Using a Mac Mini as a Server for a small business…?

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  • Using a Mac Mini as a Server for a small business…?
  • skids
    Member

    what do you want the server for?

    Ewan
    Member

    Have a read of this:
    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/08/30/review_apple_mountain_lion_server_os_x_10_8/

    Sounds like you want a standard one and the above. Also read the comments on the article for peoples sometimes informed opinions.

    Premier Icon mboy
    Subscriber

    what do you want the server for?

    Not obvious enough from my original post? 😕

    It’ll need to run an EPOS system, and hold all the data that can be accessed from 2, possibly 3 other terminals, as well as an iPad and iPhones. It’ll also need to integrate peoples calendars, and host email accounts. All pretty basic stuff of course, but kinda beyond just using Google Docs and Google Calendar if you like.

    EDIT: Oh, and remotely accessing the server to access the database behind the EPOS system on occassion will be useful.

    Have a read of this:

    Thanks, doing so now…

    CountZero
    Member

    I don’t know anything about servers, but I’ve read that many people who do recommend the Mini running the Server OS.

    Premier Icon mboy
    Subscriber

    Right, first things first, I’m very au fait with Mac’s (and pretty competent with PC’s) in a standalone environment. I can do any maintenance required, and even pull them apart to fix them if required.

    I have ZERO experience of servers though! So have no clue as to what would be ideal, and how to set a system up.

    The brief is that this will be a small business, with probably a couple of iMac’s (or Mac Mini’s) as work stations, possibly a PC, my MacBookPro a couple of iPad’s and a couple of iPhones all needing to be connected (not necessarily at the same time). The data storage requirements will not be big at all, just a database behind an EPOS system, the EPOS software itself, and the occasional MS Office document, hence was thinking a Mac Mini would be enough. But will it? And given my low data storage requirements, would it be wise to use an SSD in the server (with an external USB/Thunderbolt HDD backing up via Time Machine) to increase data transfer rates, or will this not be an issue?

    And I know that Mac do a specific Server version of the Mini, but as far as I can see, it’s the same as the regular Mini now, just with a 2nd HDD added (and I don’t need the storage), and OSX Server pre installed. Given that OSX Server is £13.99 from the App Store, and a normal Mac Mini is a LOT cheaper, would that suffice?

    igorl
    Member

    Just build (or get someone to build it) a server from standard components, ECC RAM, few high-quality disks in RAID and run Linux on top. You can use SSDs (in RAID!) but I wouldn’t bother, I/O should not be an issue in your case.

    You will get higher reliability and it will be much easier (and cheaper) to fix when something goes wrong (and it will). Once you get it going, it is not more work to keep it going maintenance wise.

    Nothing wrong with mini, it will work, but you have to ask yourself what is the cost of server not being accessible for X period of time (X might be hours or even days in worst cases).

    As you figured, do backups of all business data regularly, like each day. rsync is good enough (but not so simple as Time Machine). Also, do not forget to do occasional restore test, at least once per month or two.

    ChunkyMTB
    Member

    Just get a normal server. Our X-Server doesn’t do much nowadays – just deploys images. We have a substantial Mac estate so they just talk to AD and Exchange. Apple aren’t bothering to produce servers now.

    Or you could use a Mac mini as a server 🙂

    Premier Icon Sandwich
    Subscriber

    I run a mini server for work. We use it for e-mail for the business on a fixed IP. Set up on Mountain Lion is much easier than Snow Leopard and should work ok on the single disk version. Use Carbon Copy Cloner for back-up recommended by the chap who does it for a living when I’m stumped.
    Buy back-up disks you can boot from as the server can then be run from one of the work stations when the HD in the mini dies and Apple want you to leave the box behind for repair.
    The only sticking point I can see is that you want to run EPOS and PCI can be funny about virus protection. Intego used to have a server version of it’s anti-virus but I’m not sure if it works or is still available for ML. To keep Clam updated on the server requires good command line skills and some knowledge of UNIX underpinnings.
    If warranty is not a problem then OWC do a conversion kit that will allow you to fit a second disk inside the box, use and SSD and the terminal and you can achieve the same performance as the Fusion drives that Apple sell.

    Premier Icon jambalaya
    Subscriber

    Have a look at the MacRumors forum

    Premier Icon mboy
    Subscriber

    Just build (or get someone to build it) a server from standard components, ECC RAM, few high-quality disks in RAID and run Linux on top. You can use SSDs (in RAID!) but I wouldn’t bother, I/O should not be an issue in your case.

