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Apple IT Hardware

Among Servers, Apple's Mac Mini Quietly Gains Ground 367

Posted by timothy
from the if-you-can't-see-it-is-it-beautiful? dept.
Nerval's Lobster writes "In 2005, the first business to offer colocated Mac Minis inside a data center made its debut, provoking criticism on Slashdot of everything from how the Mini was cooled to the underlying business model. But nowadays, more than half a dozen facilities are either hosting their own Mac Minis for rent, or offering colocation services for individual consumers and businesses. While some vendors declined to give out reliability information, those who did claimed a surprisingly small number of failures. 'If Dell makes a small little machine, you don't know that they'll be making that, in that form factor, six months down the road, or what they're going to do, or how they're going to refresh it,' Jon Schwenn, a network engineer for CyberLynk Networks (which owns Macminivault) said in an interview. 'We've had three model years of Minis that have stayed externally, physically identical.' Customers are using Minis for all sorts of things: providing Mail, iCal, and the Websites for small businesses; databases, like Filemaker or Daylite; as a VPN server for those who want an IP address in the United States; build servers for Xcode; and general personal servers for Plex media streaming and other fun projects. Some are even using it for Windows."
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Among Servers, Apple's Mac Mini Quietly Gains Ground

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  • by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland@ya ... m minus math_god> on Friday March 01, 2013 @08:28PM (#43050993) Homepage Journal

    just changs things.

    HAHAHA. NO I kid. Apple changes thing without notice all the time.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 01, 2013 @08:48PM (#43051125)

    "more than half a dozen facilities" -> More than 6? Wow!

    "have stayed externally, physically identical" -> Amazing! I wish there was a standard for servers, so that I wouldn't have to keep reconfiguring my data center layout.

    Jeff

  • YOU can say "We use OSX."
    Marketing, it's what makes Apple strong.

  • Re:A new fad? (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 01, 2013 @08:50PM (#43051135)

    this just some hipster fad? Finding a use for old Apple boxes? Or do they offer something that linux/windows hosting doesn't?

    With the Minis, if you need more capacity of any kind, you just add a mini. And at $999 for the iMac Mini with OS X Server [apple.com], you get a powerful machine with a small form factor and it produces a lot less heat.

    Also, a regular Linux box makes a lot of noise. So the mini would make a great media server - Plex or something.

  • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Friday March 01, 2013 @08:50PM (#43051137)

    "If Dell makes a small little machine, you don't know that they'll be making that, in that form factor, six months down the road, or what they're going to do, or how they're going to refresh it,"

    Actually, with Dell you have a pretty good idea. They have defined life cycles for their servers, and they are pretty good about maintaining a general class of equipment. This is not the case for their low end consumer stuff necessarily, but the stuff you'd put in a datacenter.

    Apple? Shit son, they'll change tack and tell nobody before hand. The Xserve is the best example. Their 1U server, a thing they sold for use in everything including super-computer like clusters. Then, suddenly it is gone. Just can't buy it anymore, no replacement. You need 1U equipment? Fuck you.

    Or the Mac Pro, which is on sale, but they let get woefully out of date before updating.

    Apple is the ultimate at doing whatever they want new whenever they want it. They are not at all interested in backward compatibility or consistency. They'll stick with a form as long as it suits them and then change.

    Now that's fine, I'm not saying it isn't valid, however to act like they are good at stability for datacenters is silly. They are not at all. The next Mac mini could be a totally different form factor, or there could be NO next Mac mini. You don't know and Apple won't release any roadmap.

    Heck a funny mini related incident is one of our professors does research with rovers he builds. They use Mac minis as their core controller because he's a Mac guy. They worked fine since they were small, and powered by DC they could hook up to the power supply for everything else. What's that you say? They aren't DC powered? Ahh yes, well a couple generations ago Apple changed it, stuck the PSU inside the unit. Great for consumers, bad for him. He's now stockpiled some older ones to use when they break and is trying to come up with a long term plan.

    To me this reads like a Mac zealot trying to justify their use of them as a good thing rather than a well thought out argument for why they are good in the datacenter.

  • by MrEricSir (398214) on Friday March 01, 2013 @08:54PM (#43051159) Homepage

    It's technology. Of course it's going to change.

