Home network, OSX Server vs NAS, use cases?

Discussion in 'Mac OS X Server, Xserve, and Networking' started by MortyUA, Sep 17, 2015.

  1. MortyUA, Sep 17, 2015
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2015

    MortyUA macrumors newbie

    Jul 3, 2012
    Dear all,

    I'm a longtime Windows user, who is transitioning from a all-Windows to pure Apple setup. And I'm an Apple newbie (virgin?). :) ;)

    I currently have a Windows HTPC which also does basic file and printer sharing, and a stationary PC, and a laptop.

    Reading Apple forums, I see frequent mentioning of not getting a NAS for home storage, and instead getting a Mac Mini with the OSX Server app. I a 'techie' home network with 2-3 computers, what are the use cases where Mac Mini + OSX Server are better than a NAS -- what is it used for?

    I understand that Time Machine backups to 3rd party NAS can be a bit unreliable when new releases of OSX/Time Machine are made. So that's one fair use case for OSX Server. Which other ones are there?

    If you were starting from scratch now, and planned to have a desktop + ipad + iphone, would you get a NAS or Mac Mini for file storage? Why? I don't have unlimited funds, but I will pay for quality and longevity.

    Thanks! :) :apple:
  2. Fabian90 macrumors regular

    Feb 19, 2013
    Bonn, Germany
    Well I use an old Mac Mini as server (early 2009). It runs Time Machine, a caching server for updates, a file server and hosts my iTunes library.

    I think that, except the caching function, you can do everything of that on a NAS, too. But for me, "it just works". It is really easy with OS X Server and I had the Mini anyway. On the newer ones you can expand the storage via Thunderbolt, also really cool. And you can access it remotely via Back to My Mac.

    It's really not thaaat much different but it requires only a bit of power and I think it's easier to setupl
  3. theluggage macrumors 68040

    Jul 29, 2011
    I think the main "use case" is if you happen to have an old Mac Mini knocking around... It also means you have a "spare Mac" since nothing in OS X Server stops you using the machine as a regular Mac at the same time.

    You can also run 'proper' iTunes on it and use it for home sharing (I think some NAS offer some iTunes support but with restrictions) - there used to be an open source iTunes server (Firefly) but its been abandoned for years.

    You can run web servers, blogs, mail, database servers etc. The higher-end NASs offer this sort of functionality as well, but a Mac Mini probably has more processing grunt than the typical NAS and virtually all of the common Open Source Linux/Unix packages are available for Mac (using MacPorts/Fink/Homebrew if there isn't a specific OS X package). I don't know if any NASs do a better job at configuring a Mail server without incoming SMTP by, e.g., giving you a wizard to configure Fetchmail or Getmail.

    You could also use Virtualbox to set up virtual servers for specific purposes using Linux or BSD - e.g. if you wanted to experiment with a publicly accessible web server without the risk of exposing all your files to the Big Bad Internet. That said, running any sort of public service from a home broadband connection isn't a brilliant idea (some ISPs prohibit it, most ISPs don't give you a fixed IP address, ADSL is optimised for downloading, not serving files to others etc...)

    OS X Server also has some stuff for managing Macs and iDevices in a business setting - I haven't looked in to this.

    If you just want networked storage I'd go with a NAS (check the reviews to see if it plays nicely with Time Machine). If you want to experiment then a Mac Mini might be more suitable. Personally, I'd probably build a little Mini-ITX PC in a case designed to take multiple hard drives to do the job and run Linux or BSD on it (there are dedicated free NAS distributions like FreeNAS or NAS4Free if you like). HP does some mini servers that seem to be popular if you need something a bit meatier than a NAS.
  4. Fabian90 macrumors regular

    Feb 19, 2013
    Bonn, Germany
    Oh and I use my old Mac Mini for the Remote Disk function since my retina Macbook Pro does not have a DVD Drive
  5. MortyUA thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jul 3, 2012
    Thank you both very much! It's clear to me now, thanks. :)
  6. Nicholas Savage macrumors newbie

    Oct 19, 2013
    Southern Wisconsin
    Honestly the main bonus is that if you are already doing the full apple ecosystem thing the whole synced settings / interoperability thing isn't going to be matched with any NAS product. And you can use it as a HTPC. Adding tons of storage ends up being an initial investment in USB3 / TB cases. .but someone being cheap could just software raid mirror batches of cheap usb drives too. I used to run a Mini in this fashion. Not a bad way to go.
  7. mmomega, Oct 4, 2015
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2015

    mmomega macrumors demi-god


    Dec 30, 2009
    DFW, TX
    The one thing a NAS can't do, for me, is actually run iTunes.
    I can store, host, share, backup, do almost anything under the sun on my Synology NAS except run iTunes for HomeSharing.

    My 1515+ is a quad core, 16GB RAM, 20TB it serves as my TimeMachine, iTunes media server, run Plex Server, my 1515+ from the office syncs to it, it does almost everything I want and I only need a web browser to access it. I have a little buyer's remorse in the beginning, as I always do, Hell I have buyers remorse on everything but once I actively started using it, it slowly began replacing the Mac Mini's duties.

    If Plex release an App for the new AppleTV's then ye ol' Mac Mini server will be on the chopping block since it's only purpose is really for home sharing since I got the NAS last Christmas.
  8. satcomer macrumors 603


    Feb 19, 2008
    The Finger Lakes Region
  9. blacka4 macrumors 6502

    Sep 28, 2009
    yes, that works on how to configure iTunes to work with the NAS but what he is trying to say is that without running iTunes client on a mac he can not use home sharing,. which is a downfall to the NAS.
  10. zootalaws macrumors newbie

    Mar 13, 2016
    As someone with two houses, two networks, one with a Mac mini doing server and htpc duties, one with an advanced NAS feeding an Apple TV 4, by far the easier and more flexible is the Mac Mini.

    Although, I would now probably look at reclaiming my mini and going NAS/AppleTV, just to have another computer to use, as my htpc needs are relatively low (stream audio, use Plex).

    My NAS is a headless SFF PC, with a high-power CPU and 16gb RAM, bought for NZ$200, a couple of NAS-ready 3TB drives, wired by Ethernet to my router, sitting hidden in a cupboard.

    Using FreeNAS, It runs Time Machine and other AFP shares perfectly, it runs Plex and Firefly, so gives me all the current features I need, and if I wanted, I could run a virtual machine to give me UNIX or Mac OS Server features, within the NAS.

    But, for ease of use and the 'it just works' experience, you can't go past a Mac Mini running Mac OS (don't even need server, really, I have it loaded but rarely use its advanced functions - and I'm a hacker with over 40 years at the sharp end).

    Working in one country, with the Mini in another is no problem - I use remote sw to access and do any maintenance. I get the odd 'help me' from my wife, but again, getting remote access to the mini means the whole network is available to me to do break/fix. That wouldn't be as easy with a NAS alone, but if it was a Mac problem, just as easy to remote into a non-server workstation and perform local maintenance. It's just easier on the mini.

    --- Post Merged, Mar 13, 2016 ---
    It's a problem with Synology, maybe, but FreeNAS with firefly works just fine as an iTunes/DAAP server.
    --- Post Merged, Mar 13, 2016 ---
    My commiserations on shelling out all that money on a Synology, but there should be a DAAPD fork for it that will give you an effective iTunes server function.

    And Plex on AppleTV4 is just dandy. How much do you want for your Mac Mini? :)

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