Mac Mini Server in 2016

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by Amigalander, Jun 24, 2016.

  1. Amigalander macrumors regular

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    Jan 13, 2008
    #1
    In 2009, I built a network in a medium-sized dental office. Back then the Mac Mini Server was available with 2 internal hard drives which I set up to mirror each other for redundancy. There are about 10 iMac workstations total, but probably only 3 active simultaneously at any given time.

    It's time to upgrade the server, and I'm curious what the current options are to do this. The needs and usage are:
    • about 1 TB of data currently, so 2 TB of space should suffice for a few years
    • Reliability is more important than speed
    • Frequent small reads and writes to the server during business hours (M-F 9-5)

    I was thinking of the Mac Mini 2.6 GHz i5 with 16 GB of ram, 256 GB of pci flash storage, and some sort of Thunderbolt storage for the data.

    Is this the right thinking? If so, how would I choose the right external storage box which combines reliability, speed, and value?

    Thanks!
     
  2. phrehdd macrumors 68040

    phrehdd

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    Oct 25, 2008
    #2
    Unless you are using RAID 0 or 5 or... you can use USB3. TBolt wont be any faster just more expensive.

    Would a NAS make sense in your environment?
     
  3. Amigalander thread starter macrumors regular

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    Jan 13, 2008
    #3
    The Mac Mini Server will be running the dental server application (MacPractice DDS) and will be accessing the data to serve to the workstations. I don't think a NAS would make sense here right? I also would not be using RAID 0. I'm leaning towards RAID 1 since that's what I'm familiar with, but I would also consider RAID 5 or 6 or 10 if it makes sense to.
     
  4. Cineplex, Jun 25, 2016
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2016

    Cineplex macrumors 6502a

    Cineplex

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    Jan 1, 2016
    #4
    The most cost effective setup that gives you great rock solid redundancy would be the Guardian Maximus RAID, buy two 3TB hard drives from DataMem, set the device to RAID one and plug into USB 3. TB is of no advantage in this environment. USB3 is really fast. I've setup out quite a few of these in businesses, and this setup is rock solid.

    For some I add a second matching RAID and do nightly backups to it, and that works very well. That is about $50 more than a single RAID 5 box from them...but it gives you an isolated backup that doesn't change during the day. The advantage being that if you completely kill the database, you have an isolated backup. With a single RAID 5 if you kill something, its gone.

    EDIT: Changed Guardian Maximus link to it's current iteration under the OWC brand.
     
  5. talmy macrumors 601

    talmy

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    Oregon
    #5
    Very important to have backups, and the OP's use of RAID 1 is just as prone to failure this way. Hopefully he has a backup strategy just not mentioned in his post.
     
  6. Cineplex macrumors 6502a

    Cineplex

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    #6
    I should also add if you are really really worried about the data, add a third raid box. This box you can swap out weekly or daily with your backup and take it home. This way you have an offsite backup in case the building burns down. I have one client that does this, as their data is their livelihood. It all depends on the level of mission critical you are at. You could also just get a really large single drive and make a backup to it...but that would add extra time and you'll likely just get in the habit of forgetting.
     
  7. Amigalander thread starter macrumors regular

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    #7
    Thanks, this is very helpful! My original setup uses the internal RAID 1, then an external Time Machine drive, then an online backup using Backblaze. The database auto-zips itself nightly into a folder, so the online backup just uploads that zip. The Time Machine does most everything else.

    Cineplex: that link for the Guardian Maximus RAID went to OWC Mercury Elite Pro Dual. Which did you mean? And what is your experience with Data Memory Systems? Why do you recommend hard drives from there? Thank you.
     
  8. Cineplex macrumors 6502a

    Cineplex

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    Jan 1, 2016
    #8
    Sorry, It looks like they changed the branding a bit recently. THIS is what I mean.It was the Guardian Maximus, now its silver and called OWC Mercury Elite Pro Dual. But the one I just linked is what I meant. Not the other.
    --- Post Merged, Jun 25, 2016 ---
    Data Memory systems is the best! I have used them since before I can remember. Small company, no hassle warranty and right up the road from me. I go there all the time in person to pickup things. The warranty is fantastic with RAM. When something goes wrong, which is rare, they go above and beyond to solve the issue. I only get RAM and drives from them. Never had an issue with a drive. When I worked for a large 2500+ employee company as an IT manager I used them for my needs there and they had no problem keeping up and replacing/swapping things out if something happened. Can't say enough good things about them.