    The question is whether Apple will continue their product line. Many companies (Sony comes to mind immediately) tend to release highly inconsistent one-off products instead of improving a line of products in the long run.

    The slam on Dell seems a little strange though, since they tend to have more consistent product lines than a lot of tech companies.

  • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Friday March 01, 2013 @08:54PM (#43051161)

    That's the only reason. Apple won't allow for OS-X to be virtualized on non-Mac hardware. vSphere would be perfectly capable of handling it, VMWare has their software on Mac, has Mac integration tools, etc but Apple won't allow it. So if you want OS-X in your datacenter, you have to buy a Mac and since there is no Xserve anymore it is a mini or a pro. Well the pros are really expensive, and quite large (like 4U if you got mounting hardware) so Minis it is.

    There really isn't a good reason in most cases, but then fanboys have never needed a good reason. We had a case where people asked for it. A department hired some fairly clueless ex-students that have a "web consulting company" to make a site for them. Said students are Maccies. They wanted a Mac server, running Wordpress to develop on. We said you can have Wordpress (though we tried to talk them out of it) on Apache on Linux because that's what our sites run, we aren't buying a Mac server for you.

  • by BasilBrush (643681) on Friday March 01, 2013 @09:13PM (#43051275)

    I see. You object to people using the tool that they know how to use, and insist they use your preferred tool instead. That's pretty typical of IT Admin types.

    It also explains one of the reasons for the success of the Mac Mini Colo companies. People who can set Macs up don't need you anymore. They've developed a solution for a small project on their Mac. Then when they need the bandwidth, get a Colo service to host a Mac Mini for them. They get complete control, using a system they understand well, and have no need for assholes that like to say no. For a very moderate cost.

    It's not something for big corporate solutions. But for small companies and individuals it can be exactly what they need.

  • by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland@ya ... m minus math_god> on Friday March 01, 2013 @09:18PM (#43051303) Homepage Journal

    Apple has radically changed direction without telling people for it's entire existence.

  • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Friday March 01, 2013 @09:19PM (#43051307)

    I see. You object to people using the tool that they know how to use, and insist they use your preferred tool instead. That's pretty typical of IT Admin types.

    No, I don't think you really do see. He told a story about some people at a university who wanted the IT department to support a unique one-off system, the IT department said no. I guess they could have said yes and handed them a bill for all of the extra overhead involved, but the result would probably have been the same.

  • Re:Lack of news? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MrHanky (141717) on Friday March 01, 2013 @09:21PM (#43051317) Homepage Journal

    News? This is a slashvertisement.

  • Re:A new fad? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by durdur (252098) on Friday March 01, 2013 @09:28PM (#43051349)

    $999 is not really a bargain price considering what is in the box. As with other Apple hardware you are paying a premium for the Apple brand.

  • by MrHanky (141717) on Friday March 01, 2013 @09:29PM (#43051361) Homepage Journal

    Well, what do you expect. It's not a story, it's an ad.

  • by rs79 (71822) <hostmaster@open-rsc.org> on Friday March 01, 2013 @09:32PM (#43051369) Homepage

    Plus, anyone that thinks you can have a server without ECC hasn't been doing this very long and needs to be yelled at by both Wietse Venema and Dan Bernstein.

    And if you have to ask which Dan you really have no business running a server.

  • Re:A new fad? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by larry bagina (561269) on Friday March 01, 2013 @09:34PM (#43051379) Journal
    Like a Mac Mini?
  • Customers are using Minis for all sorts of things: ... Some are even using it for Windows.

    I guess the moral of the story is "beauty is only skin deep".

    Also, seven (7!) whole companies are offering colocation and/or hosting services for mac minis!

    I'd ask why it was news, but it was slashcloud so expectations are very low.

  • Re:A new fad? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kenh (9056) on Friday March 01, 2013 @09:47PM (#43051475) Homepage Journal

    Look at the MacMini specs - latest processor, room for two drives (HDs, SSDs, or a mix), and 16 Gig of RAM. Couple those specifications with relatively low power demands and it makes a nice colo box. You can fit six or eight easily on a 1U shelf, more if you put them on their sides. The colo fees for a MacMini is a fraction of the price of a 1U colo server of more conventional design.

