Moving from Windows Server to Mac Hardware & OS X Server

Discussion in 'Mac OS X Server, Xserve, and Networking' started by Geeky Chimp, Jun 3, 2015.

  1. Geeky Chimp macrumors member

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    Jun 3, 2015
    #1
    We are looking to move our Server Farm consisting of multiple Exchange Servers hosting different Exchange organisations, quite a few IIS Servers, DC's, File Servers and few other bits. Most of the Servers are run as Hyper-V Virtual Machines on a number of servers with RAID.

    We are now an all Mac client side organisation - part of the reason for the change. Another reason is the ongoing costs of upgrading MS software compared to Apple.

    So far we've got a few Mac Mini's (2014 - 1.4Ghz - 8GB RAM) and a Mac Mini (2-14 - 2.6Ghz - 8GB RAM).

    We've started playing with OS X Server on our test domains and running it instead of Exchange and IIS. So far we're doing well with it (better SPAM filtering anyway). Only thing we are missing is OWA/Webmail so far.

    We have a few questions, any help or comments would be much appreciated.

    1. How do Mac Admins deal with no RAID? Are Time Machine backups and a standby server OK as a DR plan?

    2. As OS X Server doesn't come with Webmail does anyone have any comments about the range of PHP Webmail software available and/or any recommendations/no-no's? Has anyone gone down the no webmail route - if so how's that working out?

    3. We are used to Virtualisation and creating VM's for everything. Does anyone have any comments about Parallels Business Edition (for Headless VM's) or using VMware Fusion on a server? Or are people just buying loads of Mac Minis?

    4. We haven't brought all of the hardware yet - is it worth buying the 2.6Ghz 2014 Mac Mini with 16GB RAM and the PCIe Disk if you are running VM's hosting servers (Linux or an OS X VM)?

    5. Multiple Mac Mini's or a Mac Pro?

    5. We need to run a few Linux installations for some Linux software that just doesn't seem to compile and run on Mac so we're thinking of VM's partly the reasons for the questions above.


    Any responses would be great!
     
  2. SilentMacs macrumors newbie

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    #2
    Well Geeky Chimp, that is certainly an interesting project you are undertaking. A number of organisations who support Apple devices are actually moving away from using OS X Server and associated Apple hardware, since the demise of the Xserve. I think you deserve credit for moving in the opposite direction. Here are my thoughts as someone who looks after roughly 1000 Apple devices at a university.

    1) I think you can still use RAID on your Macs, providing of course you have more than one hard drive:

    https://support.apple.com/en-gb/HT202307

    When I was still using Xserves I used RAID, but then I transitioned to multiple Mac minis and then to two Mac Pros and I didn't bother any more. The Mac Pros have PROMISE Thunderbolt RAID systems attached. I'm not a huge fan of Time Machine. I have my VMs on the Thunderbolt RAID systems, so in the event of one of the Mac Pros catching fire or something, then I still have copies of its VMs. I have a standby Mac Pro which I can put in place if necessary. Depending on how strict your organisation's policies are, Mac Pros are not server grade equipment, in that they lack such things as redundant power supplies. For me it isn't a huge issue if one of my servers is offline for a while. This might be more of a issue for you. I think without enterprise grade hardware you won't be able to have an enterprise grade disaster recovery plan, although I think you could come up with something decent. Definitely I don't think disaster recovery plan and Time Machine are a good match.

    2) We are running Office 365 so don't host any mail internally any more. I know that Kerio is highly regarded, so maybe take a look at that:

    http://www.kerio.com

    3) I moved from using multiple Mac minis to a couple of Mac Pros running VMWare Fusion with instances of OS X server running virtually. VMWare Fusion isn't enterprise grade, but it has been rock solid for me. You can run ESXi on Apple hardware:

    http://www.virtuallyghetto.com/apple


    4 and 5) I'd buy Mac Pros. Mac minis are fine, but I'd rather be using VMs as the snapshotting ability alone is worthwhile.

