New Server Advice

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by brianus, Jul 28, 2005.

  1. brianus macrumors 6502

    Jun 17, 2005
    The office iMac -- which we'd been using as our intranet web interface for years and years -- is on its last legs, and we've finally been able to convince the boss of this. The CRT is messed up; it's turned greenish, for one, and when you start it up, parts of the screen get all jittery and don't calm down for a good 30 minutes or so. Oh, and the clock appears to be shot. It's always December 31, 1969 now.

    So clearly, we need something new, or in other words, I need something to recommend to el jefe. The thing started out as a simple FTP server but over the last year has evolved into our company's "data center". Lately we've been forwarding most http requests to another Mac in the office, a 450MHz G4 PowerMac, which is a capable machine but also happens to double as somebody's workstation. If we were just replicating this setup I'd tell 'em to get any old thing, but I want a real, dedicated server this time, particularly since there doesn't seem to be any end to the new demands we keep piling on it. Whatever we get will be running the following:

    Apache (mod_cgi, mod_perl), FTP, postgresql database server, Portfolio NetPublish server, Tomcat, Retrospect. And, it has to be a Mac.

    The number of users we have is relatively small (maybe 10 people), but will be growing; it may eventually be used company-wide, which would mean several dozen. Our current server is used for intranet database applications and for both network and internet file storage and transfers (these tend to be files in the range of 1 to 50 MB); also backups. In the future, I'd like to implement an automatic archiving system for both internet and intranet users. This would require significantly greater storage space than our current setup (a few TB would probably suffice), and would involve larger and more frequent file transfers.

    Now, it seems apparent to me, just based on the fact that all of this stuff already runs adequately (if a tad sluggishly) on a very old G4, that we don't need some top of the line product. One of my coworkers is pushing for an XServe, but really, isn't that a bit of overkill for our setup? Would OS X server be helpful to me or are its added features intended for more complicated, demanding data centers? Then again, would an xserve and os x server have definite advantages? I'd like some input mainly because ours is the only Mac office I've ever worked in, so I have no points of reference, or anyone's expertise or experience to call upon. I mean, I'd just as soon get an eMac and a few of those LaCie drives and be done with it, but maybe in so doing I'd be limiting myself in some way that's not apparent right now...? Or maybe I'm just being led astray by all the marketing :rolleyes:

    Your thoughts are appreciated.
  2. wrc fan macrumors 65816

    wrc fan

    Jan 19, 2003
    In a world where LPs are made like pancakes
    I'll sorta break down my response to 2 parts...

    1) Should you use Mac OS X server? I'd say no. Why do I say no, because apparently someone is already competent enough to configure everything for the server that you want in the standard version. Unless you want to add some specific thing that server has (such as using netinfo to manage user logins and also have them tied to the email service), then you don't really need server.

    2) For hardware it sounds to me like the most important speedup things you need would be getting a RAID setup and plenty of RAM. You don't need an xserve to get those features, the main reason for an xserve is to get the power of a PowerMac in a 1U space. So since space doesn't seem to be an issue, I'd recommend a dual processor PowerMac. G4 or G5 should be fine, depending on your budget. Like I said, the most critial things for database and fileserving are the speed and reliabilaty (or redundancy) of the hard disks and how much ram you have. So it would be better to go with a worse computer and add a good RAID 5 or RAID 0+1 than to skimp on that for more powerful processors.
  3. briangig macrumors regular

    May 16, 2005
    i'd go for a dual g4 powermac, max the ram, and get some raid going...
  4. Cuckoo macrumors 6502

    May 2, 2003
    The Netherlands - Utrecht
    I think any mac would suffice.

    What you're demanding can be handled by any G3 and up.... although memory would increase life, stability and performance.

    Bear in mind, that for a computer hogging a GUI around is much more demanding than server tasks in general (like www, ftp and stuff).
  5. CanadaRAM macrumors G5


    Oct 11, 2004
    On the Left Coast - Victoria BC Canada
    Check with Retrospect for upgrading.
    Priorities for a server in descending order of importance are:

    Good data backup plan (and one that is actually carried out regularly)
    Good Battery Back Up power supply
    Redundant hard drive (RAID 0 or a scheduled mirror)
    Good network connection (make sure it has a 100BaseT switch on the network side, minimize the number of hubs it has to hop through)
    Hard drive speed
    Processor speed

    The problem your iMac is having (besides the PRAM battery being dead) is the analog board (which has the power regulation and video circuitry, if I remember). There's no way in h=!! you should be relying on this machine for even one more day. It could go any minute and also bork the data on the drive if you're unlucky.

