Lion as a server for a Windows network

Discussion in 'Mac OS X Server, Xserve, and Networking' started by InfoTime, Apr 15, 2011.

  1. InfoTime macrumors 6502

    Jul 17, 2002
    In my business I provide IT support for residential and very small business customers. I don't handle any clients who are big enough to require a real Windows server like Windows Server 2003 or 2008.

    However, I have installed a couple of Windows Home Server appliances for customers - mainly for backup purposes. I love the backup feature of Windows Home Server. It's the closest thing I've found to Time Machine on Windows. The problem is that Windows Home Server looks like a dead-end. HP (who had the best boxes) is getting out of the business. The new version of WHS doesn't look that great.

    So, I recalled that Server will be included in Lion. A few questions:
    - is there or will there be a limit on the number of client PCs that can connect
    - can anyone recommend a free or near-free backup program for Windows that will work as well as WHS's? (automatic daily backups that are both file and image backups, and work with most recent flavors of Windows XP Home, Vista Home Premium or 7 Home Premium)
    - anything else I should consider?

    (posted this in the Lion forum too, so sorry about the cross-post, this might be the better forum)
  2. talmy macrumors 601


    Oct 26, 2009
    I don't think you will find anyone who would say that using a Mac server in an all Windows network is a good idea. I certainly won't.

    If a Windows server is too expensive, get a Linux server.
  3. InfoTime thread starter macrumors 6502

    Jul 17, 2002
    It's not so much about the expense, although I think a Windows server can probably be a little pricey. It's more about the knowledge base and complexity of dealing with Windows server that I don't really care to get into.

    Mind my asking why using a Mac server in a small (10-15 users max), predominantly Windows network is not a good idea?
  4. talmy macrumors 601


    Oct 26, 2009
    OS X server isn't the "piece of cake" that OS X client is. You will still have to learn it, and it will take occasional command-line tweaking as the GUI won't do everything.

    It is really like there is no reason to prefer OS X server for non-Mac settings. You may pay more for Windows server, but it will be tailored towards Windows clients. And there are plenty of people who know it and can consult. If you don't want Windows server, you might as well go with Linux since it is also popular and OS X server offers no advantages over it.
  5. ag227 macrumors regular

    Jun 11, 2007
    #5 Timeline is like timemachine for windows, automated backups, monitors changes and then backs up only those changes, and you can go back in time in windows explorer and recover files. It works really well. And no its not a copy of timemachine, it has been out for years and is way better than time machine.
  6. VideoFreek, Apr 18, 2011
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2011

    VideoFreek macrumors 6502


    May 12, 2007
    InfoTime, are you really sure you want to throw in the towel on WHS? Admittedly, the exit of HP and the elimination of Drive Extender from Vail were setbacks, but I still think WHS is one of Microsoft's most underrated products. It is ideal for a Windows-centric home network, and the availability of an OEM version (assuming MS continues to make this available with WHS 2011) means you can provide your clients with a nearly unlimited range of hardware options. If you wanted to custom-build a gorgeous home server for a client, you could do far worse than using one of these beauties.

    I agree with the others here; Mac OS X server is not the solution for a Windows network. It would be overkill for your purposes, and too high-maintenance.
  7. lythium macrumors member

    Sep 25, 2009
    I would actually say that any time you can remove a windows machine from any sort of mission critical role, its a good thing. Its expensive, a pain to maintain, and crashes all the time.
  8. talmy macrumors 601


    Oct 26, 2009
    Nonsense! We had a Windows NT Server at work back in the 1990's that we used for 5 years running 24/7 that never even needed to be rebooted. I maintained it, if I can use that word since I had to do absolutely nothing the whole time we had it. I had a Dell desktop that I converted to a server and used with no reboots except for patches for 8 years. And the Windows servers at my current job have been just as reliable as my Mac mini server at home (which has had its share of services crashing and requiring restarting).

    If Windows servers were as bad as you claim then they wouldn't have the market share that they do.
  9. lythium macrumors member

    Sep 25, 2009
    Windows has the market that it does because business people and marketing dorks think exchange is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Simple POP3/imap is 10x more reliable.
  10. GLS macrumors 6502

    Jun 26, 2010
    Obviously, you have zero knowledge about Microsoft's business offerings.

    Or maintaining a proper business network/email platform.
  11. bartzilla, Apr 21, 2011
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2011

    bartzilla macrumors 6502a

    Aug 11, 2008
    For you, maybe. However, some of us know what we're doing and are comfortable supporting several platforms.

    And on a small network I think its questionable to run a mac server to serve a room full of windows clients just as it would to run windows server to serve mac clients.
  12. nwroberts macrumors member

    Jan 2, 2011
    Backups as batch files - no "server" needed

    You can get a NAS harddrive or another computer with a share or anything else.