    Whilst I’m more than capable of building a machine myself, why would I bother? I don’t need an all singing all dancing fully RAIDed up conventional server for tonnes of data storage and loads of terminals all connecting at the same time. The other issue is I have ZERO working knowledge of Linux (well I have a few hours of playing with it and not managing to make it do anything I wanted to!) and whilst I’m mechanically minded, I’m not into using command lines unless I really have to to be honest.

    You will get higher reliability and it will be much easier (and cheaper) to fix when something goes wrong (and it will). Once you get it going, it is not more work to keep it going maintenance wise.
    Nothing wrong with mini, it will work, but you have to ask yourself what is the cost of server not being accessible for X period of time (X might be hours or even days in worst cases).

    How so higher reliability? Besides, if anything broke inside the Mac Mini they can be stripped and rebuilt in about 5 minutes flat, and it the MoBo went south, it would be covered under warranty. Also, this was also my point about using a Mac mini as the server, as at least one of the terminals would be a Mac Mini too. If the server died for whatever reason, I could swap in the other machine with a clean HDD, and do a full restore from the Server’s backup disc and be up and running again inside a couple of hours tops. I’m not convinced I need the belt and braces approach when I would have built in redundancy within my setup and the technical knowledge onsite (me) to physically get everything working again. Time is money and all that, and my time is much cheaper than an IT geek who’s come to fix a server I know nothing about!

    The only sticking point I can see is that you want to run EPOS and PCI can be funny about virus protection. Intego used to have a server version of it’s anti-virus but I’m not sure if it works or is still available for ML. To keep Clam updated on the server requires good command line skills and some knowledge of UNIX underpinnings.

    Could you elaborate please… Like I said, whilst I know a good deal about standalone computers, I know absolutely jack all about networking, and potential issues that may arise. Another reason I was erring towards the Mac mini and OSX server route as I’ve heard it’s so simple to setup.

    If warranty is not a problem then OWC do a conversion kit that will allow you to fit a second disk inside the box, use and SSD and the terminal and you can achieve the same performance as the Fusion drives that Apple sell.

    Seen that, to be honest would probably whip out the original HDD from the terminals anyway and replace with 128GB SSD’s from the start. Not much need for storage space on the terminals, and for a modest outlay a decent boost in performance on anything running locally on the machine itself. Would also then give me at least one extra 500GB HDD to use in the server either to double the data, or as an inbuilt time machine drive.

    Just how easy is it to setup OSX server for say the complete noob to networking?

    CountZero
    Member

    If warranty is not a problem then OWC do a conversion kit that will allow you to fit a second disk inside the box, use and SSD and the terminal and you can achieve the same performance as the Fusion drives that Apple sell.

    I had the optical drive taken out of my Mini when I bought it, and a second HDD installed in its place, by Farpoint in Bath. It was the last of the previous model with optical drive, and they also stuck in another 2Gb of RAM for free, all under warranty. I believe the latest one has the empty bay, but doesn’t have the cables ready installed to fit a second drive, so those would need to be procured.
    The OP could always source a second-hand Mini, and get it modded by an Apple retailer, I guess.

    zokes
    Member

    I believe the latest one has the empty bay, but doesn’t have the cables ready installed to fit a second drive, so those would need to be procured.

    or, he could just buy the server version that comes with two HDDs

    Premier Icon Sandwich
    Subscriber

    About EPOS

    The Payment Card Industry have a self assessment scheme which you have to use if you want your merchant charges to remain low. Any machine that handles card data has to be locked down against attack and possible compromise of this data. (The penalties for failure run into 10’s of thousands).

    One of the requirements is to have updated virus protection. The desktop versions of anti-virus for Mac don’t run on server machines and I’m not certain if Intego have updated their older business AV. Policies for wi-fi usage and deployment also have to be in place (we run all cabled and we barely touch card data stored electronically).
    You also have to contract a third party or use an independent person to scan the server ports from outside. This happens once a quarter, a fail will push up merchant processing costs while you sort it out. They would like the link to the outside world to be as minimal as can be.
    The server comes bundled with an open-source AV and junk mail filters but keeping them updated requires you to know a bit about the underpinnings of the Mac OS. There are guides available on-line to help but most of these require you to know a bit of UNIX programming to get it to work. A google of whats required will get you started ClamAV is the beastie to look up and the GUI version doesn’t appear to like a server environment.

