Mac Mini Whole Home Server

Discussion in 'Mac OS X Server, Xserve, and Networking' started by IndyLions, Dec 24, 2016.

  1. IndyLions macrumors newbie

    IndyLions

    Joined:
    Jul 23, 2009
    Location:
    Brownsburg IN
    #1
    I just put the following Mac Mini on order:
    • 2.8GHz Intel Core i5 Dual-Core (Haswell)
    • 8GB of 1600 MHz LPDDR3 RAM
    • 1TB Fusion Drive
    • Intel Iris Graphics
    And will be mounting it in my basement networking rack and setting up as my Whole Home Server. In my application, a Whole Home Server primarily means the Mini will be managing the Time Machine backup of our 8 computers:
    • 512GB 2016 MacBook Pro
    • 256GB 2015 MacBook Air
    • 256GB 2013 MacBook Air
    • 128GB mid-2012 MacBook Air
    • 1TB late 2013 iMac
    • 500GB mid-2011 iMac
    • 500GB early 2008 iMac
    • 1TB mid-2007 iMac
    With only a 4 person household (2 college students) I should probably sell a couple of these machines - but I'm having a hard time parting with them.

    The Mini will also be managing/serving up our iTunes library, which consists of mostly audio but an increasing amount of video.

    A year and a half ago, I setup my 2007 iMac as a Time Machine server - with so-so results. I bought a used Drobo 16TB Firewire based storage device and used that as the backup drive. It was slow - which I wasn't thrilled with, but it worked and the price was right. Over the course of several months I lost a drive, successfully re-built the array - and then weeks later the Drobo itself died. Time for Plan B.

    I decided to try a NAS based approach - albeit on a budget. I bought a 4TB Western Digital My Cloud NAS, and 4 external USB 3.0 drive enclosures on clearance at OWC for $5 each. I repurposed the drives from my Drobo (1.5TB, 1.5TB, 2.0TB, 3.0TB) into the USB enclosures, and connected those through a USB hub to the Western Digital NAS. I created sparse bundles on the drives, and found a "how-to" on using sparse bundles as Time Machine backup destinations for individual Macs. This approach has "worked" - but I've got a sparse bundle that I believe has become corrupted, so one of my Macs isn't being actively backed up for the past couple of months - not good.

    So after this long tale - I'm finally ready to make more of an investment in doing it right. I've ordered the Mac Mini, and will likely be ordering one of the Thunderbay enclosures shortly - probably the one bundled with SoftRAID.

    So I'm looking for setup advice. The Mini's Fusion drive is plenty big enough (currently, at least) for my iTunes Library - at least for the music. Using an external drive for iTunes video may become necessary soon. What about backup - will the USB 3.0 drives connected to the back of the Mac Mini suffice for now? Should I ditch the el-cheapo USB 3.0 enclosures for the Thunderbay right away?

    Any thoughts/advice would be appreciated...
     
  2. iccb macrumors member

    iccb

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2009
    Location:
    Finland
    #2
    If U use those external drives mainly only for iTunes/Time Machine, usb3 is more then enough to serve your needs.
    If U want, U can use Western Digital My book duo. U can use raid 0/1 or jbod with them.
    Buy one for iTunes media and put it in raid mirror, and buy another and put it in raid stripe to serve your Time Machine needs.
     
  3. xraydoc macrumors demi-god

    xraydoc

    Joined:
    Oct 9, 2005
    Location:
    192.168.1.1
    #3
    I'm using a 2013 iMac for the same purposes. I don't have a network rack, though that would be really nice, but a desk full of TB2 and USB3 hard drives, an 8-port gigabit switch, my FIOS router (wireless deactivated), my Google WiFi basestation, my Hue and Lutron lighting control hubs, and a WD MyCloud NAS.

    It all acts as the home iTunes server (tons of music and hundred of movies for the AppleTVs and various personal iOS and macOS devices) and the NAS is the TimeMachine storage device.

    My house was built in the 1950's, so I don't have a good way (well, spouse-approved way, that is) to get ethernet to any other part of the house, so the wifi to the rest of the house is now provided by a three unit Google WiFi mesh network. Works well enough.
     