    Create a batch file in notepad that sets the archive bit using xcopy to copy remotely.

    Put this as a scheduled task to run nightly.

    Backup is complete.

    If you don't know batch files well. You can install SyncToy and set it to backup to a NAS on the network or another computer or external harddrive. If you get really savvy, you can do FTP or across a VPN to your "remote office" for offsite backups and charge extra.

    But no, don't use Lion for a server for windows...
  13. balamw Moderator


    Staff Member

    Aug 16, 2005
    New England
    In this case I would agree with you. WHS/SBS Colorado is probably a great choice for Windows based home users with some support from someone like InfoTime.

    Personally, I'm on the fence about what to do with my HP MediaSmart EX490 though. It may become a Ubuntu server for my Mac based network.

  14. mainstay macrumors 6502


    Feb 14, 2011
    I very much like the idea of running a mac mini server in a small business comprised of all PC's.

    Pro 1: it is small and quiet.

    Most servers I've seen are crammed into either cramped electrical closets OR some poor sap get's to have the server humming away right behind their desk. These things are tiny and are so low profile I'm often told, "that's a nice looking router, but when does the server get here?".

    Pro 2: It runs a FAR better SMB server than MS.

    Well, SMB is SMB, but I seem to be able to connect to a mac smb file share from ALL the various flavors of Windows (Basic, Home Premium, Pro, etc.) much easier than when I connect to a Windows Server. Usually, with Windows clients, I have to go around to each workstation and adjust their network security settings to actually use authentication when logging into a network share (this is OFF by default!).

    Pro 3: Costs.

    I just did two office, one running a Mac Mini Server and one running Windows 2008.

    Mac: $1100 for mini + $30 for SuperDuper! + $80 for Parallels + $150 for Windows 7 Professional (they needed to run Simply Accounting for Windows) = $1360 + tax.

    Windows: $8000 in Dell Server Class system (it is a sweet system, but WAAAY overkill and they sort of got taken) + $100 Client Access License per user AND per device x 20+ $1000 Norton Exec. Backup Software + $100 A/V software for the Server (does not include workstations) = $10100 + tax.

    These are massive savings.

    Our PC's on a Mac Server are happily working beyond their previous 10 user limit and Simply is running just fine out of a "Windows Server ala Parallels".

    On the Dell Server side, they have hired me to come in and remove the configuration that the guy who set them up.... namely, they do NOT want Exchange - they hate it and it is confusing to them. They want simple IMAP that simply works.

    Also, just because these networks are all Windows based NOW, does not mean they will always remain so. And I like to plan for the future as these two places expand.

    Already, from the time that I began the process of getting them a new mac server at the first place the Boss went out and picked up an iPad2. No sooner had he fallen in love with that a new Mac Book Pro shows up on his desk. He's totally converted to Mac. Now, because I have a mac mini server in place, he can EASILY VPN into the office, browse his files, and work remotely very easily and painlessly. Yes, I understand VPN can be accomplished on a PC server, but certainly not with as little effort as it takes on the Mac.

    So I strongly believe that a mac mini server working in a mostly windows environment is not only a good decision, I think it is also forward thinking.

    back to the original topic a bit:
    For Windows-Based systems I very much like Acronis to take my initial snapshot of the system at time zero or at momentous occasions. But for the other 80% of the time, I like Cobian Backup (Free) to make simple file copies to an external drive. I also use offsite services for the system files: BackBlaze ($4 / month, unlimited data) or CrashPlan (free to another system that you have access to - great for backing up the companies office server to the companies warehouse server).
  15. InfoTime thread starter macrumors 6502

    Jul 17, 2002
    What you say sounds in line with what I've been thinking.
    There are situations when they'd need Windows on the server. A couple of clients I have run Quickbooks and run a small db server for Quickbooks on the Windows Server (XP Pro in one case). Not sure that would do well in an environment like you have. Were they running Simply Accounting for Windows on that Mac Mini server because they had a user sitting there doing stuff, or was it some kind of back-end service?
  16. mainstay macrumors 6502


    Feb 14, 2011
    They have a small 5-user accounting / bookkeeping department that uses Simply Accounting (on separate workstations running a variety of Windows (1 XP home, 1 XP Pro, 2 Vista, and 1 7 Home Premium). I opted to place the Simply Accounting DB (Simply Accounting Connection Manager) onto the server and have the 5 clients connect to the Windows 7 Pro system (running in Parallels on the mac-mini) because:

    a) there is no native Mac equivalent
    b) Windows 7 Pro can sustain 20 simultaneous connections
    c) Parallels can easily be backed up using a stop/start shell script
    d) this is a VERY minor "role" for the server to be performing (15 Windows SMB users + Parallels + Windows + Simply + 2 VPN users = ~5% CPU load).
    e) I have 100% confidence that this would work for QuickBooks in exactly the same way.
  17. InfoTime thread starter macrumors 6502

    Jul 17, 2002
    Interesting. Is Simply Accounting Connection Manager the MySQL component? Is that running on Mac OS X Server or running under the VM too?
  18. mainstay macrumors 6502


    Feb 14, 2011
    All components of Simply are running within Windows 7 via Parallels.

