Mac mini as a server?

Smellmet

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Original poster
Dec 15, 2012
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Goole, UK
We're looking at getting a server for our small studio, but are not 100% sure what's the right solution. Initially I've suggested to my bosses that we get a second hand 'cheesegrater' Mac Pro from 2010 onwards for around £1500 with SSD and at least 16GB RAM as they're still pretty beefy machines when they were specced up, and provide nice storage bays for extra drives etc.

I've also considered getting a Mini to cut costs, but I'm not sure what the ramifications are of plumping for one of these are over the Pro, obviously they're inferior machines but it is just for use as a server with 4 iMacs and 4 PC's needing to be connected to it, so is it just a case of plugging an external drive into one and sharing it via the Apple Server software or is there more to it?. Would it need to be a top spec one with maxed out RAM? Or would the Pro be the better choice?
 

Menel

macrumors 603
Aug 4, 2011
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File server doesn't need much spec.
I use a mini as a plex video server with several several 3tb drives plugged in, and it handles 5, 6 simultaneous users just fine. Even transcoding.
 
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Smellmet

macrumors regular
Original poster
Dec 15, 2012
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Goole, UK
This is for a Graphic Design studio running Creative Cloud, would you recommend the mini then? Surely it would need at least an SSD if not maxed out RAM?
 

MAlexB

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Oct 10, 2017
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Why not a Synology like the RS816 for your rack space, for example? - Comes with all relevant software, much cheaper, easier to set up, handle and extend...
 
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twalk

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Apr 22, 2009
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Why not a Synology like the RS816 for your rack space, for example? - Comes with all relevant software, much cheaper, easier to set up, handle and extend...
If you mostly just need a file server (with a few extra features), then this, +100

Only bother getting a Mac for a server when a Mac will make a difference, like as an itunes server
 

MarkJames68

macrumors 6502
Sep 24, 2017
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If it’s just for files, a NAS is simpler, but no matter what the solution you will need a backup strategy, ideally one that includes an offsite option.

RAID =/= backup

Also, if it’s for occasional or mostly single person use the 816 should be fine, but also look at tower options with more disks too and faster CPU.
 

GuilleA

macrumors regular
Jun 8, 2015
128
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Buenos Aires
When you say you need a server, exactly for what purpose? Directory services, DNS and routing, VPN access, File Sharing? If you're only looking for file sharing, like everyone else said a NAS is the way to go. Even if you go the NAS route, Synology units come with a pretty complete OS that will handle several services for you.

This is for a Graphic Design studio running Creative Cloud
Creative Cloud runs in the cloud, I don't see how a local server would help.
 

Smellmet

macrumors regular
Original poster
Dec 15, 2012
179
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Goole, UK
When you say you need a server, exactly for what purpose? Directory services, DNS and routing, VPN access, File Sharing? If you're only looking for file sharing, like everyone else said a NAS is the way to go. Even if you go the NAS route, Synology units come with a pretty complete OS that will handle several services for you.



Creative Cloud runs in the cloud, I don't see how a local server would help.
I was just giving you a flavour of what we're running in terms of what we use our Macs for - Indesign, Illustrator and Photoshop documents.

The reason I'm asking about a mac as a solution is I'm pretty confident using and setting them up, and I'll be the one responsible for it, I've never used the other suggestions that people have made.
[doublepost=1509005250][/doublepost]
If it’s just for files, a NAS is simpler, but no matter what the solution you will need a backup strategy, ideally one that includes an offsite option.

RAID =/= backup

Also, if it’s for occasional or mostly single person use the 816 should be fine, but also look at tower options with more disks too and faster CPU.
Yeah it's just for files only at this point - I was planning on plugging 2x 2TB drives into it and mirroring them, keeping one off-site at the end of every day.

Why not a Synology like the RS816 for your rack space, for example? - Comes with all relevant software, much cheaper, easier to set up, handle and extend...
Where's the best place to look at/purchase these?
 

