Mac mini Server

I’ve used old Mac’s as file servers for several years now. They are well-built machines that ship with a tightly integrated UNIX based operating system. Of all the consumer grade hardware/software out there, I think they are by far the best equipped for the task. They are expensive, but the quality is unmatched.

Apple today launched several product refreshes, but the one that really catches my eye is the Mac mini server. It’s pretty much just a Mac mini with the optical drive replaced with a second SATA 2.5″ hard drive and a copy of Snow Leopard server in place of the standard Mac OS X.

The hardware is pretty uneventful. People have been swapping drives in the Mac mini for years to add more storage as well as external drives. Software wise people have been using server products on the mini for some time. Nothing here is revolutionary. But marketing the product as a server is for a few reasons:

Home/Small Business Servers

Like I said, I’ve had a home server for years. It’s great for backing up and sharing files and printers. It can also be purposed for a myriad of other tasks. While you can set this all up on stock Mac OS X, tweaking it all is a little daunting as the Mac OS X UI only exposes the very basics. Mac OS X server has much deeper integration making it easier for people who don’t know what they are doing. I expect we’ll see some third party products that further expand the use of this in the home and small business market. I wouldn’t be surprised to even see some Home theater PC (HTPC) backend solutions. (MythTV anyone?)

Efficient Servers

The Mac Mini only consumes 16 watts when idle. It’s still a Core 2 Duo 2.53GHz CPU, and ships with 4 GB RAM. The place it suffers is disk I/O thanks to using 5400 RPM drives (It’s cost per GB isn’t that great either thanks to the 2.5″ drives). In previous models it wasn’t too difficult to swap the drive with 7200 RPM drives though I don’t know how the thermals will play out with dual HD’s. It may be possible to use software RAID, I’m not sure what sort of improvement in performance you could get since I don’t know the details of the motherboard. However, if you have a task that’s not IO bound, or you use a NAS via Gigabit Ethernet (or a Firewire/USB drive) it may not matter. That’s a pretty affordable low powered node in your grid. Even better if it could handle higher density RAM to get 8 GB into there via 2 x 4GB SO-DIMMs.

I presume Apple’s Xgrid will work too.

It’s an interesting move, and one that I think could be successful.

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