    Windows has it's own unique IP and the various Windows clients connect to that address for their connection to the database (which is just SAI / SAJ files stored in a folder on Windows 7).
  19. bartzilla macrumors 6502a

    Aug 11, 2008
    Fair point, but you can buy plenty of small form factor PCs to run Windows Server instead.

    I'm sorry but this is absurd. If you can't make SMB sharing work on Windows Server with Windows clients then *you* are doing it wrong.

    Well you're not comparing like for like, so its hardly a surprise that there are massive savings. You remind me of the trolls we get who claim that Apple suck because they can find a cheap clone PC for a quarter of the price of a MacBook Pro.
  20. mainstay macrumors 6502


    Feb 14, 2011
    If we are talking Windows XP Professional and Windows 7 Professional clients then yes, file sharing works. But if you've ever had the great misfortune of being forced to work with Vista then you will know how flawed the networking capabilities are. Can they be *fixed*? Of course. But I'd rather not jump from station to station and spend time making a computer do something so fundamentally simple as connect to a remote share.

    Please note Bartzilla, I am not talking about binding to a domain controller, but simple, off-the-shelf file sharing. Vista (and Home Premium flavors) need too much attention.

    And make no doubt, in offices that do not adhere to any proper purchasing guidelines for equipment replacement, there will exist a mix of platforms that all need to be massaged into the network. Although I'd love to work on an all Pro network, this is a dream that will never be realized.

    In the businesses that I work for, we do use authenticated folders for
    people with special roles (Accounting, the Boss, etc.). But for the most part, the file sharing is a giant, open share folder for storing common files that everyone needs access to.

    And Mac's concept of "Everyone" permissions is set once and forgotten, while Windows "Everyone" permission needs to be revisited every so often to apply the inheriting of permissions from the parent folder.

    Also, the final nail in this for me and the businesses I work for, is that a MS server requires a client access license for every computer accessing the server whereas Apple has unlimited access. This is serious savings for small operations. Plus, as an ad-hoc admin for these operations, I don't have to monitor them continuously to make sure that when they buy another PC that they also buy an additional CAL.

    [I have also used NAS devices to overcome this, but need more controls than are offered by QNAP and Buffalo.]

    I am most definitely NOT comparing like for like. This wasn't an argument of CPU Mac vs CPU PC, RAM Mac vs RAM PC. I was commenting that an office can be equipped with a very decent server that can handle the bulk of what most small businesses need for a very reasonable price.

    And honestly, if the roles of the server expand beyond what the mini can handle, a second one that just does the expanded roles would be a wiser investment.

    I just so happened to walk into two similar offices that were presented with two different paths: Mac Mini for one and a Windows Server for the other.

    The prices I presented are real. These two companies spent very differently and received very different servers. The irony is that the company that went with a Windows server is actually using a filemaker platform that only utilizes ~4GB of RAM, and is, of course, an Apple product. This would have run MUCH better on a mini than their monster server case that you can hear when you walk in the front door.

    I presented my viewpoint which is based on my experience as an independent IT consultant for small businesses. InfoTime sounded like he is in a similar situation and I wanted to give him an alternative answer to the ones he had been receiving.

    Using a mac mini in small business environments with mixed technology is an effective option that I strongly support.

    I guess this makes me a Troll.
  21. mrbash, Apr 28, 2011
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2011

    mrbash macrumors 6502

    Aug 10, 2008
    Personal experience with OSX Server

    My personal experience with OSX server has been quite bad.

    I had tried to set up OS X server to support my mainly Mac household and a few Windows desktops. I bought the new Mac Mini server edition.

    First, SMB did not work at all. Not for the Windows 7 boxes or the OS X boxes. I called Apple support but they were unable to resolve the problem.

    DNS worked well and was very easy to use.

    OpenDirectory was already set up which was great, but it simply didn't work. It was not possible to set up administrator accounts in Open Directory. Each Mac had to be manually installed with a local Admin account. Also Automount did not work at all. Even though AFP worked well. Plus, OpenDirectory crashed a number of times. This could be a bug.

    AFP worked well with Macs.

    No Print Server. Although I was able to hack the printer Daemon to work. But the performance was not great.

    Overall I was extremely disappointed with OS X Server, some of the services were unstable. I tried it for a year before I gave up on it and went with a Linux solution. It worked very well in a mixed environment and I was able to use the Mac-Mini to run it. NIS with AD was very easy to set up. I was able to easily connect Mac clients to it.