GuilleA

macrumors regular
Jun 8, 2015
128
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Buenos Aires
Alright, got it. For a creative agency that need file sharing a NAS is perfect. You'll get far better performance that from a mini running files off an external USB drive.

Set up a NAS from Synology or Netgear with at least 4 drives in RAID5 (or RAID10 depending on your needs). You'll be able to pump out files to all your clients with zero delay.

As for backups, simply get a couple of large external USB drives and setup a rotating backup schedule, say a drive for Monday, Wednesday and Fridays and another one for Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. This way you will always have one external drive locally backing up for the day and another one off-site for safekeeping.
 

Smellmet

macrumors regular
Original poster
Dec 15, 2012
179
53
Goole, UK
Alright, got it. For a creative agency that need file sharing a NAS is perfect. You'll get far better performance that from a mini running files off an external USB drive.

Set up a NAS from Synology or Netgear with at least 4 drives in RAID5 (or RAID10 depending on your needs). You'll be able to pump out files to all your clients with zero delay.

As for backups, simply get a couple of large external USB drives and setup a rotating backup schedule, say a drive for Monday, Wednesday and Fridays and another one for Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. This way you will always have one external drive locally backing up for the day and another one off-site for safekeeping.
Forgive me, but how do you set up these things? I'm handy enough with a Mac but I'm not sure how these things work - how would we get our 4 macs and 4 PCs to connect to this thing?
 

GuilleA

macrumors regular
Jun 8, 2015
128
121
Buenos Aires
Forgive me, but how do you set up these things? I'm handy enough with a Mac but I'm not sure how these things work - how would we get our 4 macs and 4 PCs to connect to this thing?
It's really not that hard. There are many tutorials and videos out there, but in a nutshell you just configure everything from the NAS's web UI. You set up user accounts, shared folders with permissions and you're good to go. Most NAS units support Bonjour so they will show up in the Finder automatically. Support for SMB and AFP (for older Macs) is also there.

For the Windows machines, I assume you don't have a directory set up and you're simply doing workgroup sharing. If this is the case, simply add the NAS to the same workgroup and it should appear in Windows Explorer.

RAID setup really depends on your needs. RAID5 will give you a better use of your overall storage, albeit with a small (sometimes negligible in modern units) performance hit. RAID10 will be faster but you'll lose half the storage space.
 
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Smellmet

macrumors regular
Original poster
Dec 15, 2012
179
53
Goole, UK
It's really not that hard. There are many tutorials and videos out there, but in a nutshell you just configure everything from the NAS's web UI. You set up user accounts, shared folders with permissions and you're good to go. Most NAS units support Bonjour so they will show up in the Finder automatically. Support for SMB and AFP (for older Macs) is also there.

For the Windows machines, I assume you don't have a directory set up and you're simply doing workgroup sharing. If this is the case, simply add the NAS to the same workgroup and it should appear in Windows Explorer.

RAID setup really depends on your needs. RAID5 will give you a better use of your overall storage, albeit with a small (sometimes negligible in modern units) performance hit. RAID10 will be faster but you'll lose half the storage space.
Ok that sounds pretty straightforward, I'm sure I can manage that, I just need someone to install a wired network into our office then, as we're currently using onedrive as a server over our wi fi and as you can imagine it's horrendous.
 

twalk

macrumors regular
Apr 22, 2009
149
147
Ok that sounds pretty straightforward, I'm sure I can manage that, I just need someone to install a wired network into our office then, as we're currently using onedrive as a server over our wi fi and as you can imagine it's horrendous.
There are now some NAS's that have wifi built in (including Synology). There are others that allow you to add it with a wifi usb dongle
 

GuilleA

macrumors regular
Jun 8, 2015
128
121
Buenos Aires
Ok that sounds pretty straightforward, I'm sure I can manage that, I just need someone to install a wired network into our office then, as we're currently using onedrive as a server over our wi fi and as you can imagine it's horrendous.
Wired will always be better than Wi-Fi. However, if you have AC-capable Mac and PCs, the current Wave 2 generation of APs from Ubiquiti and Aruba have excellent performance and throughput. But that's a whole different topic, and running Cat 6 cable will be cheaper.

