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Mac Mini as Server Experiences

4888 Views 10 Replies Latest reply: Jun 14, 2009 6:58 AM by bob hope RSS
bob hope Level 1 Level 1 (110 points)
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Apr 28, 2008 5:29 PM
Hey all,

We have a small office with 10 macs, and an dual G4 tower running OSX server (tiger). I would like to upgrade the server to Leopard, and was looking at upgrading the hardware also (although the G4 Tower has been pretty rock solid, if we get a new hardware platform, I can more easily incrementally move things over).

We have never maxed out the processor on our G4 tower, so I am strongly considering getting a Mac Mini as my new "server". Obiously, I can save a grand on it, but more importantly it's a LOT smaller, and quieter. We run the Apple Mail Server, as well as a couple of portable home directories, and a File server (AFP and Samba for the testing machines), DNS server, Subversion, and a few other minor services. We use rsync to back up the server nightly.

I basically went through the bottlenecks and the only one that really concerns me is hard drive.
* Processor - Even the bottom of the line has more raw power than our existing server.
* Network connection - Gigabit which is what we have now on our G4 server
* RAM - we currently have 2 gigs, so the Mini can have that much

The potential problem is the hard drive. The Mini just can't have enough internal hard drive for our needs, so I'd have to use an external drive for our data.

I've read that a lot of purists don't like it since the hard drive isn't rated for server, but **** with the price savings I can swap out the whole **** machine (not just the hard drive) twice a year and be fine. Talk about cheep hardware redundancy!

So I'm wondering if people have tried this already?
USB2 vs. Firewire? (I've been told Firewire, but that was by someone who overbuilds EVERYTHING, so I'm just not 100% sure if it matters).
Will I notice a slowdown when people are uploading/downloading significant data to/from the server?

Thanks in advance for any input...

- Jason
17inch Intel, Mac OS X (10.5.2)
  • fnauta Level 1 Level 1 (0 points)
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    Apr 30, 2008 8:52 AM (in response to bob hope)
    Hi Bob,

    I've done some experimenting with the Mac Mini as server the past three months and I must say: I'm very happy with it. My office@home is even smaller than yours, but the server runs four (low traffic) websites and some wiki's for programs that I run at the university (no way that IT will allow me that on their IT-infrastructure), some admin emailadresses and I use it for VPN all the time to bypass restrictions from the university IT-department.

    The setup we have: 1,83 MHz, 120 GB HD, 2 GB memory. The problem with the native drive is that it's only 4200 rpm and not build to run permanently. So I've bought two G-Tech G-drive's, one with 500 GB (as the boot-drive) and one with 750 GB (for Time Machine client backup). Both drives run very quiet and cool. DON'T buy the LaCie Mini-drive, I tried it and it run terribly hot and the fans kick in all the time, extremely noisy.

    The boot drive (which could have been smaller, but they didn't have them in stock) uses fire-wire, which is less processor-intensive and a little faster than USB 2.0. The big drive is the TM-backup and is connected through USB.

    I highly recommend it. It's quiet, small (it's located in our kitchen closet), cool and low budget.
    Mac Book Pro 2.2 MHz 200 GB HD, Mac OS X (10.4.10), using 20" and 23" Apple monitor
  • harry @ pmsi Level 3 Level 3 (535 points)
    Currently Being Moderated
    Apr 30, 2008 11:20 AM (in response to fnauta)
    Hi Bob,
    I too bought a mini 1.83, core 2 duo, 2GB RAM and 80GB disk drive. I have been running with it since Nov 07 and very happy with the machine. Once I finally got the server up; its been in solid use since January running DNS, OD, AFP, mail, iCal and Web services. I use the AFP and Kerberos for file transfers between 3 other macs and the server. I agree with fnauta's comments about the LaCie mini hub drive. I bought the external as my backup and the fan grew progressively worse; I sent it back to LaCie and had the fan replaced. The second fan is still noisy, even though my unit stays cool. Now, I use the mini's internal drive as the server boot, and put all my data on the external; mail store, calendar data, wiki, rails apps and share points. When reinstalling several times, this meant I could re-engage the services with all the current data just by importing users and groups with WGM. During the installation and checkout phase I ran firewire and then USB to the external drive and really didn't see much difference. The most time consuming operation on the web appears to be visiting a group calendar and it only takes a couple of seconds for it to be ready for editing. I have three virtual sites and each with clear and ssl domains and hosting six groups (wiki, blog, calendar and webmail archive). Two sites are hosting rails mongrel server and a reverse proxied cgi site running on my iMac. The mini rarely exceeds 10 percent CPU Usage. Granted my loading is small groups but the server is up and running. I have interacted on a web site with other users simultaneously accessing a wiki and there isn't a noticable delay in performance.
    I'm very pleased with the cost to performance of the mini.

