Exchange and it will run on your Mac mini server. It still blows away Apple's SL Server groupware components.

hakuryuu
Aug 9, 2010, 03:20 PM
If you want a real Exchange replacement, get Kerio Mail Server. It rocks! A little extra expense, but much cheaper than Exchange and it will run on your Mac mini server. It still blows away Apple's SL Server groupware components.


+1

The stock Apple mail and collaboration tools will do in a pinch (or if all you really need is what it offers which I could completely sympathize with), but are nowhere near as robust as Kerio or Exchange. Kerio offers most features you would likely use for a small workgroup while coming nowhere near the expense and sheer complexity of Exchange.

Gakboi
Aug 9, 2010, 03:48 PM
You will be wasting your money if you buy a mac mini for that. Linux and an old computer is all you need. You probably have one lying around anyways or can pick one up for free

Eric-PTEK
Aug 14, 2010, 10:39 PM
IMO if your business is important to you never run your own email internally. You asked for real world, and this is what we do for a living, so it is going to be why hosting is better.

Worst customer of mine is one who went out bought SBS for Exchange and wonders why in 3 months it does not work.

Even a non-Exchange mail client to do it the right way is tough for a small business if email is important, and email is important to every small business.

Go with hosted Exchange through a 3rd party vendor. MS through BPOS gives you a 25 gig Exchange mailbox w/ Activesyc for $5.95 a month.

In house email never makes sense, ever, unless your really big.

Colocation is great, but it'll be more than the $18 a month BPOS or a similar service will cost.

Truly in house how robust if your internet connection? Do you have a QOS line? Do you have an onsite generator? Do you have a disaster recovery plan?

I could get 20 questions deep and the answers to most of the questions would be no.

In the long run if you don't have a company big enough for a full time email admin, then don't run it yourself, let someone else do it.

Then I would ask the friend to stop giving you advice that could negatively effect your business.

Do you want to focus on running your business or spend endless hours on Google and MR trying to find the solution to why an email will not go through?

The fact you say email is mission critical means you should not be doing it yourself. I don't even host my own email for my own company, and never would. I could never do it to the degree of quality a firm setup to do just that by itself can.

One of my customers fought me to no end about hosted Exchange. He went and did SBS2008 all on his own. And did so successfully for a year. Then he got a virus on his mail server. $600 later I fixed it, between his lost business, having to beg AT&T to turn him back on(he was flooding 200K messages an hour), and who knows how much lost email and the 3 late nights he spent working before he called me, made none of it worth it.

Probably cost him a couple of grand over all, enough to pay for Exchange for 5 years.

Always sounds like a cool idea but never works out even in larger businesses. Chrysler is no longer hosting their own email, they went to BPOS all the way, expect others to follow.

belvdr
Aug 14, 2010, 11:12 PM
IMO if your business is important to you never run your own email internally.

<snip>

In house email never makes sense, ever, unless your really big.

<snip>

In the long run if you don't have a company big enough for a full time email admin, then don't run it yourself, let someone else do it.

<snip>

Always sounds like a cool idea but never works out even in larger businesses. Chrysler is no longer hosting their own email, they went to BPOS all the way, expect others to follow.

You contradict yourself so many times in one post that I doubt anyone would take you seriously. You say never to run in-house email, then to do so only if you have a full-time email admin, then back to never working out for anyone including large businesses. Some small businesses can get SBS and have it work fine by using consultants to maintain the system.

I've run email without issue on Exchange 2003, and even Domino 5 back in the day. My current employer has also run in-house email since they started with email and don't have issues. It doesn't make sense for some yet it does for others. Size of the company has nothing to do with it.

Eric-PTEK
Aug 15, 2010, 11:48 AM
I did contradict myself to a point. I went back and made a change and that sounded worse than what I originally wrote.

I'll be the first person to admit when I post its tough sometimes to read them because I post like I talk/think. So while I was typing I was thinking over the situation and new ways that businesses can do this so my thought process changed. My idea that a business has to be a certain size lead way to a different thought as I went through it.

When your looking at business continuity hosting your own email does not make sense. If you truly want high quality up time and DR then letting someone else handle it makes more sense. The market has changed and 5-6 years ago reliable and reasonable hosting was not available.

Today that is different. So if you've made an investment in infrastructure, have someone to maintain, then does switching make sense? Probably not until your at the end of the life cycle of the equipment.

But if your starting off fresh and new then only in the rarest of cases does it make sense.

If you have compliance requirements(HIPPA, Red Flags, FINRA, etc) then it really does not make sense because what it would take to maintain compliance would be a big resource.

Better to focus on your business and let others handle the things that fall outside of it if funds allow for it. With how cheap BPOS is its affordable for any business.

shayn
Aug 15, 2010, 02:45 PM
I know you specifically said you didn't want to hear about remote options, but if I were starting a small business today I'd just simply use Google Apps for Business http://www.google.com/apps/intl/en/business/index.html instead of considering running any of my own servers for e-mail/office/etc... They've done the work to make everything Outlook compliant. And for $50/year for Premier service it's very hard to beat.

You'd still need a web host.

B

I use google apps to run 3 domains. I bought the domains for 10 each and google apps is free for (i think ) 25 users. 25g of email space, docs, calendars, etc. I don't pay a yearly web hosting fee, just the cost of owning the domain.

belvdr
Aug 16, 2010, 08:33 AM
I did contradict myself to a point. I went back and made a change and that sounded worse than what I originally wrote.

I'll be the first person to admit when I post its tough sometimes to read them because I post like I talk/think. So while I was typing I was thinking over the situation and new ways that businesses can do this so my thought process changed. My idea that a business has to be a certain size lead way to a different thought as I went through it.

When your looking at business continuity hosting your own email does not make sense. If you truly want high quality up time and DR then letting someone else handle it makes more sense. The market has changed and 5-6 years ago reliable and reasonable hosting was not available.

Today that is different. So if you've made an investment in infrastructure, have someone to maintain, then does switching make sense? Probably not until your at the end of the life cycle of the equipment.

But if your starting off fresh and new then only in the rarest of cases does it make sense.

If you have compliance requirements(HIPPA, Red Flags, FINRA, etc) then it really does not make sense because what it would take to maintain compliance would be a big resource.

Better to focus on your business and let others handle the things that fall outside of it if funds allow for it. With how cheap BPOS is its affordable for any business.

Now that makes sense. :)

Eric-PTEK
Aug 16, 2010, 10:08 PM
MS released the solution today in beta.

The new SBS, and I'm not a fan of SBS but SBS Aurora.

File and print happen locally and Exchange/SharePoint is cloud based and all tied into internal AD environment.