Mac Mini Server

Discussion in 'Mac OS X Server, Xserve, and Networking' started by CylonGlitch, Feb 3, 2010.

  1. CylonGlitch macrumors 68030


    Jul 7, 2009
    I work in a very small company. Right now we are running a windows server on a standard old dell PC. Today the owner asked me to start looking into potentially moving to OS-X Server as our primary server for the company. I was thinking we could just get the Mac Mini Server edition and use that.

    How much work to set it up as our primary file server?
    ... as our web server?
    ... as our email server?

    We have several external 2TB drives to share, no big deal there; but we also need to have VPN access of some type. We have a decent linksys router that will setup the VPN tunnel, just need to make sure we can get access to our data.

    We want to move our web server away from a hosting company we are using now, along with our email because some of our email is "sensitive" and thus we want to keep it on our servers more then someone elses.

    One of the reasons to use OSx Server is because it isn't as popular as Windows Server and thus less attacks target it. I know OSX when setup right, is quite secure, but how about OSX Server, is it better then Windows Server or are they about the same now?

    Mail, does OSX Server have something compatible to Exchange? Does it have problems with some email attachments (winmail.dat)?

    Another thought, of his, not mine, was that he found he could get a G5 XServer (or multiple) for almost nothing ($200 each) and run those instead of Intel based servers because they are less likely to be susceptible to buffer overflow attacks. I don't like the idea of running old hardware, but the price is right.

    Any thoughts on this? Any ideas?

    Sorry if much of this has already been covered; and any links to places where I can learn more about this would be helpful and appreciated.

    Thank you!
  2. Alrescha macrumors 68020

    Jan 1, 2008
    The bulk of your work will be adding users and setting up their machines.

    OS X Server includes both PPTP and IPSec VPN services

    What parts of Exchange are you thinking of? OS X Server does POP and IMAP, the latter allows you to keep all mail on the server so it is available to multiple devices.

    You can't run Snow Leopard Server on anything but Intel hardware. You'll be out of date in multiple ways.

  3. CylonGlitch thread starter macrumors 68030


    Jul 7, 2009
    Thank you! I have a lot of reading to do! :D

    Right now we will have only three users and maybe 3 or 4 contractor accounts, so setting up user accounts shouldn't be too bad. :D
  4. Deanster macrumors regular

    Jun 6, 2005
    I ran a small-company G5 Xserve with OS X server 10.3, 10.4, 10.5 for about five years, ending right before Snow Leopard came out, so I have a pretty good idea what you're looking at.

    Couple thoughts... First is that the Mac Mini server will be an excellent choice, and will do the job you're talking about well. The e-mail server, calendar server, web server, file server, etc. all work really well. It's a good system, and quite powerful. I wouldn't look at an older Xserve - they're cheap, and very powerful, but can't run the current OS version, and won't be able to run any future version either. I'd argue you're at more risk with an older OS, though that's not definitive.

    Second is that you should approach this task with some caution. The GUI for the server tools is pretty good, but the total experience isn't very Mac-like. You're REALLY signing up to manage a *nix server, with a Mac desktop, and decent, but not perfect GUI-based tools. I suppose in theory, you could end up running it and never have to go to the command line, but in practice, you'll end up in Terminal sooner or later, especially if you have a problem.

    I would NOT recommend this task to anyone who isn't either comfortable with the command line, or ready to learn as you go. The OS X Server forums on have a lot of people who are experienced and willing to help, but you may have a hard time finding someone locally who knows the system if you get into real trouble. Not a showstopper, but the gap between how easy it is to use a Mac, and the challenges of Mac OS X Sever is big. It's a *nix server with some Mac-like bits, not a Mac server with some *nix like bits, if that makes sense.

    Third, the setup of any server is key - it's often remarkably difficult to fix/change things once you've got everyone pulling e-mail, files, web, etc. all the time. Make sure to leave yourself plenty of time to get things running, tested, and fiddled with. In particular, have your IP addresses and DNS worked out before you even plug the thing in. The server needs to 'Kerberize' itself for all the security to work correctly, and this absolutely flat won't work unless the IP address and DNS are correct, and it can resolve both forwards and backwards. Leave time in your plan and schedule to get all this worked out, including some time to ask questions on the forums, and wait for an answer. I could probably have a server up and running in a day, from buying it to serving mail, web, and files. You should probably leave a month from buying it to being ready to rock-and-roll, if possible.

    Finally, moving a server in-house gives you tremendous control, potentially greater security, etc.