    I think OS X Server is great, but it is really designed for smaller organisations. You can put together a really good implementation, but it will always be a bit kludgy around the edges compared to a Microsoft/Dell or whatever solution (although it will be cheaper and cooler).

    Good luck with your project!
     
  3. burne, Jun 4, 2015
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2015

    burne macrumors 6502

    burne

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    #3
    I scream and shout until I get both. RAID and backups are different things. RAID prevents downtime if a disk fails. A backup saves your data if two disk fail at the same time. I average about two to three disk failures per week. I think I have something in the order of 10,000 spinning disks.

    I'm much more a Xen (and a bit KVM) guy, and running thousands of linux boxes, but my Mac Mini at home runs a VM with a mailserver, webmail, blogs etcetera. At the office the Mac Mini runs VM's for testing, and while at one of my contract customers my Mac Book Pro runs VM's with WSO2 for development and testing, and every time parallels does what it says on the tin.
     
  4. Geeky Chimp thread starter macrumors member

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    #4

    Many Thanks for your comments SilentMacs.

    I think the Mini's and Pro's only have a single disk in them now so we'll have a look at the RAID enclosures for data. I did notice the OWC ThunderBay's the other day.

    We have tried ESXi on one of the Mini's and found it unbelievably slow compared to Fusion. Could I ask how you deal with starting the VM's on boot - have you got the Pro set to Auto Login then run Fusion or are you using a script of some sort? I noticed Parallels Business has a Headless - Start on Boot option but haven't seen the same in Fusion?
     
  5. SlCKB0Y macrumors 68040

    SlCKB0Y

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    #5
    I think its a pretty ludicrous decision from a technology perspective, this would absolutely be handled better by Linux/KVM in almost every single way.
     
  6. SlCKB0Y macrumors 68040

    SlCKB0Y

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    #6
    This guy pretty much nailed it. This is pretty much all OS X Server is good for. Either:

    1. A *very* small organisation.
    2. In a larger organisation where it is used solely to manage Apple Services/iOS devices (stuff you cant do any other way) alongside something like Linux.
    3. At home for people with little IT experience or IT guys who don't want to come home and feel like they are working to support their home systems (like the guy im quoting).
     
  7. SlCKB0Y, Jun 6, 2015
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2015

    SlCKB0Y macrumors 68040

    SlCKB0Y

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    #7
    Who ever made this decision should be fired as they are setting your company up for mediocrity and failure. You're basically trading software lock-in for substandard hardware which should never be used for a company's core infrastructure.
     
  8. SilentMacs macrumors newbie

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    #8
    Perhaps I should have said it was a brave move :)
     
  9. SlCKB0Y macrumors 68040

    SlCKB0Y

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    #9
    I work in IT and if someone told me my solution was really "brave" a cold sweat would come over me and I'd take a serious look at what I was doing :D
     
  10. SilentMacs macrumors newbie

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    #10
    The Mac Pros are just set to login automatically and start the VMs. I believe you can script VMware Fusion to automatically start VMs without a login, but I haven't needed this level of security as the Macs are in a locked server room. You can add another login item to lock the Mac right after it logs in, not great security but good enough for what I need.

    SICKB0Y is right though, Apple don't provide an enterprise grade solution, so you end up rolling with something that is a kludge. I am OK with that because if my servers are offline, even for a couple of days, it isn't an issue for me as the Macs clients will just keep ticking over until the servers reappear.

    As I mentioned in my first response, a lot of people who support Apple devices are trying to move away from using Apple server; hence projects like reposado to replace the OS X update server and Imagr to replace NetRestore.

    Good luck with your project :)
     
  11. SlCKB0Y macrumors 68040

    SlCKB0Y

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    #11
    Yep, but that's software RAID, which is slower and less reliable than hardware RAID and high disk I/O will significantly chew CPU.
     