Do plan ahead, tough. 10 Gig-E is becoming mainstream. I believe some of the higher-end units from Synology come with 1 or 2 10 gig ports, and you can connect it to a nice backbone switch. Having the NAS connected at 10Gbps to the main switch and the rest of the clients to regular 1Gbps ports will let you avoid bottlenecks and extract every bit of performance from the NAS.
 

Neodym

macrumors 68000
Jul 5, 2002
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Alright, got it. For a creative agency that need file sharing a NAS is perfect. You'll get far better performance that from a mini running files off an external USB drive.
Did they really improve that much? A few years back the difference was day and night - pro mini! The NAS took ages to do basic stuff like calculating file and folder sizes, showing directories or copy/move files.

With a mini and an attached dual-bay Thunderbolt device it was as smoothly as a direct attached storage. Of course file transfers were still limited by network speed (Gigabit Ethernet). But I had a much better user experience using a mini instead of a NAS.
 

GuilleA

macrumors regular
Jun 8, 2015
128
121
Buenos Aires
Did they really improve that much? A few years back the difference was day and night - pro mini! The NAS took ages to do basic stuff like calculating file and folder sizes, showing directories or copy/move files.

With a mini and an attached dual-bay Thunderbolt device it was as smoothly as a direct attached storage. Of course file transfers were still limited by network speed (Gigabit Ethernet). But I had a much better user experience using a mini instead of a NAS.
As long as you don't get a basic NAS with a slow Atom or similar CPU, performance is great. I only have experience with mid-tier NAS units (Xeon dual and quad CPUs, 8GB of RAM, Dual Gigabit interfaces, etc.). Most of them will do BTRFS or which at this point have very good performance.
 

hwojtek

macrumors 65816
Jan 26, 2008
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Poznan, Poland
While I have dedicated OS Servers at home for my private use for years (currently on a Mini Server, in the matter of fact), I have also had a small graphics studio asking me for assistance with their setup, as they have proudly introduced a Synology NAS into their workflow and promptly lost couple of customers due to a sudden slowdown of their output.

The Synology was unable to concurrently provide 10 workstations with source files Creative Cloud applications used (they are mid-to-heavy Indesign and Illustrator/Photoshop users, with 100 to 300 graphics files linked into a single InDesign document). The file access was so slow, people could literally pick up their kids from kindergarten while their computers were opening the InDesign documents.

I have switched them to a dual-core Mac Mini i5 with 16 GB of RAM and a LaCie 2Big Thunderbolt2 array in 8 TB version as the file server hardware and this operation has removed the bottleneck. The Synology has been degraded to a Time Machine device and they are now including another, bigger 2Big configured as an always-on backup. The integration of the OS X Server into the existing environment was a breeze, it's an epitome of the old Apple "it just works" saying, IMHO.

Obviously, in anything more involved than occasional use, wifi for file sharing in CC environment will be a nightmare. It's not the speed per se, it's about the timeslices of bandwidth available for each machine. No access point is capable of sustaining the full speed data transfer to more clients than the AP has antennas (roughly put) and each opened file by each client drops another available timeslice from the total bandwidth, bringing the whole operation to a standstill. It's Gigabit Ethernet all the way, baby.
 

MarkJames68

macrumors 6502
Sep 24, 2017
394
246
As long as you don't get a basic NAS with a slow Atom or similar CPU, performance is great. I only have experience with mid-tier NAS units (Xeon dual and quad CPUs, 8GB of RAM, Dual Gigabit interfaces, etc.). Most of them will do BTRFS or which at this point have very good performance.
For commercial use I’d recommend something with an Intel chip. Ideally with ECC memory and ZFS storage.

