Finally bought a Mac Pro to set up as a server to play around with, now what should I do?

Discussion in 'Mac OS X Server, Xserve, and Networking' started by Paratriplel, Feb 21, 2018.

  1. Paratriplel macrumors member

    Oct 1, 2011
    Hello everyone!

    I finally bought a Mac Pro (2008, 2,8 gHz) to set up as a server to play around with for fun and to learn.

    Now I'm wondering, when I've picked it up, what should I do with it? Any suggestions?

    Of course I've got a few ideas myself but would love to hear what others would recommend!

    I first started thinking about buying my own server computer to play around with when I messed around with mysql and apache on my computer. I want to have some use for it but also to play around with it and learn servers better.

    What are the first steps? Of course installing a server OS on it I guess and since I'm writing here on MacRumors I'm guessing it will be Mac OS X, or maybe you guys would suggest something else? ;)... Go wild!

    I hope this is placed in the right forum category and that this type of question is accepted.
  2. belvdr macrumors 603

    Aug 15, 2005
    No longer logging into MR
    That's a tough question to answer. It's on par with someone who bought a hammer and nails and asks what to build.

    What do you want to learn and know more about? Everyone has different interests and what may seem exciting to one is dull to another.
  3. Paratriplel thread starter macrumors member

    Oct 1, 2011
    I knew I'd get that question but that's the thing I got some ideas but I'd like to hear what others are building with their hammer and nails.. Get some inspiration from them.

    I will collect the computer tomorrow and I got some ideas but want to sketch it all up and pick the stuff that seems interesting for now and maybe more forward to other stuff in the future when I revisit this thread.

    Sure I could mention a couple of things I've thought about but I'd prefer to hear the unfiltered version of what you guys are doing (and preferable why and how if you got the time to explain).

    Does that make sense? This is a world I've just had a small bite off. So I know very little about it and would like to hear you're ideas for a beginner / mid level user.
  4. thisismyusername, Feb 21, 2018
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2018

    thisismyusername macrumors 6502

    Nov 1, 2015
    "Server" is such a general term. There's a ton of stuff you can do, especially if your goal is more to learn how to do these things as opposed to finding practical things you would actually use. Some examples:
    * Setup a DNS and/or DHCP server for your home network, however, any decent router can do that for you these days. Still, it's something you could learn how to do yourself.
    * Sign up for a free, dynamic DNS solution (I'm assuming you don't have a static IP address), such as This will allow you to easily access your home network remotely via a DNS name even if you have a dynamically assign IP address. This is another thing routers typically handle for you but a separate server can as well.
    * Learn how to share data on the server via NFS/SMB/etc. This is really easy to do and one of the most common uses for a home server.
    * Use it as a media server by running something like Plex on it. This is another common use case for a home server. Bonus points for setting it up to access remotely so you can watch your movies when you're not home.
    * Learn how to setup RAID/ZFS/etc, so you can learn about redundancy, swapping HDs, etc.
    * Learn how to use it as a router and maybe even setup a VPN server (a good, dedicated router is a better tool for this job , especially if you don't really know what you're doing, but it's still a very good learning experience). You'll learn a ton about how routers work by manually setting up your own router and firewall.
    * Learn how to setup a database, web site, etc.
    * Learn how to setup your own, self hosted version of something like Dropbox (e.g ownCloud is one option).
    * Learn how to setup an SSH server and be able to log in remotely (ideally with the use of SSH keys and not just a password).
    * If you're really serious, try setting up an email server with things like spam filtering. This is not for the feint of heart and I don't recommend using it for your primary email. You have to really know what you're doing to be successful at this and even then you'll never be as good as Google. I know people who have been running their own email servers for over 20 years that are giving up and just switching to Google.

    As for what OS to run, it doesn't have to be OSX. Linux and FreeBSD could also be good choices although I'm not sure about FreeBSD support on a Mac Pro.

    As for my home server and what I do with it, I built it myself and it runs FreeBSD and it's primarily used as a Plex server and to share/backup my data. It has a 24TB ZFS RAIDZ2 array (i.e. it can tolerate 2 disk failures before losing data) and server-grade components. I routinely SSH into it remotely, usually from my iPad, to do various things. I also built and setup my own custom router (it runs pfSense) which takes care of DNS, DHCP, and allows me to VPN into my home network. This lets me do things like log into my home PC remotely in a safe and secure manner (another thing I typically do from my iPad). It also gives me a secure internet connection when I'm using a public wifi hotspot.

    Honestly though, I find the best way to learn how to do all of the stuff I listed is via a Linux or FreeBSD virtual machine on whatever computer you want. That way, you can easily blow it away and start over when you screw up.
  5. Paratriplel thread starter macrumors member

    Oct 1, 2011
    Thisismyusername: Thanks! That's exactly what I'm after!