  12. chrfr macrumors 603

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    Jul 11, 2009
    #12
    As someone who runs a few OS X Servers (on desktop hardware), this is a horrible idea. Apple has no interest in enterprise, no software support road map, no server hardware, no clear documentation on how server should work, and OS X Server just isn't designed to work at the scale you're planning. It's a small office operation at best.
    If you must get away from Windows, build yourself a Linux derived system but don't try to replace everything you have now with a few Mac Minis.
     
  13. burne macrumors 6502

    burne

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    #13
    For now you can cheat by using the unix subsystem. I'm not sure about the exact commands for vmware, but for parallels I su'd to root, made a subdir /root/bin and made a script inside that called 'startvms.sh' containing lines like

    /usr/bin/prlctl start vm.name

    Don't forget to make it executable. Then edit root's crontab (crontab -e) and add a line like

    @Reboot /root/bin/startvms.sh

    When the unix subsystem initialises it will start the parallel VM's. (headless so no icon in your task bar). VMWare's

    vmrun start /path/to/the/virtualmachine.vmx

    should work the same. You can add 'sleep 30' between lines to pause between booting multiple VM's to keep the contention for disk I/O in check.
     
  14. Geeky Chimp thread starter macrumors member

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    Jun 3, 2015
    #14
    Thanks burne. We've decided on Parallels Desktop for Business as Start on Boot is built in and it allows use of the GUI if required, and handles closing the GUI Window afterwards without stopping the VM.
     
  15. Geeky Chimp, Jun 14, 2015
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2015

    Geeky Chimp thread starter macrumors member

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    #15
    We've had some Mac Servers running our 'Test' / Dev Core Infrastructure for several months and so far its been running better than the Windows kit and OS's. The Financial Plan runs better over time too so so far the opposite of your theory has been observed within our organisation.
     
  16. Geeky Chimp thread starter macrumors member

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    Jun 3, 2015
    #16
    From our experience so far the Apple Documentation and Training Publications have provided all the details we've needed.

    We're not Linux fans for many reasons and the plan was never to run everything on the few minis we have but instead to buy many many more or some Mac Pro's including Standby hardware.
     
  17. Geeky Chimp thread starter macrumors member

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    #17

    Many Thanks SilentMacs.

    We've tried some Time Machine restores onto a Mini at the end of last week and also tried out moving a RAID enclosure. All seems fine so far so hopefully in the event of failure we'd only be looking at a short period of downtime.
     
  18. Geeky Chimp thread starter macrumors member

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    #18
    If no-one challenged the normal we'd all still be running DOS.
     
  19. Geeky Chimp thread starter macrumors member

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    #19
    We've looked a many Linux Distributions, mainly over the last 10 years, and never found one that could just slot in and replace what we had, especially not with the ease of OS X Server.

    If you know a Linux distribution that we could just setup and run with I'd love to know what it is? Especially with the simple GUI that OS X Server does. Not to mention the ease of updates....
     
  20. burne macrumors 6502

    burne

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    #20
    Most of the machine I manage have 'virgin' connectors and optical drives. Never held a plug or a disk.

    By default the do a netboot. They start in a provisioning VLAN, where they pick up a installer (kickstart) which configures disks, installs an OS and configures network and software according to specs in a text file. Some install ansible and from there on ansible manages the machine. They install some custom software which writes info about the machine into a cmdb and installs updates when directed. Many customers have staged environments so we need to time updates.

    Not much use for a GUI/TUI and the ansible-managed machines undo everything you changed so they have absolutely no use for a GUI/TUI. And the updates are centrally managed.

    Which are just the qualities we want from linux.

    Oh, everything is 70km away from the office, in a number of datacenters in Amsterdam. If you want to plug in a monitor and keyboard it will take you an hour to get there..

    Completely different perspective from yours.
     
  21. lysergication macrumors newbie

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    Mar 10, 2016
    #21
    This is the most ridiculous thing I read in months. If you want to run a server you need proper hardware. A Mac is a consumer-level machine not meant to run in the data center(or even a lab for that matter). It has no dual psu, no raid controller and no replaceable parts!! What the hell is your IT department smoking?