    The MacMini is 'good enough' in most regards for a general purpose web server.

  • by Goaway (82658) on Friday March 01, 2013 @09:53PM (#43051501) Homepage

    You realize that hosting companies actually need to care about the physical dimensions of the machines they are hosting? They don't just leave a few PC towers in the corner of a room and call it a day.

  • serial console (Score:4, Insightful)

    by manu0601 (2221348) on Friday March 01, 2013 @09:55PM (#43051521)

    The missing bit that strikes me here is the serial console. If a server does not boot anymore and you want to go single user to fix things, the serial console is convenient, as it allows you to do it without going into the data center an hook a keyboard and a screen.

    I tend to be a mac person on the desktop, but I am not convinced by mac servers since the day they retired their 1U Xserve

  • by DigiShaman (671371) on Friday March 01, 2013 @10:10PM (#43051609) Homepage

    Depends on its intended purpose. You can use desktop hardware as a "server"' if it's nothing mission critical. The complete understanding that you have no redundancy or data integrity and your willing to weigh the cost risk as a business decision. Sometimes failure is cheaper than uptime.

  • by jbolden (176878) on Friday March 01, 2013 @10:56PM (#43051837) Homepage

    What? Apple makes a huge chunk, on the order of 90% of all the x86 profits for the entire industry. They've been fairly consistently getting between 28-30% margins. They are looking at selling 18m consistently for the next 5 years and making $300+ for each and every single one of them. No, they aren't getting out of the business.

  • by aztracker1 (702135) on Friday March 01, 2013 @11:15PM (#43051897) Homepage
    And all those 1u/2u etc servers from Dell are apparently very externally inconsistent.. new rack standards all the time it seems.
  • by vux984 (928602) on Friday March 01, 2013 @11:18PM (#43051909)

    Windows XP boxes are used as a servers all the time too. But you don't colocate a SFF Dell Vostro with XP,

    The issue here, as i see it, isn't that people are using mac minis as servers -- its that they are co-locating them.

    Clearly there is a demand for 'affordable' OSX servers, and the fact that companies are rack mounting minis in custom enclosures i think speaks more to just how poor value a mac pro is than anything else.

  • by jedidiah (1196) on Friday March 01, 2013 @11:19PM (#43051911) Homepage

    Your post is just such an obvious contradiction.

    "It doesn't change. But all of the meaningful elements change".

    Back when I was using Minis for MythTV I had 3 of them. They each had their own video dongle because each one of them had a different video port. Such a simple basic thing wasn't the same from one release to the next.

    As far as a datacenter goes, there are standards and Apple gear does not conform to them.

  • by jedidiah (1196) on Friday March 01, 2013 @11:21PM (#43051917) Homepage

    The ability of Apple Fanboys to delude themselves is simply amazing.

  • Re:A new fad? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jedidiah (1196) on Friday March 01, 2013 @11:33PM (#43051975) Homepage

    > Look at the MacMini specs

    It's packed like a jack-in-box with poor heat management even in a consumer environment. Pack them together like sardines and you're just making the situation worse. Beef up the components and you're just complicating the already piss-poor heat management.

    These things are bad enough as a "home server". Nevermind cramming an absurd number of them into a rack.

    The only reason that this is even an issue is the whole "monopoly" Apple has on running MacOS binaries. Otherwise, this would be an obvious candidate for virtualization or running on hardware that's actually designed for the operating environment.

  • by Abreu (173023) on Friday March 01, 2013 @11:47PM (#43052037)

    You realize that hosting companies actually need to care about the physical dimensions of the machines they are hosting? They don't just leave a few PC towers in the corner of a room and call it a day.

    Right, which is why there are things called "rack mountable servers" that come in predictable sizes...

  • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Saturday March 02, 2013 @12:43AM (#43052247)

    Dell will sell you a 2U (R820) system that can have 4 processors in it up to 2.7GHz and 8 cores each. It can then take 1.5TB of RAM, 16 2.5" drives (magnetic or SSD) 7 PCIe cards and so on. You'd better believe you can stick more than 40 VMs on that sucker, and you can get another one in 5U with 1U to spare.

    Or you can go blade server, Dell has options here though IBM has higher density solutions available, if what you want are a lot of systems in a small amount of space.