    As for your setup. The internal RAID is a software RAID, which is a joke in my opinion. It will fail at the worst possible time (in my experience). I have had Mac software RAIDs fall apart and become unrecoverable for no reason. The Mini no longer has a second drive so its a moot point anyway. The OWC box is a real 100% hardware RAID which will let you sleep at night. If a drive fails you can just pull it out, put in a new one of the same size and it will rebuild automatically. Put your DB on it, take the zipped backup and upload it to wherever its going, and use time machine to backup to a single external drive like you do now. Easy as pie!
     
  9. phrehdd macrumors 68040

    phrehdd

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    Oct 25, 2008
    #9
    Well it looks like NAS wont be a good option here given your application. However, you may want to go with the other recommendation here given the extensive use of superlatives and near superlatives.
     
  10. Amigalander, Jun 25, 2016
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2016

    Amigalander thread starter macrumors regular

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    #10
    phrehdd: does your reference to superlatives mean you do not agree?

    And I know hard drive debates can get heated and subjective, but in the OWC box linked to above, for this particular use, would "NAS" drives like the WD Red, Red Pro, RE, or SE drives be the right choice for reliability?
     
  11. phrehdd, Jun 25, 2016
    Last edited: Jun 26, 2016

    phrehdd macrumors 68040

    phrehdd

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    #11
    Amigalander, my reference to using superlatives is that saying anything is the "best" diminishes the writer, the reader and the subject. I'll just say someone might have had an excellent experience with a given product and should simply say so. I doubt that multiple enclosures were tested, contrast and compared and one offered superior performance in the usual venues for testing. The suggested offering might well be an excellent performer. I haven't seen any statement as to how well it works when a drive fails. Does it notify the end user that the drive has failed? Does the healthy drive stop working until it can rebuild a replacement drive etc. Often no notification is given when a drive fails and no one finds out until both drive fails that there was a failure. Lights on the box is simply not good enough as people often overlook them on a day to day basis or don't bother to check them at least twice a day.

    NAS drives of the sort mentioned are indicative to typical NAS use. RAID 1 gives the speed of the actual drive or a fraction slower. Given this, I doubt that I would go for a NAS drive that has a slower rpm of 5400 or 5900 unless it is a denser design that allows for fast reads, reasonable writes. While some do a sort of vario-speed, a 7200 rpm drive might make more sense and in particular a good quality one (though any drive can have a mishap). From what you wrote, you need fast read/writes for small data. The drives you mention will work but again, you need to decide what your criteria is before making an educated purchase. If your need was only 1tb, a WD velociraptor (sp) might have been a good choice as it has a speed of 10,000 rpm and a non-OEM comes with a 5 year warranty. However, there are several 7200 rpm drives that meet your needs. This of course, is just an opinion based on personal experience as well as work experience. - Everyone has a different story to tell.

    In short - I would pick a high quality 7200 rpm drive over the consumer level red drives for your purpose. Since there are so many variation on a theme for external enclosures, you may want to investigate OWC's offering. Then again, you may look at Amazon and see some of the buyer's reviews as well as any where else they are available. Hopefully you can filter between the subjective and objective on the reviews (not always easy). Anytime I use RAID, I absolutely make sure what ever is done is capable of notification, does not stop functioning until a replacement drive is put in and has a reasonable warranty. I use many different types of DAS units, go way back to RAID on old ISA and vesa local bus PC's and up to arrays in business network schema. I admit my last Mac Mini
    was a 2012 quad 2.6 and until quad comes back, no more Minis for me. I'll stick with my other Macs for now, my NAS units and DAS enclosures.
     
  12. Cineplex macrumors 6502a

    Cineplex

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    Jan 1, 2016
    #12
    You make very valid points but geez...the guy asked for advice, I gave him some advice....why are you being so critical and judgmental? Take a chill pill! We're all friends here! No need to pull out the big words. It makes your writing look like a know-it-all.