    There is a difference between challenging the status quo and asininely defying it. In IT, there are best practices and they are there for a reason. Your approach is kind of like UPS saying "We don't like these ugly brown trucks even though they are engineered for this purpose, but we do really like these sleek Teslas, so we are going to deliver packages in them instead"

    Btw, there is no such thing as a 'Mac Admin'.

    Actually Linux does have a GUI if you want one. It usually gets in the way though, and besides unless you are going through some kind of IP-KVM/iLO/DRAC/whatever you going to have to use ssh instead anyway.

    Btw, Linux is extremely easy to update. 'yum -y upgrade' and that's it.

    Having said all that, I have no idea how big your company is. If it's something like 10 people, you might be OK. Keep in mind though that your solution won't scale at all.

    Here is my most important advice to you. If(when) you look for another job, please do not under any circumstance put this project as a line item on your resume. It's guaranteed to cost you the interview.
     
  22. Geeky Chimp thread starter macrumors member

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    Jun 3, 2015
    #22
    Thanks for replying to our post from 9 months ago @lysergication.

    Our project to migrate from Windows Servers to OS X Server on Mac Mini's went really well. The Infrastructure has had very few issues and the amount of help desk tickets raising problems has been far far fewer. Maybe opposite to what some people were expecting here but the project's results speaks volumes.

    Since this project our IT Team has helped other businesses achieve the same results migrating from Windows Server Farms over to OS X Server / Mac Mini's; these have all been a big success too.

    FYI some of the Technical Staff have been offered jobs with other companies directly off the back of this project so it WILL be going on the whole teams resume.
     
  23. sittnick macrumors member

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    #23
    Backups are also essential for times when data is corrupted, or files are mistakenly deleted. RAID does nothing for those situations, which happen about 100x as frequently as catastrophic disk multiple failure. I HAVE seen one company have a bad BATCH of drives in a new SAN cause a near catastrophe because they were using it for backups as well. A bad controller can also scotch an entire RAID array. Add redundancy proportionate to the importance/irreplacability of the content.
     
  24. burne macrumors 6502

    burne

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    #24
    Why do you reply to a reaction I wrote more than eighteen months ago?
     
  25. pmgrnvl macrumors newbie

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    #25
    First, let me say I have numerous Mac OS X Server installs, mostly for printers, design houses and so forth, though some are service-oriented businesses. It can work well, but the people who have commented that someone should be "fired" have some valid points. But it can be a good server for Mac-centric environments.

    The rub is this: Years ago, Mac OS X Server, running on XServes, was a darn good solution. The hardware was robust, and the software capable, yet (somewhat) easy to use. After OS X 10.6, Server became "improved and simplified," ahem, and then gradually built itself back up into what we have now. It's a decent product, but a far cry from what it was, and a far cry from Windows Server 2012 or similar.

    The biggest issue with everything is that Apple really makes no good server hardware. At a few sites, I have Mac Pros in use, and they work very well -- but look idiotic in a rack, sitting on a shelf. At some other smaller sites have Mac minis deployed. They work well in those situations because there's often no dedicated server room, so their small size is actually a plus. We still have a few old Xserves in service too, mainly providing backup services. They work, so why not use them.

    Both the Pro and mini have downsides: No significantly expandable internal storage, no redundant power supplies, no built-in RAID, for example, but there are workarounds. So, first, let me share how I typically set these up.

    If I were serving a lot of people, or serving big files (a commercial printer with many employees, for example, and huge files), I'd use a Mac Pro. The base model works fine, even with 12gb of RAM, though I usually expand it to 32gb ECC. I typically buy this with the base (256gb) SSD, and use that to boot only. To that, I'd hook up a hardware RAID (I love OWC products, but their Thunderbolt stuff is generally software RAID, and I am not a fan of that for a number of reasons, not the least of which is portability. The OWC RackPro is a great device, but you'd be connecting generally via USB 3 which actually works fine, I suppose, but I wouldn't use it in heavy-duty environments -- USB creates CPU load). What I have been using is the LaCie 8Big Rackmount RAID, which is one heck of a piece of hardware. It is rock solid. Downside: It may be discontinued; I am currently trying to get an answer from LaCie. If that were not an option, then I'd look at some of the other LaCie non-rackmount Thunderbolt solutions, as well as solutions from Promise and G-Tech. I run the LaCie in RAID 5. At one site, we have more than 48TB connected, via two LaCie 8Big units, to a Mac Pro server.

