OSX server vs NAS with cloud services

Discussion in 'Mac OS X Server, Xserve, and Networking' started by gorilly, Sep 13, 2015.

  1. gorilly macrumors member

    May 30, 2008
    London, UK

    I have recently been approached by a SMB customer who has a small (11 users) network of OSX based machines with a very old mac mini server (i would expect is a first release).

    The use the apple sever for file sharing, directory services, mail etc.

    The company has a lot of data stored on the mac mini, are running out of space and complain how slow it is, they also complain that the mail/calendar/contacts services are flaky and problematic. They also complain about the speed of their VPN when working from home (which will be due to their limited upload speed).

    I am trying to come up with a solution for them but i mainly deal with Windows servers and networking for enterprise.

    I don't know a great deal about apple servers, however after doing research it looks very easy to set up etc, but also when doing research i find a lot of people online comment on the mail setup being flaky etc.

    I am wondering if people can give me advice on their experience with this type of set up.

    I'm finding it really hard to find much osx server info online, other than it being slated.

    Originally i was thinking of implementing cloud based email (they have outlook users) so thought of hosted exchange or office 365 rather than the mac mail server.

    Google apps (my usual favorite) is out of the window because there is no google apps sync tool for outlook on the mac, imap is cumbersome and clunky.

    I thought we could keep their original mac mini for directory services.

    Then i could use a Synology or QNAP NAS device for file shares, cloud backup but most importantly i could use the cloud file sync app for home workers. This would mean they would be accessing the sync'd files locally rather than accessing a server via the VPN.

    Obviously i could get a mac mini os x server, install a file syncing cloud app and do the same thing but the performance of the NAS should in theory outperform the mac mini.

    I also like the fact the NAS would have hot swap drive bays on the front.

    I have dealt with macs before but in terms of networking... snow leopard would have been my last dabble and even then it wasn't exactly great. My only reason now for shying away from OSX server is mainly due to reading raving reviews for synology and QNAP devices from mac users, and complaints regarding the OSX server.

    Thanks for any help and advice.
  2. Fabian90 macrumors regular

    Feb 19, 2013
    Bonn, Germany
    Well, I use an OS X Server but just for home use. I can't really help you with your questions but maybe it helps to know that OS X Server has a lot more functions which could be of great use. I use it for Time Machine (highly recommended), Caching Server (makes updates for several devices much faster) and as a File Server and i could use VPN, DNS, Device Profiles, Wiki etc.

    Regarding storage: The new Mac Minis have Thunderbolt Ports and you could attach pretty much everything to it without any loss of speed, for example Thunderbolt Drives.
  3. DJLC, Sep 14, 2015
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2015

    DJLC macrumors 6502a


    Jul 17, 2005
    Mooresville, NC
    Honestly, I'd try to simplify things....

    1) Do they really NEED directory services? Or would local accounts on the Macs suffice?

    2) I would absolutely recommend cloud-based email, whether Google Apps or Office 365. I personally would prefer Google with the built-in Mail / Contacts / Calendars apps. This replicates the functionality they may be used to on the Mac server, except it's cloud based and you don't need to manage it for them. Alternatively, as you said, Office365 with Outlook for Mac will work too. Seems to me maintaining a private email server is completely unnecessary for SMBs.

    3) A nice NAS and a router should be able to provide remote access to files.

    To me it doesn't sound like they really need an on-site server. Unless you anticipate them growing rapidly and needing to manage preferences on Macs and/or iOS devices. In which case I'd do all of the above, except get a new Mac Server for file sharing and Profile Manager.

    Some background: I recently (as in 3 or so years ago) transitioned one of my SMB clients from Windows workstations + Windows Server to all Mac. No central server or directory service. Shared iCloud account to have Calendars / Contacts synced transparently. File sharing on one of the Macs w/ Time Machine enabled to two hard drives they swap weekly. They all have the same credentials (stored locally) so the users are easily able to connect to the file sharing Mac without having to remember a login. They also have two branch offices -- Macs in those locations are able to connect back to the file sharing Mac via iCloud, plus have the Calendars / Contacts synced as well. I may have shot myself in the foot a bit with this solution, as they hardly ever call anymore! :)
  4. MacsRgr8, Sep 14, 2015
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2015

    MacsRgr8 macrumors 604


    Sep 8, 2002
    The Netherlands
    I agree with DJLC.
    It's a bit 90's-thinking when small businesses think they need a complete server in the house.

    The hassle keeping the server up and running, updated, secure, managing users, accounts, storage, VPN, etc. is not worth it anymore. Besides, you still are reliant on a single piece of computer hardware in which many components can fail.

    I advise looking for industry-standard cloud based solutions, so that the client type (OS X, iOS, Windows, etc.) is supported.
    Let the cloud based solution take care of managing the server. You as the administrator simply setup the domain and users.
    If you want fast local storage, get a NAS. The possibilities of NAS systems are huge nowadays. Any router can handle VPN connections inward too.
  5. hobowankenobi, Sep 14, 2015
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2015

    hobowankenobi macrumors 6502a

    Aug 27, 2015
    on the land line mr. smith.
    DJLC nailed it: no company that small should being doing much with their own server beyond serving files.

    Go google apps and consider a different mail client?

    UPDATE: Just saw your "IMAP is clunky" note. For you...or them? Most of the world outside of Outlook users are used to and are fine with IMAP. No?

    ownCloud is an option if you don't want to go full NAS, and run the server platform of your choice. In the NAS world, Synology has some of the best Mac support/compatibility.

    If you go mini + Server OS for file serving, get a mini with SSD, and run an external RAID 5 via Thunderbolt. Think modular; not internal. Less clean, but better options, serviceability, and flexibility moving forward.

    Any way you slice it, it will run more $ than a similar NAS, but you would gain some Server features (Profile Manager, SUS-like caching server, etc.).
  6. Nicholas Savage macrumors newbie

    Oct 19, 2013
    Southern Wisconsin
    Synology isn't a bad way to go. It works just fine with the LDAP from an OSX server. The SMB and AFP are well integrated. Not a bad pick if you have legacy systems w/ 10.6 still in use. I have several deployments that are basically Rackstations + Mini w/ OSX Server at their core. Most of the storage run off the NAS and the Mini for users / radius / caching and SU / occasionally time machine / 3rd party server app stuff etc. VPN tends to end up on pfsense firewalls or cisco kit.

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