    As for the "multiple enclosure testing comment"...I have neen managing IT networks and such for over 16 years. I have worked with everything from Silicon Graphics Origin storage systems to Xserve RAIDs to the small setup I mentioned. I have tried several different setups like the one we are talking about and found what I recommended to be the best out of all I have used. If a drive fails you will see a very bright light in your face. If someone cant be bothered to check the drive status lights once in a while, they deserve to loose data. If your busniess needs these to function you should be constantly watching. Software notifications are not 100% reliable. Even in large super computer clusters people physically check status lights daily or weekly. I've tested the auto-rebuild function and it works perfectly everytime. I don't recommend anything unless I've thoroughly tested it.
     
  13. Amigalander thread starter macrumors regular

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    Jan 13, 2008
    #13
    I think it's fair to say that when someone says something is the best, it's their opinion based on their experience. It's the listener's choice to take the advice or not. No big deal. And in this case I do appreciate the advice since it comes from someone with more experience than I have. So thank you both.

    Back on topic, I do like the idea of sticking to RAID 1 with a separate RAID 1 backup as opposed to the single RAID 5. And for hard drives, am I correct in my understanding that a NAS labelled hard drive implies some vibration dampening system allows multiple hard drives to be boxed together? Is that all "NAS" means?

    I found these Deskstar NAS drives which are 7200 RPM. Any thoughts on these with the 2-bay OWC Mercury Elite box? https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00HHAJU7K/
     
  14. Cineplex macrumors 6502a

    Cineplex

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    Jan 1, 2016
    #14
    NAS is network attached storage. It is a device or raid connected only to a network connection meant for multiple users to connect without a server for simple file sharing. The drives you are linking are supposedly made for high network access and file sharing. Could just be gimmicks, or maybe not. It's hard to tell with these types of things. The price isn't bad, so if it could possible give you peace of mind than go for it. It has a three year warranty, so once that is up you'll probably want to replace the drives anyway. I usually toss drives out of warranty and typically try to find ones with 3-5 years. On most of the large storage arrays I've worked with....the drives sometimes seem to go right after the warranty. I had an unformatted, unset up, never used Hitachi RAID once that had 7 drive failures over the first year...doing nothing....so you never know. That was a $15,000 RAID. lol
     
  15. SOT DOC macrumors newbie

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    Sep 20, 2009
    Location:
    Maine
    #15
    I too use MacPractice. Having an i7 processor is a must as well as SSD. You will notice huge improvements with that setup. I use an iMac as my server with 2 raid 1 setups via usb 3 for backup as well as online overnight as well as several encrypted external hard drives that rotate through the week and go home with myself. If I were to buy a new server it would be either an iMac or a MacPro. Right now going the iMac with the i7 is the better option until they update the MacPro.
     
  16. phrehdd macrumors 68040

    phrehdd

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    #16
    Just curious, is the software a product made with Filemaker Pro?
     
  17. Amigalander thread starter macrumors regular

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    Jan 13, 2008
    #17
    Great, glad to find another MP user. Do you have your primary data on an internal SSD? Or external SSD? How is it setup?

    phrehdd: I have not heard of any references to Filemaker in my years of usage of MacPractice. Can Filemaker make full standalone apps? I'm pretty sure the database for MP is MySQL.
     
  18. okcane macrumors newbie

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    Jun 27, 2016
    #18
    Greetings. I have been a regular reader of this forum and I find it very informative. I registered today so that I can post some questions for some of you with the expertise.

    I am helping my dentist wife to set up her dental practice computer system. I want to go with a Mac system because I am a Mac user since 1988 and I feel I will be able to handle most of the hardware and software issues if we have a Mac system. One of the software I am considering is MacPractice. So I want to thank everyone for the valuable suggestions here (especially Amigalander for opening the thread).
     
  19. phrehdd macrumors 68040

    phrehdd

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    #19
    I see that it does employ MySQL. Yes, one can make runtime "apps" with Filemaker Pro.
     
  20. SOT DOC macrumors newbie

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    Maine
    #20
    I do use the internal SSD to hold the database. I have used an external usb 3 based one but found I liked the internal a little better. If your database is too large for the internal going with an external SSD works just fine too. I have several backups daily and nightly and have not had any issues when needing to use them. I would stay away from the fusion based drives, I have had trouble with them and the database. MacPractice can take advantage of the i7 or Xeon so I would use one of them.
     
