The Apple Mac Mini is a workhorse computer in the offices I support. I use them as network servers, workstations, and media center hubs.
The Mac mini as a network server:
I had a need in late 2006 to provide local network servers in three satellite offices. This was necessary so that local DNS and Open Directory (OD) authentication could be provided. I also had a great need to provide a local software update service and a network share for the Help Desk to store third party updates, user backups, and other administrative files. As the firm I work for is all Mac based my choices were limited to some kind of Mac system or possibly something that could run Linux. The other consideration is that two of these remote offices don’t even have a closet or room in which to locate the server so size was also a factor.
I had read about many instances of Mac minis being used as “servers” or in mobile installations so I decided that a Mac mini would be the way to go. It is nearly silent, extremely compact, has all the necessary ports and the fact that it can survive in a moving vehicle while operating means that it is durable. I confirmed with Apple that the mini could run Apple Mac OS X Server and found a neat external hard drive to provide necessary additional storage space.Once everything was installed and updated the new Mac mini network servers were set up to provide DHCP, DNS, OD (LDAPv3), Software Update Service, and a network share. Having all these services running on a local server rather than some being provided by the router (DHCP and DNS) and OD being provided from the headquarters has had a big impact on network reliability and performance.What did this cost?
- $749 Mac mini with 2GB RAM
- $159 LaCie mini Hard Drive and Hub
- $149 Small 15 inch LCD display
- $80 Compact heavy duty keyboard (for server or POS use)
- $879 Apple Mac OS X Server – unlimited clients
- $2016 TOTAL cost
These remote offices previously had been a support headache. The basic SonicWALL routers would often slow to a crawl, DNS requests would time-out, and the only “fix” was to ask someone in the office to power cycle the routers to restart them. Sometimes they would take 7-15 minutes to come back online if they were overheated.The Mac minis have not had one single issue. They serve as OD replicas for the OD master located in the central HQ, they provide DHCP and DNS without fail and the Software Update Service allows the Help Desk to run updates to the client machines during business hours something that was impossible before as the internet connection would slow to a crawl. The only downtime is when they need to be restarted after an update or if there is a power outage.
I am not suggesting these as replacements for an Apple Xserve or other type of network server workhorse. If you were serving up large numbers of files you would find the minis disk access and performance too slow and the external power adapter might have trouble dissipating heat under a severe load. Yet in the situation I needed them in they are performing great and have reduced the time to fill network service requests and completely eliminated unscheduled downtime.
The Mac mini as a space saving desktop system:
A situation arose where an critical job position ended up with a desk that was too small for a iMac, scanner, label printer, plus a keyboard and mouse. The solution I came up for this instance was a Mac mini that would be mounted underneath the desk and to mount the external display directly onto the wal using a VESA mount. They keyboard and mouse would also be moved to an under desk keyboard tray.I found a well made and executed mount for the mini that would take care of mounting it underneath the desk. I used a very basic VESA wall mount as I did not need to make any tilt or angle adjustments. The under-the-desk mount is a CinnaMount made by Cinnamon Peripherals which I ordered with a mount for the external power supply so that could be mounted underneath the desk. This entire set up was very cost effective compared to purchasing a new iMac:
- $749 Apple Mac mini w/ 2GB RAM
- $220 ViewSonic 19-inch LCD display
- $40 CinnaMount w/ power adapter bracket
- $20 VESA 200mm wall mount
- $1029 TOTAL
The keyboard, mouse, and under desk keyboard tray were already on hand. A new space effecient Apple iMac runs about $1100.
It took about 2 hours to set this up because I had trouble finding the studs in the wall for the display mount. If this hadn’t been an issue the whole set up would have been under an hour.