    I've thought about some of those things but a lot of them were new ideas for me and seems interesting, I will read up on some of them to see what difficulty level they are and try to figure out a couple of things to start out with. Thanks again!
  6. GoodHealthIT macrumors member

    Nov 10, 2017
    Don't set it to auto update apps because chances are you'll lose the 'Server' functionality in the upcoming releases. Best to install the oldest version of Server 5.x you can and learn from that...
  7. belvdr macrumors 603

    Aug 15, 2005
    No longer logging into MR
    That’s a very good point. At this stage, I wouldn’t even bother with macOS Server. Instead, use a product that is still being developed on: Linux or Windows. That’s what you’ll find most servers running anyway. With Linux, you’ll have to dig through configuration files, but you’ll learn how thigs work.
  8. Paratriplel thread starter macrumors member

    Oct 1, 2011
    Very good point.. I will have to do some thinking and research about this.. What would a good Linux OS to start with be? And is there some "specific category" the different distributions specialize in (haven't looked that much at this so sorry if this is a dumb question).
    I've messed around in Linux (mostly Ubuntu, but I've used terminal in it for quite a lot though it was a while) before but wouldn't say I'm familiar with it.

    My biggest concern right now is that I'll have a hard time finding resources and tutorials/guides that I understand and learn from.
  9. thisismyusername, Feb 23, 2018
    Last edited: Feb 23, 2018

    thisismyusername macrumors 6502

    Nov 1, 2015
    I suggest you start with Ubuntu for the exact reason you listed... it's very popular, new user friendly, and it'll be easy to find guides/documentation/etc for it. When you get more experience administering Linux, you can start looking into the other distros to really learn the different things they offer.

    For what it's worth, if I was going to run Linux on my home server (I use FreeBSD), I would run Ubuntu but only because it's what I'm most familiar with. All my Linux VMs are Ubuntu.
  10. Geeky Chimp macrumors regular

    Jun 3, 2015
    The Mac Pro 2008 should allow you to install up to OS X El Capitan, so I’d suggest starting out with OS X El Capitan and OS X Server 5.2 . Being a 2008 Mac Pro you luckily can’t ‘upgrade’ to High Sierra and the newest macOS Server with more deprecated features than remaining features.

    I’d start with the Web Service, and move on to each service of interest to you; If you’re looking for free video tutorials for OS X Server check out Todd Olthoff on YouTube.

    From playing with OS X Server 5.2 , you can look into the config files of the services you are interested in and piece things together if you did want to jump to command line Linux servers.

    If you wanted to look for a Linux distro to learn to setup a server, I’d recommend openSUSE with its admin tool YAST. YAST simplifies setup and management, but can become an inconvenience if you make manual changes to Apache config files and then try to edit the web server settings within YAST.
  11. Paratriplel thread starter macrumors member

    Oct 1, 2011
    Hello and thanks for your answers. I haven't been able to do much yet, it had been so much with work and home that I haven't had time or energy to do much but I'm excited to get started!

    I'm still undecided about going with Linux or OS X as operating system. But I'm thinking like this:
    I would like to go with a Mac OS because om familiar with it.. Just as a starting point you know. But I'm afraid that I will not get into the terminal as much as I'd like to, biggest reason for playing around with this is to learn new things, on the other hand if I start out with Linux (Ubuntu / openSUSE) it could become so overwhelming that I get stuck and can't get further, I know that thought is silly, solving those problems is the best way to learn but since I don't have an extremely clear plan for what I want to do with my server it could become a mess.

    But I think I've decided that I need to get into this with the right mind set. Clear goals what I want to achieve in my first phase with it.

    I'd like to be able to login to it from a distance, today I'm using TeamViewer which has been fine for me back then but when I installed it on the Mac pro I got a warning that I had "Suspected Comercial Use" and my plan was only to use it to not have to have a screen connected to it as I set stuff up.
    I've got high hopes to do much through terminal / SSH, though I think it's important that I'm able to see/share the screen at first(as most remote desktop applications work) in case I'm for some reason don't figure out how to do something with commands.

    I also would like some type of file-sever.
    If there was like a access system just like active directory so that my girlfriend and I can have out own folders but also some shared folders that we both have access to.

    Also would like a web-server that I can play around an learn more about dynamic web pages and how to set one up etc (right now I've used mamp which is great but I don't truly understand how it works and sometimes I don't get a page to work..).

    I'll probably place the Mac Pro in a closet or somewhere like that so it might be hard to use it as a media server without having something to handle the receiving signal like a Plex so I'm not entirely sure what I think of this. Maybe stream it to another computer which is connected to a TV and Hifi system.
    We'll see, I will figure that one out later as its not that important and Netflix and HBO subscriptions cover most of my needs.