    However, it also creates some new issues you should think about: Do you know enough to secure it effectively, and not do/install anything that compromises security along the way? What will your backup plan be? Does it protect you against deleted files, stupid moves by the administrator, bad hard drives, fire, flood, theft? How will you know if you've been hacked? Who checks the server logs for intrusion attempts? What do you do if the electricity is out? Your network connection goes down? Who gets called when the server can't be reached in the middle of the night? What about when that person is on vacation, drunk, or not answering the phone?

    None of these are insurmountable, but you should have a decent answer for all of them (especially the Backup) before you begin. I'd suggest using the internal drive in RAID 1 - mirrored configuration to ensure you are protected against the failure of one hard drive, and then have an external disk for Time Machine to back up files to protect against lost/changed files, PLUS a pair of USB drives (I like the WD Passport series) one of which gets a daily backup via SuperDuper at some point during the day, and one of which gets backed up every week or two, and BOTH of which get taken off site. This provides decent layering.

    Sounds like a pain? Remember, it's 'only' all your company's e-mails, files, website and other data... if the building burned down, what would it be worth to your company to have that week-old backup disk sitting in someone's drawer at home?

    Hope this helps!
  5. mox123 macrumors 6502

    Jul 18, 2007
    wow... i wish someone with such experience has talked to me before i got the mac mini server. I got mine in December, and I have to say that the learning curve is MUCH DEEPER than I expected.

    I don't work in IT, but I generally consider myself to be pretty tech-savvy. BUT running OSX server for a small group is definitely an eye-opener as far as what a system admin has to deal with every day!

    I attended a workshop by apple actually on OSX server before I decided to take the plunge and get one. I tell ya, the ease of using OSX client certainly does NOT translate into their OSX server!
  6. belvdr macrumors 603

    Aug 15, 2005
    No longer logging into MR
    Whatever you do, do NOT use PPTP. You might as well just skip VPN altogether if you go this route. It offers little in the way of security.

    I wouldn't recommend either of these services unless encrypted by SSL. Everything is sent in cleartext.
  7. chrismacguy macrumors 68000

    Feb 13, 2009
    United Kingdom

    I am planning on doing a very similar setup for my families 2 Home-based businesses and was wondering if you guys reckoned an older Mac Mini 1.83 Core Duo?? (All I know is its a 1.83 Intel chip - It isnt mine, yet) would be up to the job. Im looking at a total of 5 users in Offices and Ill be using it to hook my mini-macintosh collection up to it as well (Using an external RAID array for storage).

  8. Deanster macrumors regular

    Jun 6, 2005
    yes. it's got more than enough CPU horsepower for serving e-mail, files, and basic web pages, as long as you're not trying to run a big database application, or a major forum (like this one), or something else substantial.

    on my old Xserve, with 20+ VERY heavy e-mail users (in essence, an e-mail and phone customer-service center - many hundreds of emails per day per user, plus GOBS of spam to filter, as our e-mail addresses were in customer's address books, so spammers always had 'em, it was VERY rare to have the CPU's go over 10% for more than a few seconds. In fact, I looked at periods of more than a minute of high CPU usage as a sign there was something wrong.

    Mail, filer server, and small-company web pages are NOT CPU intensive activities (and for the most part, aren't especially disk-intensive, either - at the scales your post implies). Database driven apps, anything involving searching, or running other complex client-server applications all can be CPU intensive, and some can be disk-intensive also.

    A Core Duo mini is a great choice for the use you describe. I wouldn't go for one of the Core Solo single-core models, though - single processors are very easy to overwhelm, and the wait gets old for even small things. To be clear, even the Core Solo or an old G4 Mini would do the job... I'm just not very patient. 8^)
  9. chrismacguy macrumors 68000

    Feb 13, 2009
    United Kingdom
    LOL - Id love to throw MySQL at a G4 Mini and see how well it runs (I currently have the Linux build on my Dual-Core OptiPlex at 2.8 xD - even thats too slow), Im not patient either - I mean it will be serving files up to at least 7 Macs at any 1 time, if not 8-10 as well as 4 PCs (Mainly my collection, but the businesses are the reason - or should that be excuse ;) for getting a Server :D)
  10. Alrescha macrumors 68020

    Jan 1, 2008
    My current home server is a late 2006 1.83GHz Intel Core Duo with 2GB RAM. I've replaced the original HD with a 320 GB/7200rpm WD Scorpio Black.

    Snow Leopard Server runs fine. There are no performance problems, this machine runs as well as the 'real' Mac mini Server at the office. The office machine has more users, of course.

    I've run Leopard Server on an original Mac Mini (1.25GHZ G4). It's not snappy, but it does run. Adequate for a learning platform, I wouldn't deploy it in a business setting.