Another option if you want commercial hardware with an open source NAS OS. I built my own but FreeNAS is amazing.

https://www.ixsystems.com/freenas-mini/

And no matter what you use, ensure you are giving it clean power. Highly recommend a double-conversion sinewave UPS to protect anything that is responsible for storing data.
[doublepost=1509230113][/doublepost]
It's Gigabit Ethernet all the way, baby.
10 Gig is getting more commonplace for larger NAS solutions, but pricy.
 

Smellmet

macrumors regular
Original poster
Dec 15, 2012
179
53
Goole, UK
While I have dedicated OS Servers at home for my private use for years (currently on a Mini Server, in the matter of fact), I have also had a small graphics studio asking me for assistance with their setup, as they have proudly introduced a Synology NAS into their workflow and promptly lost couple of customers due to a sudden slowdown of their output.

The Synology was unable to concurrently provide 10 workstations with source files Creative Cloud applications used (they are mid-to-heavy Indesign and Illustrator/Photoshop users, with 100 to 300 graphics files linked into a single InDesign document). The file access was so slow, people could literally pick up their kids from kindergarten while their computers were opening the InDesign documents.

I have switched them to a dual-core Mac Mini i5 with 16 GB of RAM and a LaCie 2Big Thunderbolt2 array in 8 TB version as the file server hardware and this operation has removed the bottleneck. The Synology has been degraded to a Time Machine device and they are now including another, bigger 2Big configured as an always-on backup. The integration of the OS X Server into the existing environment was a breeze, it's an epitome of the old Apple "it just works" saying, IMHO.

Obviously, in anything more involved than occasional use, wifi for file sharing in CC environment will be a nightmare. It's not the speed per se, it's about the timeslices of bandwidth available for each machine. No access point is capable of sustaining the full speed data transfer to more clients than the AP has antennas (roughly put) and each opened file by each client drops another available timeslice from the total bandwidth, bringing the whole operation to a standstill. It's Gigabit Ethernet all the way, baby.
I've ran a 12 core cheesegrater mac Pro as a server attached to half a dozen macs via apples server software at my last studio and it felt as quick as locally stored files, this is why I'm asking if a mac mini with a decent configuration would do a similar job. This thread seems a bit split between a NAS and another mac.
 

Neodym

macrumors 68000
Jul 5, 2002
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I've ran a 12 core cheesegrater mac Pro as a server attached to half a dozen macs via apples server software at my last studio and it felt as quick as locally stored files, this is why I'm asking if a mac mini with a decent configuration would do a similar job. This thread seems a bit split between a NAS and another mac.
A mini is at best quad core (2012), which is only 1/3rd of that mentioned cheese grater. And a mini is limited to 16GB Ram, though in server mode this should make no difference, really, unless the number of users is very high. More notable could be (depending on scenario) that a MacPro offers two Gigabit Ethernet ports, where the mini is limited to one.

Still, a mini can be a very decent server with a much smaller footprint and the max. energy consumption under load is still less than most MacPro's use for idling alone.

Sure there will be a threshold somewhere, when the mini starts to become a lesser server than the MP. But this is very dependent on things like number of concurrent users, used software, file sizes and even the storage solution for the mini:

A MacPro can accommodate many hard drives internally, but is limited to SATA-2 speeds (unless you get a dedicated PCIe card). On the mini you can choose between expensive, but fast Thunderbolt drives that can be chained or max. three* (one port is needed for keyboard/mouse) inexpensive USB drives that can put quite some load on the mini due to USB relying on the CPU to handle all the overhead.

* in theory you could use hubs to connect more, but USB3 is infamous to possibly make problems with hubs and cables, the setup is not ideally suited for concurrent high-bandwidth transfers and the load on the CPU increases even further.
 
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