  4. MacDann macrumors 6502a

    MacDann

    Joined:
    Mar 27, 2007
    Location:
    Can see the end of the Earth from here
    #4
    I have struggled with finding a decent network based backup solution using a number of the approaches you have mentioned, such as Time Machines, NAS, XServe using XServe RAID, etc.

    What I finally arrived at after literally years of failed efforts was to set up a dedicated FreeNAS server with a RAID array.

    My FreeNAS server is a generic homebuilt Windows box using an i7 Intel CPU, 12GB RAM, motherboard with a dedicated RAID controller and currently five 2TB hard drives. I have backup volumes configured for several devices, all of which are backed up across the volumes using Time Machine.

    My biggest concern with previous approaches was the poor speed. It seemed that neither NAS or dedicated Time Machines ever achieved a reasonable speed across my 1000Mb Ethernet network. It wasn't my network, it was the devices that couldn't handle the data transfer.

    Once I got my FreeNAS box set up, I was amazed at how quickly both backups and recoveries ran. FreeNAS is a great OS, easy to work with an configure, and essentially trouble free. It's also great for when a drive starts to fail or you want to expand the array.

    Just my $0.02.

    P.S. - I used to live right down the road from you in Avon....

    MacDann
     
  5. xraydoc macrumors demi-god

    xraydoc

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    #5
    Interesting. How much was your PC build? Not including the drives...
     
  6. MacDann macrumors 6502a

    MacDann

    Joined:
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    #6
    It's been a couple of years, but I think it was around $400-$500. I didn't use the latest and greatest processor or motherboard, as FreeNAS isn't about blazing processor speeds, so I'm sure that you can do much the same and either repurpose an old desktop or buy less than the latest hardware performance-wise.

    I had a Drobo I repurposed most of the drives from. And please don't get me started on Drobo, as that whole approach was a major cluster.

    So those dollars would cover the case, motherboard and processor. I scrounged the RAM and drives.

    Again, I have been really happy with the FreeNAS solution and highly recommend it.

    MacDann
     
  7. xraydoc, Dec 28, 2016
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2016

    xraydoc macrumors demi-god

    xraydoc

    Joined:
    Oct 9, 2005
    Location:
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    #7
    Tell me about it. I had one, too. A 4-drive network-only model. Don't recall the model number. Slowest piece of crap on the planet.

    Edit: Hmmm. After reading a little bit, I may give a go at getting FreeNAS OS installed on my old Mac Pro 1,1. It has 6GB of ECC RAM and 4 open drive bays. I think that should be sufficient, yes? Can't remember if the MP1,1 can handle >2TB drives, but if so, it may make a good (and free) FreeNAS machine.
     
  8. MacDann macrumors 6502a

    MacDann

    Joined:
    Mar 27, 2007
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    Can see the end of the Earth from here
    #8
    Sounds like a plan. It's certainly worth trying, as it won't cost you anything. If you do some research on the FreeNAS site I believe you'll find that it's not terribly resource hungry, unless you want an enterprise grade networked backup solution.

    Not only was my Drobo slow as molasses in January, but when it started refusing to use drives because it had deemed the number of errors it saw unacceptable on them I sold it. This was after sending two drives back to the OEM for analysis only to have them declared "100%" by the manufacturer but unacceptable to Drobo.
     
  9. hfg, Dec 28, 2016
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2016

    hfg macrumors 68040

    hfg

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2006
    Location:
    Cedar Rapids, IA. USA
    #9
    I am using a 2011 i5 Mac Mini as my household server. It contains a 2TB hard disk and a 512MB SSD which are separately (non Fusion) accessed. The 2TB hard disk has my entire music library, photos, and about 500 movies stored and shared on it. There are AppleTVs at each TV in the house.

    Since it would be idle most of the time (not serving movies, music, or pictures), I have it connected to a pair of ThunderBay IV disk systems running SoftRAID5. One of them is the TimeMachine backup for all of the computers in the household, including the server drive, The other has a 3 drive RAID5 with archive files available to me from any computer, and the 4th drive has a daily clone backup of that data. I also backup much of my data to a Synology NAS down in the basement.
     