  11. chrismacguy macrumors 68000

    Feb 13, 2009
    United Kingdom
    Thanks for the info - Im definitely not intending on running this server on a G4 (Heck, its moving from my decrepit P4 Server running Server '08 Standard). Im beginning to consider grabbing this Mini, and then waiting and possibly adding a G5 XServe to power all my PowerPC Macs in my collection (Long way away, but might be useful to have as theyre nice and cheap now, and running modern software isnt really a priority - Im still using Photoshop CS and InDesign version 2 xD)
  12. Deanster macrumors regular

    Jun 6, 2005
    MySQL is EXACTLY the sort of thing that won't fly on a mini-server, at least if your DB is bigger than a couple megabytes. :)

    As for file serving... While you may have 10-15 computers ATTACHED at any one time, how many files will you be opening/editing at once?

    even in a high-intensity environment, most people don't open more than a few files per hour - unless you're in a graphics or video production environment, in which case this a mini-server is a crazy thing to even be talking about.

    So, I'll stick with my assessment. MySQL will crush a Mini in short order with any complex queries on a large database. I suppose there's some amount of mail more than it could handle, but that'd be a LOT. And it's probably powerful enough to file-serve for a couple hundred users in an 'office' environment. Not adequate for a 'production' environment, with high demand for large files, but again, if you were talking about that, you'd be looking at a MUCH more aggressive solution than a Mini.
  13. pakster macrumors newbie

    Apr 17, 2009
    If you all have Windows computers i think you should look at "Windows Small Business server"
    There would be no point in having a Mac os X server when the rest of the company is running some version of Windows.

    With SBS you would get Exchange for mail and calendar. You should also consider the migration process from you host to hosting the files yourself.

    SBS should be just as secure as OS X Server, if the admin doesnt **** up the configuration. I dont know your OS X knowledge level, but there are greater chances to **** up a new OS than something you have seen before.
  14. Alrescha macrumors 68020

    Jan 1, 2008
    Windows SBS: $1,089 (from Microsoft's page)

    A new 2.53 GHz/4GB/2x500GB Mac mini with Snow Leopard Server: $999

    All options should be considered, of course. :)

  15. svenwillmann macrumors member

    May 6, 2008
    although I think your advise is one of the most profound I have read in a forum for a long time, I must say that I disagree with your statement
    > MySQL is EXACTLY the sort of thing that won't fly on a mini-server, at least if your DB is bigger than a couple megabytes.

    I am currently running a “temporary solution” (we all know how temporary it can be) with a core solo mini, hosting a MySql database. It serves between 10-20 users at any given time and acts as the backend to a web application. I admit that the application is not one like this forum.
    To get to the bottom, the mini can be used as a MySql DB (even if the DB is big) and can do the job very well, it just depends on the traffic (calculations) and amount of data served, which in my experience is not a lot in an average environment (I exclude calculations like statistics and mathematical models etc).

    your other advise remains to be untouched

    Point I am making is that you should not base your decision based on the fact that a mini is not good enough to host a MySql database (you need to look a little closer to what your needs are regarding this).
  16. Deanster macrumors regular

    Jun 6, 2005
    Hi Svenwillmann!

    Yes, that line was a bit of an over-statement, which is why it had a smiley after. :)

    There's all kinds of MySQL installations which will run fine on a smaller/slower server like a Mac Mini, obviously. I think the later sentence captures the reality a bit better:

    "MySQL will crush a Mini in short order with any complex queries on a large database."

    There's lots of wiggle room on 'complex' and 'large'. :)

    All I'm trying to say, I guess, is that while I'd feel confident putting up a Mac Mini Server as a file or mail server for just about any reasonably-sized organization, I'd want to think pretty carefully about using it as a database/complex website server, and pay very close attention to the volumes of queries it's expected to respond to, especially complex queries and searches.

    Interestingly, the MiniServer is decently fast, and can hold an acceptable amount of RAM for a small server - but the hard drives are despicably slow, and anything that hits the disk over and over again (table queries for tables not held in RAM, searches of larger indexes, indexing a large volume of data) stands a good chance of bogging down the server pretty quickly. The stock 5400-rpm drives are really sub-par for this kind of use, IMHO.

    but again, if the MiniServer can't handle it, you're probably looking at a full-on xServe or similar to do the job. The MiniServer is a great choice for all the jobs that need server tools, but where the load isn't enough to justify a MUCH more powerful and expensive machine.