    Another data point,
    Harry
    mini 1.83 core 2 duo 2GB RAM + 500GB ext drive, Mac OS X (10.5.1), iMac G5, PB G4 (3)
  • Big Stu Level 1 Level 1 (70 points)
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    Apr 30, 2008 11:52 AM (in response to bob hope)
    I'm now running two Mac Mini servers.

    One is still running Tiger server but the other is running Leopard server.

    An excellent platform.

    A bus-powered external HDD is ideal for Time Machine backups.

    Co-locate the Mac Mini in a data centre and you'll save over co-locating a conventional server. At least in the data centre you will get a secure, cool and dust-free environment.

    Stu
    Mac Pro, Mac Mini (G4 and Intel), MacBook running, Mac OS X (10.5.2), as well as iPhone and Time Capsule
  • lulu62 Calculating status...
    Currently Being Moderated
    May 2, 2008 1:28 AM (in response to bob hope)
    I am using two mac minis as 10.5.1 servers in 2 different places.
    These machines are also setup as NAT Gateway to provide internet, firewall and VPN.
    I've bought a USB to Ethernet adapter : http://www.dlink.com/products/?pid=133 to add 1 more ethernet interface and i found the driver here : http://www.sustworks.com/site/newsusbethernet.html
    It's working very well, stable and reliable too, I've never had any problems with these adapters.
    The only drawback for my opinion to use a mac mini as a server is the default hard drive. I would like to have a RAID system for the safety and that would be my main reason to switch to xserve.
    MacBook, Mac OS X (10.5.1)
  • infinite vortex Level 7 Level 7 (21,400 points)
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    May 2, 2008 11:33 AM (in response to bob hope)
    The potential problem is the hard drive. The Mini just can't have enough internal hard drive for our needs, so I'd have to use an external drive for our data

    You'd be surprised how much data a 2.5" drive can spit out. We upgraded the drive in our Mac mini with a Western Digital 320GB 5400rpm drive and it quite happily allows data transfers over Gigabit Ethernet that are equivalent to FW400.

    The only problem area we've come across is if two, or more, systems are trying to move large amounts of data at once so with 10 users this could present issues for you although it really depends on your actual data usage style. If your current PowerMac G4 can do the job then I see no reason why a newer generation 2.5" drive can't do the job.

    I've read that a lot of purists don't like it since the hard drive isn't rated for server

    Sure, and nor are the drives that ship in the Mac Pro so there's no real problem there. The only system that comes from Apple and gets guaranteed Enterprise class drives is the Xserve. Yes the Time Capsule gets stated "server class" drives although I see that it often comes with Hitachi Deskstar drives, as opposed to Ultrastar drives, which to my mind are desktop class drives.

    For 2.5" server uses you can always opt for Enterprise class variants such as the Hitachi E version drives. So instead of going with a 200GB 7200rpm 7K200 drive (which I have in my MBP) go with the E7K200 which is designed for high availability scenarios like Blade servers.

    So I'm wondering if people have tried this already?

    Our Mac mini 1.66GHz has been our server for over a year now and it's been a real soldier! As mentioned we upgraded to a 320GB drive for greater and more stable data throughput as well as attached an external FW drive for backup (Maxtor MaXLine III 300GB, that was retired from a Mac Pro, in a NewerTech MiniStack 3) and it works a dream. 99% of the processor usage is sub-20% so it's extremely quiet all day long. It's actually cooler than the Airport Extreme 11n base station that's still on top of the pile (external drive's in the middle with the mini at the bottom).