    Networking wise we get the router to handle DCHP while the server handles DNS look-ups, the server has a fixed IP as do our printers. DNS and it’s application can eat a lot of time. Is your server going to be the e-mail gateway to the business? A fixed IP is required for this from your service provider and you need to set machine names for the DNS system with forward and reverse addressing correct on the server. Your ISP also needs to set some records for you, these take up to 36 hours to get across the web. If your e-mail server falls over bounce back messages start in 36 hours! I find it a bit challenging as theres me doing the whole shebang plus another couple of jobs too.

    Info about second HD insatllation is here, while home-brew fusion drive creation is here

    xiphon
    Member

    Your lack of knowledge about Servers shows. ECC RAM is there to prevent data corruption ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ECC_memory ). All our servers have ECC.

    Have you considered using a cloud based storage service for documents, instead of a physical in-house server?

    It sounds like you’ll also need a firewall, not just a basic router, to comply with PCI requirements?

    Premier Icon Sandwich
    Subscriber

    Mountain Lion server is quite easy to set up, though some of the niceties can be a little challenging to enable.
    The Dummies book by John Rizzo is essential reading in our office!!

    igorl
    Member

    Whilst I’m more than capable of building a machine myself, why would I bother? I don’t need an all singing all dancing fully RAIDed up conventional server for tonnes of data storage and loads of terminals all connecting at the same time.

    RAID is for reliability (ie., one of your disks dies, it keeps going). You can just as well have ‘loads of terminals’ connecting to mini, but that’s besides the point.

    The other issue is I have ZERO working knowledge of Linux (well I have a few hours of playing with it and not managing to make it do anything I wanted to!) and whilst I’m mechanically minded, I’m not into using command lines unless I really have to to be honest.

    That could be an issue, but there are many tutorials online and setting up basic stuff is no harder than on Mac OSX.

    How so higher reliability?

    Better HW (mainly ECC RAM, better cooling and good hard disks). And more reliable operating system – have seen quite few freezes/crashes on my MacBook, whereas Linux machines keep going, given that HW is good (ie, no crappy HW with crappy drivers, but this goes for any OS).

    Besides, if anything broke inside the Mac Mini they can be stripped and rebuilt in about 5 minutes flat, and it the MoBo went south, it would be covered under warranty.

    Sure, and how long would it take for warranty claim to go through? Can you afford the downtime? Having a server with off-the-shelf components means you go into a store, buy a replacement and just fix it. In the meantime, you put the other one into warranty and have it as a spare.

    Also, this was also my point about using a Mac mini as the server, as at least one of the terminals would be a Mac Mini too. If the server died for whatever reason, I could swap in the other machine with a clean HDD, and do a full restore from the Server’s backup disc and be up and running again inside a couple of hours tops.

    That could work. But take into consideration what other mini is used for. Could it happen that somebody is in the middle of work on it and just grabbing it would not work?

    I’m not convinced I need the belt and braces approach when I would have built in redundancy within my setup and the technical knowledge onsite (me) to physically get everything working again. Time is money and all that, and my time is much cheaper than an IT geek who’s come to fix a server I know nothing about!

    True, in the end, you have to decide what works best for you.

    But I have seen to many ‘consumer’ devices being abused for servers and then wondering why it fails/takes so long to fix.

    Premier Icon Sandwich
    Subscriber

    Sure, and how long would it take for warranty claim to go through?

    1 week when our boot disk died, 2 trips to Cambridge to get it sorted mind and a couple of hours drinking coffee.
    There’s also no need to wipe another machine with a cloned bootable drive. Plug the drive into a working machine start holding down the option key and select the clone as a start-up disk. Minimal disruption to anyones workflow.

    hora
    Member

    mboy – why aren’t you replying to the STW’er who paid you £90 for road bike bits?

    nwgiles
    Member

    would it be wise to use an SSD in the server

    There is a limited number of times you can write to a SSD, not advisable as your only drive in a server, great in a SAN with many other drives though.

    rocketman
    Member

    You also have to contract a third party or use an independent person to scan the server ports from outside. This happens once a quarter, a fail will push up merchant processing costs while you sort it out.

    Just going through this at work at the moment. The vulnerability scan is proving to be a right PITA

    Premier Icon Sandwich
    Subscriber

    We started with just the ports for e-mail and web browsing open. VPN adds some more openings. If you can demonstrate that you don’t need to pass all the scan parameters you can get an exemption which you need to confirm is still required regularly by ringing and talking to the scan provider.

    rocketman
    Member

    If you can demonstrate that you don’t need to pass all the scan parameters you can get an exemption

    Sandwich can you please elaborate?

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