    I was recently spec'ing a MiniServer, and realized that the CPU's are MUCH faster, than my older dual 2.0 G5 xServe, it's got 4x the RAM, and will in general blow the 5-year old xServe out of the water. EXCEPT the hard drives... with three 7200 RPM SATA drives, there's just no comparison for how much faster the xServe can pull data from the HD's. There's also a lot more room with the 3.5 drives to go up to a 10K VelociRaptor drive, or to put in Terabyte drives and only use the outer sectors, or whatever... While the MiniServer is in many ways a much more capable computer, the otherwise obsolescent G5 xServe will absolutely flatten it in disk-access-intensive deployments.

    Sorry if I gave the impression that the MiniServer would curl up and die if you tried to run even one MySQL query on it - it'll do a surprising amount very nicely. :D
  17. CylonGlitch thread starter macrumors 68030


    Jul 7, 2009
    Well, last week my boss broke down and purchased a MacMini Server... he was going to go XServe but at this point we don't really need it so he went with Mini.

    He also purchased Mac's for everyone in the company, I have a brand new MacBookPro i7, so we are 100% Mac now (there are only 4 of us).

    I don't have any time to play with it yet, I am working at a customer's office, so I'm not back there. But soon I will need to start setting it up and getting it running. Anyone have any tips for me?

    Thanks in advance.
  18. calderone macrumors 68040


    Aug 28, 2009
    Get ready for the headaches. :D

    Setup philosophy:
    If you want things to be as easy as possible and don't plan on using many services, use Server Preferences. This is the easiest way to get started and Server Preferences will do a lot of the work for you when setting up users and clients.

    However, there is not much control. Server Admin and Workgroup manager is where you want to be if you want anything done (command line as well).

    Basic Setup:
    If you want a totally custom setup, choose the "Configure Manually" option. This will not create an ODM from the start. Get DNS working. If you want it to be your DHCP server, get that going.

    Once you have determined that DNS is correct:
    sudo changeip -checkhostname
    And by testing lookups from a client. Promote the server to an ODM. Turn on AFP and add a user via WGM.

    Test authentication against the server with AFP.
    Test Kerberos.

    Give the user a network home directory and set up an Automount AFP share.
    Bind the machine to OD.
    Login with the network user.

    This is just the basics of getting setup. OS X Server is a great product, with some big bugs. Apple discussion forums are your best bet for help, many more people with OS X Server knowledge than the users here.

    Learning Materials:
    Also, grab a book. The Peachpit series is a good bet. "Mac OS X Server Essentials v10.6" is the Apple recommend study book for the Server Essentials certification exam.

    Apple also has decent documentation:

    Rules of Deployment:
    Since you are in a production environment and your company seems to be shifting to Macs, here are some tips that should not be ignored:

    1. Plan
    2. Plan
    3. Take a look at that plan again

    Look at your needs and the structure of your organization. This will help you map out what you will need the server to handle and how permissions should be delegated. Starting out with a good plan will make setup much quicker and you likely have fewer problems.

    4. Test
    5. Test
    6. Test it again

    This may be too much. I don't know how large your organization is, but as I said, since this is a production environment really test the server out. Start with a single machine and verify that the various services are functioning properly (the basics above are essential). When you feel things are solid, come up with a client setup plan to make setup faster. Scripting this would be ideal, for fast setup. (This is where Server Preferences has an edge, it will setup many of the services automatically if the user was added via Server Prefs).

    Once the client is setup, monitor it and find any issues. Work those problems out and modify your documentation as necessary. Once you are confident, move forward with the deployment.

    Hope that helps.
  19. Alrescha macrumors 68020

    Jan 1, 2008
    Indeed. I *still* add users using Server Preferences - it's just so much easier. Can always tweak them in WGM later.

    I find it easier to use automatic configuration, as I thought that setting up ODM later can be a pain. Your mileage may vary. It *is* important to let it set up DNS if you go this route.

    Last but not least, I'd suggest doing the install a couple of times. Take notes the first time, then blow it all away and start again. Practice makes perfect. If you have a Mac mini server you'll need an external DVD drive to restore.

  20. ae3265 macrumors member

    Feb 3, 2009
    Heh, I'm a Unix Admin by trade and I do all this stuff on the "client" OS X. Mind you, I'm pretty much doing it all by the command line.

    Whatever the OS, running a server is a lot different than running your desktop. And even if you are "tech savvy" there is a lot to learn and even more to keep up with.

    If it's not your primary specialty or you don't have experience doing it, might just be better to buy a service or pay someone to take care of things for you. I do some side computer work also and those SMB folks I don't let anywhere near anything resembling a server. Well, I did just put in WHS, but that was for the backups. But their mail, etc, I keep them on a service where they can call someone and get tech support.

    Better, IMO, to spend your time doing whatever you are good at doing and making $$, not fiddling around with servers (unless that's how you make your $$. ;-p)

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