    My thoughts on the issue is the following:
    • If you have the money, then I would go with Windows Server. There is better support for it, especially if you pay for one of their support options.
    • If you have no money, Linux is a great choice. Support is good, not great. I don't know about the paid offerings, but I think it would be as good as MS. But the cost would be the same. I am most likely going to go this route.
    • Avoid OSX server. I'm not even sure how committed Apple is to that product.

    I do suspect that the OP has made up their mind about OSX Server however. Perhaps they were looking for validation of the choice?
  22. InfoTime thread starter macrumors 6502

    Jul 17, 2002
    Maybe I'm missing the point. It sounds like everything you're doing could just as easily be done with a stand-alone Windows 7 Pro box, could it not? I don't see what OS X Server gives you other than a host to run the VM.

    No, I haven't made up my mind. I was soliciting feedback regarding the idea. That's what we're seeing here. Some people don't think it's a good idea, some do.
  23. talmy macrumors 601


    Oct 26, 2009
    I've had problems with SMB even when I ran a Windows box as a server! But it seems to work just fine between my last remaining Windows system as well as Windows virtual machines to my Snow Leopard server. The first time I added a Mac to my home network (back in Panther days) SMB on the Mac took down the SMB communication on my then Windows-only network. My conclusion is that SMB is somewhat of a mess.

    I did successfully get OpenDirectory logins with the home folder on the server to work, but I decided that they didn't offer anything extra for the effort that would make it worth the effort to maintain. I do think all systems need a local admin account anyway -- I don't think OS X allows having a system without a local admin account.

    I got automount to work. All it does is force the mounts into the list of programs to start up at login. In any case it isn't as nice as Windows because it will fill the screen with Finder windows -- no way to mount without the Finder window!

    Works fine here once I read up on it. Looks like Lion server won't have the printer server, which I consider unfortunate.

    Totally agree with you here though, as far as the OP is concerned.
  24. kingtj macrumors 68020

    Oct 23, 2003
    Brunswick, MD

    I've been supporting Windows (and other OS's) for something like 25 years now. (Started out when products like Banyan Vines and LANtastic for DOS were popular.) So while I don't claim to "know everything", I can certainly promise I've been doing this stuff for a long time and know a fair bit about it.

    My experience with Windows NT server was that 3.51 was only really stable when it didn't have to run any additional applications. If it truly was doing nothing more than serving files with the built-in functionality, or acting as a print server (only using original Microsoft drivers or other "high quality" drivers that were known to be reliable in network environments), then yes - it could run and run without a reboot. NT 4.0 was a little better, and certainly added more capabilities, but until Windows 2000 Server was released? I found all of those products suffered from memory leaks and the need for occasional reboots if they actually ran any 3rd. party applications of any substance.

    My current employer was on Windows 2000 Server products when I started here, about 5 years ago, and we've upgraded all but one of them to Windows 2003 Server since then. (Actually, we have one running Windows Server 2008 with virtual machines now.) Windows 2003 has proved to be more stable than 2000 when it comes to storage drivers. (EG. We have removable hot swap SATA drives in carriers in one of them, and under Win 2000, it always generated error messages when a drive was hot-swapped. With 2003, it handles the mounting and unmounting without hiccups. In another case, a Promise V-Track storage cabinet behaves properly on an Adaptec SCSI card in Windows Server 2003, but regularly froze up in 2000.)

    So yes, today, Windows servers are quite reliable and stable -- but it took Microsoft many years to really get them there, depending on the scenario they were used in.

    My biggest complaint with WHS is, the single biggest "killer feature" of them was that dynamic hard drive resizing capability. Now that they removed it (rather than fix the data corruption bug they had in it before), I just don't see anything compelling about it anymore? It seems like a solution like the ReadyNAS from Netgear is more interesting, overall? (You can download free plug-in modules for it, to extend its functionality to do all sorts of things it wasn't intended to do out of the box, and it does have its own dynamic drive swap/resize capabilities.)

  25. ChrisA macrumors G4

    Jan 5, 2006
    Redondo Beach, California
    For such a simple job what you need is a low power Dual core Atom based computer on a micro ATX board. These only burn a few watts of power. The one I use does not require a fan on the CPU heat sync so the machine is quite. Power consumption is an issue.

    Then install Linux. Ubuntu works fine for this

    There are many ways to do backups of Windows clients. (1) Use Windows based backup sotware that can push the data out to a server using FTP or whatever or (2) the windows clients "share" there local drives to the server and then the backup software runs on the server and runs in the normal way from a cron script.

    When you install the Linux machine do not supply the user with a monitor, keyboard or mouse. Admin should be 100% web based. Unless something goes wrong ad then he calls you and you ca SSH in from home and see what's up.

    I set soething like this up and I think I spend about $300 total.

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