  21. Amigalander thread starter macrumors regular

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    Jan 13, 2008
    #21
    I wanted to revisit some ideas here for those who have this experience...

    Given that data is read from the server directly, USB seemed to make more sense than a NAS. In thinking more, a NAS can open up some other possibilities.
    1: What performance difference is there between a USB and a NAS? I assume a NAS would have more latency?
    2: If a NAS box or a raid box dies, with RAID 1 you can take a drive out and use it directly. But with RAID 5 you surely cannot. Can you take all drives, put them in a new box, and have everything up and running again?

    Thank you
     
  22. phrehdd macrumors 68040

    phrehdd

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    Oct 25, 2008
    #22
    Quite a can of worms bringing up DAS vs NAS. DAS as in directly attached storage.

    NAS has some advantages in that often other apps may be used within the NAS beyond traditional storage. We see folks like Synology and QNAP having a plethora of apps that are available for their NAS offerings. NAS as the name implies is a network appliance and thus may be shared easily with other devices on your network and doesn't suffer the issue of whether the OS matches (Windows and OSX as example, can both "talk" to a NAS box.) When it comes to storage, better NAS systems allow for things such as permissions so that different people have access to different files/directories and NAS applications. - The list goes on.

    NAS does have disadvantages as you mentioned include speed penalty with respect to various ways to connect DAS to your computer. NAS also adds other types of failure points including its own OS, hardware and data recovery systems. Someone who doesn't have time to learn and simply needs to use a NAS would be at a loss if issues occurred. As for RAID, often if the NAS itself fails and cannot be repaired but the disks are fine within, you might have to get another NAS from the same maker, using the same OS to get access to those drives again with the given RAID set up (RAID 1 included).

    DAS offers several advantages where the computer attached controls the DAS device. Fancier DAS units that store more than one drive might be set up with either software or hardware RAID. The main disadvantage of course is that of sharing data stored as the computer that is attached would have to be available to the other devices and computers and the files shared.

    For most people, DAS works just fine and many are single drives which are very portable. You can take your DAS and reconnected it to another computer akin to a thumb drive. Serious DAS units may store many drives and provide excellent speed via USB3, Thunderbolt and now USB 3.1/c.

    Last - I have both and they serve different purposes. My NAS units are mostly for media files plus some regular backups as well as archived files. My DAS are for regular backups, files that I want to remain portable and as additional storage for large files that I don't want on my internal drive. Everyone has their own needs and there are so many variations on a theme. I use both WD and Seagate portable drives, Samsung SSD in a good external case (all of the latter are USB3) and hang two NAS appliances on my network (QNAP). What I have works for me but certainly other people may find a single portable drive sufficient or a more dynamic RAID DAS rather than my NAS set up.
     
  23. techwhiz macrumors 6502a

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    Northern Ca.
    #23
    Depends on how the RAID was created and if the Mac is the actual raid controller.
    I think a good NAS box Synology, NetGear, etc would be a great application.
    Any machine would be a server so if the Mini or whatever dies an immediate migration is possible.
    The boxes don't typically die but can. You are more likely to lose a drive.
    These boxes also have USB ports and can do an automatic rcp or rsync.

    A mini with a good 4 bay NAS box and and two external USB drives for offsite backups that get rotated on a weekly basis.
    If the box dies you have a backup that you can get to via USB. If the building burns down you have a drive offsite.
     
  24. Amigalander thread starter macrumors regular

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    Jan 13, 2008
    #24
    Thank you for the informative and unbiased reply. One thing perplexes me:
    I always thought RAID 1 was just a mirror copy of an otherwise normal file system. I assumed you could just take out either drive and use it directly anywhere. Is this false? Or is it sometimes true and sometimes not? Or is this true in "software" raids but not "hardware" raids?
     
  25. phrehdd macrumors 68040

    phrehdd

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    #25
    RAID 1 or mirrored drives is just that. With a NAS, there is a separate OS driving the NAS and RAID. If you were to use DAS that was mirrored and did a full copy of your home drive to the RAID 1 DAS, then yes, you could ideally use the drive(s) to boot. What can be done easily with a NAS is to create a backup of your home drive and later if a fresh reinstall was needed, possibly use the backup.
     

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