  10. IndyLions thread starter macrumors newbie

    IndyLions

    Joined:
    Jul 23, 2009
    Location:
    Brownsburg IN
    #10

    From a software standpoint - what are you running on the Mini (besides SoftRaid) - the Mac Server App?
     
  11. hfg macrumors 68040

    hfg

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2006
    Location:
    Cedar Rapids, IA. USA
    #11
    Yes ... the $20 server app for TimeMachine host. It also serves as a cache for the first-time download of apps or upgrades, then subsequent requests from other computers comes from the server rather than over the Internet again.

    The media server functions are simply shared iTunes from OS X
     
  12. elleana macrumors regular

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2009
    #12
    Slightly unrelated question but perhaps relevant to the discussion - when moving backup solutions involving a re-purposing of existing storage drives (e.g. from Drobo to FreeNAS etc) how do you hold data temporarily?
     
  13. belvdr macrumors 603

    Joined:
    Aug 15, 2005
    #13
    When I investigated FreeNAS, they recommended not using a hardware array controller. I just wanted to set one up in VMware, but had nothing but issues with it trying to launch plugins.
     
  14. MacDann macrumors 6502a

    MacDann

    Joined:
    Mar 27, 2007
    Location:
    Can see the end of the Earth from here
    #14
    Good point. I guess I should have left out the information about the dedicated RAID controller on the MB, as it's not necessary. I was just going down the list of MB specs as I was thinking about it.

    Thanks for clarifying that.

    MacDann
    --- Post Merged, Dec 30, 2016 ---
    In my case I backed up to multiple drives on my existing backup (in this case a NAS) so I knew I could restore if necessary, then I did a full backup on my FreeNAS server and verified it. Once that was done I added the NAS drives to my FreeNAS server.

    MacDann
     
  15. IndyLions thread starter macrumors newbie

    IndyLions

    Joined:
    Jul 23, 2009
    Location:
    Brownsburg IN
    #15
    So far, so good. Updated the Mini to Sierra (it was delivered with El Capitan), moved it to the basement - and started loading it up with Media. My iTunes library is now fully setup, and the Mini is serving up media to my AppleTVs.

    iTunes Music is loaded on the Mini's Fusion Drive, and the Movies & TV Shows are loaded on a 3TB drive installed in a OWC miniStack USB 3.1 Gen1 enclosure.

    The Mini & miniStack are installed on a shelf on my 19" networking rack - which is a setup I really like.

    I'm managing the Mini from my other Macs using Screen Sharing - which works great. I'm using the NewerTech Headless HDMI Dummy Plug - which I THINK is helping remote video performance - it's working pretty smoothly for my purposes. I've set the resolution on the Headless screen at 1080P, which works well whether I'm controlling from a MacBook Pro or an iMac.

    Next step - figure out which approach to use for backup drives (multiple USB 3 drives, or get the ThunderBay enclosure).
     
  16. Altemose macrumors G3

    Altemose

    Joined:
    Mar 26, 2013
    Location:
    Elkton, Maryland
    #16
    Either way you go will work and the Thunderbay may perform a little better. However, if you use multiple USB drives you can alternate the backups between the two and thus add a layer of redundancy should a drive fail prematurely.
     
  17. IndyLions thread starter macrumors newbie

    IndyLions

    Joined:
    Jul 23, 2009
    Location:
    Brownsburg IN
    #17
    Another update on my Mac Mini performance. I'm about a solid month in and I'm very happy with my choice of a Mac Mini as my Home Server. I'm sure there were much cheaper ways I could have gone - but finding the lowest possible cost solution was not my goal.

    I'm using OS X Server strictly for the Time Machine backups - and they are working very well. They are much, much faster than the backups I was getting through the WD MyCloud I had been using - although admittedly that is an entry level NAS. I'm holding off on purchasing the ThunderBay enclosure - going strictly with USB 3.0 drives I already had for now. I'm sure in a few months I'll take another look at upgrading the storage side.

