The Mac Mini as a Server

CJ Twitter

Disclaimer: The following is concerning networking Apple computers together, using an Apple computer as a server. Windows isn’t mentioned because, for this purpose, it’s not applicable.

Friend of the show, CJ, posed the question above on Twitter earlier. Having a few minutes, we went back and forth on adding a Mac Mini server to a home network. He is looking at replacing an existing Mac Pro and is concerned with file storage. Besides the Mac Mini, he is also considering a Synology DiskStation, which is another great option.

The Synology is interesting in that it is, essentially, a linux server with a custom UI. Within the admin section of the device you can configure it to act as a firewall, mail/web server (complete with WordPress), iTunes media server, DHCP server and even a personal cloud server. All rolled into one device. And, at just a skoosh over $300, a pretty good deal. The biggest con of this is redundancy. The drives are fixed and can’t be swapped without opening the case. You can mirror to another Synology device on the same network (via rsync if you speak nerd) or backup to an external USB drive. The experience that I have had with the Synology has been very positive. It’s reliable and quiet and file transfers are pretty quick.

If your budget has more room, the Mac MINI with an external drive would be a better solution. With the Mac Mini, you get a full O/S computer that can be used as a regular desktop machine. Adding a Drobo or multiple Thunderbolt drives would allow you to extend storage to more than you will probably need over the life of the device. If you are looking to do some cord cutting, that’s another advantage of going with the Mini. Add the Plex Server and app to this machine connected to your home entertainment center via HDMI cable and you have a powerful device that will not only serve your files, but you media as well.

You could go full server on your Mini too, which would get you additional on-board storage and other server only options (user account controls, for example), but if all you need is file serving and you are planning on using external storage anyway, I’d vote against the Server version of the Mini. I’d go with the $599 version, add as much RAM as possible and put the rest toward external storage like a Drobo or a few daisy chained Thunderbolt drives (any of these would be awesome).

If you are looking to have access via Windows machines, the Synology device or a networked Drobo would be a better choice, unless you are looking for a full blow media server/HTPC type device.

  • http://twitter.com/chrisjupin Chris Jupin

    Great write-up, DB. Synology got another +1 after reading this post by famous photographer Scott Kelby and his troubles with his Drobo:

    http://scottkelby.com/2012/im-done-with-drobo/

    Definitely a project of mine to take on this year. Might get the NAS first and test it out. I currently have a Mac pro with the following setup:

    2TB internal drive. This is backed up each morning (mirrored) using SuperDuper to an external 2TB WD drive. Mac Pro currently holds all photos, videos, etc. on the 2TB drive. I also have a 256gb SSD installed on bay #4 but have never quite got that to work the way I wanted (have that as the main boot drive, 2TB drive as the data drive. Damn permissions!). Lastly, have the original 250gb drive in bay #3 which has nothing but lame installer files (ms office, etc) that I can’t seem to part with.

    I also have another 1TB drive within the Mac Pro that acts as an Aperture vault. Essentially my photos exist in 3 locations (2TB drive, 1TB drive, 2TB external drive). I’ve used various off-site solutions (Carbonite/Mozy) but the upload time stinks (weeks/months). I have a free offer for Crash Plan- may try that. My wife had a great idea as well- make ANOTHER backup and drop it off at the banks safety deposit box (~$45/year). Although it’s static and would require me to visit every so often and update the drive it’s a pretty reasonable price and is offsite in the case of fire/theft.

  • http://www.donburnside.com Don Burnside

    Re: online backup. They all suffer from the initial lag in the first backup. For example, I just started with Carbonite at my office. 380GB took about 3 weeks to fully populate. All the while, my normal backups continued. My point is that it will take a long time (even with Crashplan, but I like their pricing). Something you could look into that I just started looking at for backup is Amazon. Specifically their Glacier product. Pricing is very cheap and it might be accessible with an app or via FTP client. Who knows, it might work with JungleDisk, which already works with S3 and Rackspace CDNs.

    Personally, I like the drobo. I just installed one in the office as part of my “build it so I can get hit by a train and the thing still works” plan. The initial unit was DOA, but the one that replaced it has been solid and running for 3 months without even needing a reboot. It replaced the Synology drive I was using, primarily for the redundancy.

    I think you might also be overthinking things a little bit. Sounds like you spend more time thinking about and managing your backups then actually creating things that need to be backed up. I try to keep it simple by following the 3-2-1 system.

    3 copies of each file stored on at least 2 media types with 1 being offsite.

    Like you, I’m a SuperDuper guy to an external + Carbonite. Add in my 110GB dropbox account and I’m done.

    I’m making a few other changes since the Air has become my daily driver and will remain as such for the foreseeable future. I’ve had to add a 1TB external USB drive, primarily for Aperture and video files, but I am currently without a backup. That’s why I’m looking at Amazon Glacier.