    Ate there any advantages to connect a printer to the a server or should I judt

    So my list is:
    - Being able to securely connect to it from a distance
    - File-server
    - Webserver (for test/dev use, not for hosting websites from home)
    - Media server (Low priority)
    - I want something that is stable and works and has guides of how to do things.

    I think that's it for now/starters if you don't have any more suggestions?

    The computer has 4 GB RAM (1 GB x 4), don't think it will be a problem for the duties that I've got for it but still felt I should ask if I should upgrade it and in case of yes, which amount is appropriate?

    OH AND YES! The biggest and most important question of all. How do I get El Capitan / OS X Server 5.2!?
    I tried finding the previous versions but wasn't successful. Found some lion server tools but I'm thinking I'll want to do a clean install to make sure it's all fresh and maybe install it on a small / simple SSD-drive.
  12. thisismyusername, Mar 3, 2018
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2018

    thisismyusername macrumors 6502

    Nov 1, 2015
    That's why I suggested using a virtual machine to learn how to do all this with Linux. Install VirtualBox on your MacBooc/iMac/PC/whatever and install whatever version of Linux you want. If you screw things up, just blow away the VM and start over. Once you feel more confident with managing a server, use real hardware.

    I much prefer to connect my printer directly to my network as opposed to connecting to a computer/server and sharing it on my network. Of course this only works if you're printer supports this, however, even cheap printers these days have that built in.

    There are lots of ways to do that. "ssh" is a very common way although that's better if you're very comfortable with the command line. It's how I remotely log into my server (which doesn't run a window manager and thus the command line is my only option). You'll want to read some guides on how to setup an ssh server securely (i.e. use ssh keys with a passphrase, don't allow password logins, and never allow remote root user logins).

    If you want something a little more user friendly that easily gives you access to your computer's window manager and desktop, then I'd use Apple's built in remote desktop (or whatever it's called) assuming you install OSX. If you install Linux, then VNC or TeamViewer (I use TeamViewer to remotely access my parent's computer when they're having problems) are good.

    Either way you go requires you setup port forwarding on your router. You'll obviously want to use secure passwords and what not because you're opening up certain ports on your server to the internet.

    I also take it a step further and use a custom port for this stuff. "Security through obscurity" doesn't really make things any more secure, however, it does mean my server logs don't get flooded with folks from Russia/China/etc trying to hack into my server on a daily basis (this happens to my friends who use default ports).

    Look up how to setup Samba if using Linux. Look up how to share files/directories on OSX if going that route.

    You've got all kinds of options here. I'd start with learning how to configure Apache or nginx (which one you choose doesn't really matter for your use case although I prefer nginx) to just serve static files. If you want to start getting into more dynamic stuff, then you can start looking into languages like php/python/ruby/go/java/javascript and node/etc and how to setup web servers in them. Since you said it's just for test/dev, I wouldn't bother doing this on your main server. Just do it on a Linux virtual machine on whatever machine you typically use.

    I suggest Plex. It's what I use at home. It's easy to setup, widely supported, and will play just about anything you could possibly want.

    Linux and OSX will both be stable. I suggest going with Ubuntu Linux since it's one of the most popular distros and new user friendly. You'll find tons of guides on all this stuff.

    You shouldn't need to upgrade your hardware to run Linux.
  13. Geeky Chimp macrumors regular

    Jun 3, 2015
    The OS X El Capitan Installer can be downloaded from the Mac App Store, the link can be found in the Apple Support Document

    When you purchase macOS Server (currently 5.5) if your machine wont run the latest version, which El Capitan wont, it will download the latest version that your machine can run, for El Capitan this is OS X Server 5.2.

    For Remote Access, if you require simple Remote Access with a GUI, take a look at Splashtop Personal. It is free to use within your LAN, and the charge for Remote Access is currently $17 (~ £12.50) per year.

    Again, I'd recommend Todd Olthoff on Youtube for OS X Server (macOS Server) training videos as he will walk you through setting up your server.

    If you are familiar with macOS and are looking for a Home Server, take a look at macOS Server on Sierra / OS X Server on El Capitan. IMO avoid macOS Server & High Sierra, most of the services are deprecated! Linux is going to be a bigger learning curve for you, which once you're more familiar with servers may be easier.
  14. belvdr macrumors 603

    Aug 15, 2005
    No longer logging into MR
    I still think you're wasting your time with macOS Server. With Apple deprecating the features that most Apple servers used, it's pointless to learn it. You'll learn Apple's way and then if/when you go to Linux, you'll be just as frustrated trying to learn how the rest of the world does it. Save yourself the time and gain experience in a platform that is widely used.

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13 February 21, 2018