    It's headless and is managed via Apple Remote Desktop so it's very efficient for both size and energy usage.

    My biggest complaint would have to be with this is a lack of FW800 else eSATA. However, given it's a consumer level product it's not surprising. While an MBP with eSATA (via ExpressCard/34) would prove to provide a much better throughput the investment is more than double.
    Mac Pro 2.66GHz 5GB/4x300GB/ATi X1900 XT/AE/BT/2xSD ; Dell 2405FPW, Mac OS X (10.5.2), MacBook Pro 15.4" C2D 2.2GHz 4GB/200GB 7200rpm ; Mac mini CD 1.66GHz 2GB/80GB/SD
  • fnauta Level 1 Level 1 (0 points)
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    May 2, 2008 3:26 PM (in response to bob hope)
    Hi Jason,

    I use TimeMachine for the backup of the Mac Mini. The Mac Mini boots from the G-Drive, and I use the build-in 120GB HD for the server backup. Upping that internal drive like Ned did is a great suggestion.

    I use TimeMachineScheduler (http://www.klieme.com/TimeMachineScheduler.html) to change the hour-interval, every 6 hours a backup is fine for me.

    The big second G-Drive we use for the Time Machine with the clients. However, that proves to be quite slow over wireless, even though we have the latest N-spec Airport Express. I'm looking for a way to find a speedbump there. Any suggestions?

    F
    Mac Book Pro 2.2 MHz 200 GB HD, Mac OS X (10.4.10), using 20" and 23" Apple monitor
  • infinite vortex Level 7 Level 7 (21,400 points)
    Currently Being Moderated
    May 2, 2008 5:06 PM (in response to bob hope)
    We tend not to move a lot of big files, more in the lots of little one world (esp. with email)

    Then the Mac mini's 2.5" drive, especially if upgraded to a more "appropriate" size & model should do very well for you.

    Ned, do you use time machine?

    Yes. However, it is irregularly run due to a "small" problem where Time Machine will bring down the mail server every time is backed up was every hour. In the mean time we're doing Hopefully they'll fix this in 10.5.3. I'd much prefer to have it naturally scheduled.

    I was hoping to set up time machine on the server, and then find a way to snapshot the timemachine drive as a nice way to handle offsite backups.

    Anything wrong with using a simple external drive and cloning? You'd be surprised to know that we use this method on a Xserve (that has 3 x 750GB drives - 2 for RAID 1 and the third for Time Machine on the RAID set) with a Western Digital Passport portable drive. Plug it in on Friday lunch time, clone and then the secretary sticks it in her handbag to take home until the following Friday.

    The advantage to the server is less network traffic for the single biggest chunk of data, the advantage to the network is less data going through the server when I upgrade everyone to Leopard

    Well, that depends on how you're setting up your server and systems. If you're using network home directories all home directories are then on your server so realistically you only need to back that up. Otherwise, I generally find it simplest to have each system do its own thing.
    Mac Pro 2.66GHz 5GB/4x300GB/ATi X1900 XT/AE/BT/2xSD ; Dell 2405FPW, Mac OS X (10.5.2), MacBook Pro 15.4" C2D 2.2GHz 4GB/200GB 7200rpm ; Mac mini CD 1.66GHz 2GB/80GB/SD
  • infinite vortex Level 7 Level 7 (21,400 points)
    Currently Being Moderated
    May 2, 2008 5:11 PM (in response to fnauta)
    I'm looking for a way to find a speedbump there. Any suggestions?

    The only ways to speed this up is to…

    1) Go wired.

    2) Manage your Time Machine preferences so it backs less up.
    Mac Pro 2.66GHz 5GB/4x300GB/ATi X1900 XT/AE/BT/2xSD ; Dell 2405FPW, Mac OS X (10.5.2), MacBook Pro 15.4" C2D 2.2GHz 4GB/200GB 7200rpm ; Mac mini CD 1.66GHz 2GB/80GB/SD

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