    All of this supports real enterprise stuff like redundant power, ECC RAM, RAID-6 hot-swap drives, central monitoring, failed component isolation, and so on.

    Piling a bunch of consumer computers in a rack doesn't really make a lot of sense, particularly ones not designed with good cooling solutions. When you start doing real high density on computers, cooling is a real issue. Servers are made to deal with it, the vent in the front, out the rear so you have have hot/cool zones and they have high speed fans if they need to spin up due to ambient increases. Mac Minis rely by and large on diffusing heat through their cases and a tiny vent at the back, which is not a winning scenario in a dense situation.

    You are going to get better power usage in any large scale by bigger systems with virtualization and having them stand up and down as needed. You can do that with real servers that have full lights out management (Dell calls it iDRAC). As load on the servers rise, new servers can be powered on and made read to the cluster as needed. Also all that high end stuff can buy you realtime failover and migration so things can be shifted around as needed.

    All this gets rather feasible with the costs you are talking. 8 Mac Mini servers is, minimum, $8000. That gets you 4GB per system, a 2.3 GHz quad per system, and 2 1TB drives. Because I bought one recently I can tell you that you can get a Dell R720xd will run you about $9000ish for 2x 2.6GHz 8 core CPUs, 128GB of RAM (aftermarket) and 6 1TB HDs (which will let you do RAID-6 with a hot spare and have 3TB of space). I'm not seeing what the minis gain you, and I can give you a list of things they don't have.

    For all that, it is a similar power profile. The Macs spec in at about 680 watts total, the Dell has redundant 750 watt PSUs though in my testing only pulled about 600 at max load.

    All that in less than half the rack space.

    So other than "It can run OS-X" what are you getting with a ton o' minis?

  • But it's not cheap (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Saturday March 02, 2013 @01:05AM (#43052365)

    It is $1000. That's the thing here. They aren't all that powerful and they cost a grand. So you can pack 8 of them in to a 5RU shelf, apparently. Ok, that's $8k, presuming no upgrades... Well go have a look at what you get from Dell for $8k. You can get quite a bit of server, including things like ECC RAM and hot swap disks and all that.

    I can understand getting a single cheap computer as a server if your needs are low, and thus you aren't going to spend a ton. But when you are talking about tossing a ton of them in a rack, well you have to evaluate what they'd be competing against.

  • by guruevi (827432) <evi@smo k i n g c ube.be> on Saturday March 02, 2013 @04:22AM (#43052897) Homepage

    1U is a huge footprint actually for most systems (19" x 1.75" x 26.4" = 877.8 cubic inches). The Mac mini is 84 cubic inches. You can fit 10 Mac Mini's for every 1U server. A 40-core server with 10 hard drives and 160GB RAM (equivalent of 10 Mac Mini's) usually takes at least 3U. I worked in a datacenter and we didn't use Mac Mini's but another el-cheapo vendor which sold us mini barebones which fit a full size chip and a hard drive etc. We would fit about 16 "servers" in ~6U (using both sides of the rack) and that was 10 years ago. Back then virtualization didn't exist yet so we would simply do bare-metal restores from a hard drive based backup system and any server that died would be back up in a few hours.

    So yes, from a cost-per-cubic-inch they make a lot of sense. Heck, we had VIA machines too back then which were even smaller but unless you were running Linux they were kind of useless.

  • Yep (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Saturday March 02, 2013 @05:54AM (#43053059)

    For data centers, it is still all about VGA. The reason is KVM systems use it. Even the big network KVMs are generally VGA at heart. The standard in servers is VGA, with one on the back, and one on the front. The back one for wiring to a KVM, the front on for hooking up to a crash cart.

    Now this may not sound like a big deal but when you've managed a number of servers it quickly becomes apparent why such a thing can matter. Can Minis do VGA? Well of course, but as you noted you'll need a host of adapters. Then, of course, if there's an issue you get to wonder if it is the system or the adapter, and so on.

    There's a lot done in the server world with regards to standards that is the though for not when things go right but when they go wrong. If you've never experienced the problems then you might not appreciate why but if you have, it becomes rather clear.

Real Users find the one combination of bizarre input values that shuts down the system for days.

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