    Remote Management of the headless Mini continues to work extremely well over my Gigabit home network. The Mac Screen sharing feature works seamlessly from every Mac in my house.

    I would say unequivocally, if you are looking for a relatively trouble-free server solution - the Mac Mini is a great way to go as a home sever. The exception would be if you are looking to squeeze every penny out of your budget - which I have done for many years but decided to splurge a little. In my case, I'm happy I did.
     
  18. dimme macrumors 65816

    Joined:
    Feb 14, 2007
    Location:
    SF, CA
    #18
    I been running a mac mini home server for over 4 years now and I am very happy with both the performance and versatile. I have a question for the freeness users, if I may. I also have a need for a second setup more for archival storage. I was interested in setting up a freenas server but I see now a days the hardware requirements abit more that low end, like 16GB of ECC ram. Are you using ECC ram or are you or a loser build of free nas.
     
  19. satcomer macrumors 603

    satcomer

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    The Finger Lakes Region
    #19
    Building your own NAS is a pane in your backside! You would be better off with a Synology NAS that what size you would want.
     
  20. Altemose macrumors G3

    Altemose

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    Location:
    Elkton, Maryland
    #20
    I do like using OS X Server because it is really simple and expandable based on your needs. It serves a home user, a school, and even some business environments really well at a fantastic price.
     
  21. hartleymartin macrumors regular

    hartleymartin

    Joined:
    Jul 15, 2016
    Location:
    Sydney, Australia
    #21
    Have you made decisions about the drives/storage?

    I've been looking at the WD Red 2.5" drives - they make 750GB and 1TB versions in the 2.5" form factor. I was planning on doing something similar with an older 2010 Mac Mini which would act as the wireless server for my printer and media server for the two smart TVs.

    I had also considered using WD Green drives as this would be a "headless" computer set to automatically switch off and boot at certain times of the day. I have an external RAID unit, but it has to be manually switched on and off - and isn't particularly quiet. I was thinking of putting a 2.5" WD Red or Green drive into an external USB Caddy, powered off the USB port so the drive would power on and off with the Mac Mini server.
     
  22. satcomer macrumors 603

    satcomer

    Joined:
    Feb 19, 2008
    Location:
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    #22
    Don't get the green drive because it will sleep anytime it gets a chance. A red drive is set not to sleep and is designed to be a NAS drive!
     
  23. wlossw macrumors 6502a

    wlossw

    Joined:
    May 9, 2012
    Location:
    Montreal, Quebec, Canada
    #23
    Can confirm that WD green drives are garbage for NAS use. WD red it the way to go. I have a 2012 mac mini with a 4 bay external USB 3.0 enclosure, with WD red drives and it works great.

    For what it's worth time machine has a tendency to mess up no matter what you do when you are using it over the network...

    p.s. Why dont you just buy a high-end synology....
     
  24. hartleymartin macrumors regular

    hartleymartin

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    Jul 15, 2016
    Location:
    Sydney, Australia
    #24
    Well, it seems settled then. I'll be getting 2.5" WD Reds. I'll mount them in a USB-powered caddy so when the computer shuts down, the drive powers off. I'm actually looking around for old FireWire800 external drives that have 2.5" SATA drives in them, so that I can use the FireWire800 port. USB2.0 has given me at best 35-40MB/s transfer speeds, and FW800 gives me a pretty consistent 80MB/s. I think USB3.0 didn't come out on Mac Minis until 2012, and those are still too expensive for me on the 2nd hand market.
     
  25. solaris macrumors 6502a

    solaris

    Joined:
    Apr 19, 2004
    Location:
    Oslo, Norway
    #25
    Another happy Mac mini as home server user here. :)
    I bought a late 2012 Mac mini Server (Quad i7, 16 GB, 2 x 1TB) some two years back, and it's been serving me very well since. I am on a 1/1 Gbps fiber connection with static IP at home, and the mini serve as Time Machine-, VPN-, File Sharing- and BitTorrent-server. It's headless, so I remote desktop over VPN or SSH from my MacBook (private), Windows (work) laptop or iPhone, accessing all my files.
     

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