    Putting a monitor (hot) in with the computer works (as in the iMac, eMac) is not a brilliant idea for long term reliability -- doubly not for a server. Forget the eMac. The Mini would be better than an eMac.

    The obvious answer is a tower. You don't need G5 processing power, and you do need room for hard drives, so I would go for a good used G4, Mirror Disk Drive would be good, Quicksilver second choice. The Dual 867 has a dodgy reputation tho'.

    Put in at least 2 drives, preferably 4: System, System backup, Data, Data Backup. Optionally set up Raid 0 mirroring. Your workload doesn't warrant RAID 5 or striping.

    Set up a big EXTERNAL backup drive to do your Retrospects to. Make a partition on that drive to mirror your boot drive OS to, so you can boot another machine and turn it into a replacement server ASAP if you have a failure.
  6. xparaparafreakx macrumors 65816

    Jul 29, 2005
    Dual G4 with RAID. I dont see the need for Mac OS X Server since you already have the apps and setup already.

    However my concern is that you mention that your gonna expand this server company wide which makes me wanna tell you to get a 2.0ghz xServe and a xServe RAID.
  7. brianus thread starter macrumors 6502

    Jun 17, 2005
    Thanks for your replies! I have a few comments/questions.

    True enough. That's why I started using it mainly as a proxy for my "real" server, the G4 workstation, after I started working here. It does get backed up, but since it doesn't really host much on its own anymore, it will not be a huge loss when it finally goes kaput. We'll just have to make sure we can get a replacement quickly, or preferably, have already replaced it by then.

    Good point; I don't want to have to replace the whole thing if the next one's monitor blows. I had considered the Mini but I'm concerned about the slow HDDs and the limited memory and expandability, thus....

    You read my mind! And we have one of those Dual 867s in the office and I have to agree, it's.. problematic.

    I'm a little confused about this part: so I'd be doing Retrospect backups to an external, *and* to internal "system backup" and "data backup" drives? How would that work? Is RAID 0 some sort of automatic backup that doesn't require software? Bear with me; my hardware knowledge is not as great as I'd like it to be. I mostly administer/maintain our server software and write all the inhouse stuff.

    Presently my backup plan only covers selected directories on our computers, including the iMac and G4. All of the webserver files are covered; the nightly database backup files; all of the other data used by the server; and miscellaneous important folders on other client computers. Right now everything gets backed up to two identical 250GB external drives that I swap each Friday so I can keep one off-site.

    Several of you have mentioned getting RAID... is this something my current G4 Single 450MHz can't do? Do I at least need a better G4 than I have? Because one solution I'd considered was to simply use the current G4 workstation as THE dedicated server, and just buy another computer to replace it as a workstation. Can a RAID be set up independently of the Mac, and would that be a sensible solution in this case, or would you definitely recommend a newer G4?

    Related to that: regarding memory, another thing that was mentioned a few times in the replies -- our G4 is maxed out at 2GB. If that's not sufficient, then, wouldn't I have to recommend a G5?

    Again, thanks for your replies, guys!
  8. wrc fan macrumors 65816

    wrc fan

    Jan 19, 2003
    In a world where LPs are made like pancakes
    First, look here for a definition of RAID and it's different levels. Your current G4 probably would do fine for holding a RAID. You can get an external firewire raid, or put multiple disks inside and either get an ATA PCI raid card or use software raid in Apple's Disk Utility. Again, that all goes down to budget. If it's an internal raid using disk utility I believe it is tied to the computer, but the other methods should be moveable, but more expensive (firewire will be the most expensive).

    2GB is more than enough. If you were running 512mb it might've been wise to upgrade.
  9. brianus thread starter macrumors 6502

    Jun 17, 2005
    Just an update; a few months after this we were unexpectedly given virtual carte blanche on the new server, so I said "what the hell" and went ahead and got a dual 2.3GHz XServe with 2 gigs of RAM and a single 500GB HDD (I will be adding a backup drive to the second bay shortly; for now I still rely on Retrospect to backup selected folders to a smaller firewire drive). Also purchased UPS boxes for every machine on our network. I have to say, OS X Server is SUH-WEET. Stuff I would never have previously considered (such as VPN) have been a big help (finally I can telecommute!), and our existing web apps are also significantly faster. Once I figure it all out I plan on hosting mail services and LDAP here. This thing is great! Server Admin really takes the edge off some system administration tasks I'd usually do in the Terminal (not to knock unix of course, I still use it constantly, but it's nice to have a convenient user interface for some things too). I have yet to entirely figure out Workgroup Manager but that's the next thing. I also didn't realize at the time that it has a built-in software-based RAID. Maybe not as great as a dedicated RAID but still, with those 3 hot swappable bays....

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