    For smaller groups, I typically use a Mac mini. I STRONGLY suggest the fastest 3.0 Core i7 option, 16gb RAM and a 256gb SSD which is used to boot. To that, I connect a LaCie 2Big Thunderbolt 2 RAID in RAID 1 mode (mirrored) or a LaCie 5Big Thunderbolt 2 RAID in RAID 5. Keep in mind, the mini is not upgradeable, so get the max CPU and memory out of the box for longer useful life. And don't skimp on the SSD. You don't want a problematic, slow laptop drive in there. Those are failure points. And S-L-O-W.

    In most of these situations, these servers serve up files to Macs and Windows boxes (one site has 15 Win 7 workstations and only one Mac -- the server, but that's unusual; we did that for cost - read, licensing - concerns, and, ironically, Spotlight searching, which is quite useful), Wiki services and so forth. We do not use them for mail.

    Now, to your questions:

    1. How do Mac Admins deal with no RAID? Are Time Machine backups and a standby server OK as a DR plan?

    We typically use a LaCie or similar hardware RAID, in RAID 1 for small sites and RAID 5 for larger sites. RAID 1 is better than nothing, but don't expect miracles from it. As for backups, I would NEVER EVER use Time Machine in a business environment. (Heck, even at home I don't use it.) In my humble opinion, Retrospect (www.retrospect.com) is the ONLY route to go. Install on server and back it up; install clients, if desired, on workstations, and it will back them up to the server. Retrospect offers software for Macs and PCs. It's proven, it's been around forever, and when I've needed it, it worked and saved my tail. We typically back up to external hard drives these days, and rotate each week. So, Week A, then Week B. These can be connected via USB or Thunderbolt, your choice. For offsite backups, where applicable, we use Mozy Pro.


    2. As OS X Server doesn't come with Webmail does anyone have any comments about the range of PHP Webmail software available and/or any recommendations/no-no's? Has anyone gone down the no webmail route - if so how's that working out?

    We have almost totally migrated our clients to cloud-based email, typically recommending MS Office 365. For $12/user per month, they get all the MS apps (Word, Excel, etc) plus 50gb email storage, a ton of OneDrive space and so forth. If you really do want to host email, check out Kerio (www.kerio.com). We run that on some Macs and it is basically an Exchange alternative. It even runs on a PC server. It's a very solid program. IMHO, the mail offered in OS X Server is pretty basic and dated.

    3. We are used to Virtualisation and creating VM's for everything. Does anyone have any comments about Parallels Business Edition (for Headless VM's) or using VMware Fusion on a server? Or are people just buying loads of Mac Minis?

    Why do you need VMs? I'd ask myself that. What are you virtualizing? If you are mainly serving files and so forth, a few Mac servers might do it. But I am not clear on what you have. (I see below - Linux).

    4. We haven't brought all of the hardware yet - is it worth buying the 2.6Ghz 2014 Mac Mini with 16GB RAM and the PCIe Disk if you are running VM's hosting servers (Linux or an OS X VM)?

    See above. Get 16gb RAM. End of discussion. And me, I would get the 3.0 GHz Core i7. It offers more potential power for the future.

    5. Multiple Mac Mini's or a Mac Pro?
    How many users? The Mac Pros we have are serving medium-sized businesses with hundreds of thousands of files. See above. The Pro is definitely far more robust and I have found it to be a rock-solid server.

    6. We need to run a few Linux installations for some Linux software that just doesn't seem to compile and run on Mac so we're thinking of VM's partly the reasons for the questions above.

    I do not have any real-world experience with this.

    Best of luck!

    -- Pete




    Any responses would be great![/QUOTE]
     

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