Mac Mini Gets Down to Business
Though the Mac mini was originally marketed only as a tiny personal desktop, some users recognized its potential as a pint-sized server. Apple responded by creating a special server version of the mini. It drops the optical drive and ties in stout hardware, server-class software and an optional enterprise support plan. And unlike some other servers, it doesn't look so ugly that you want to make it live in a closet.
11/30/09 4:00 AM PT
Cyberpunk author William Gibson once wrote, "The street finds its own use for things." That's been the case for the Mac mini since its introduction in 2005.
Originally marketed as a personal computer, it quickly gained street cred as a media server for the blossoming digital living room.
Now Apple has given its mighty mite a proper server configuration in the hopes of moving the white box from the home to the office.
The Mac mini with Snow Leopard Server (US$999) was introduced last month. Save for the absence of a SuperDrive slot, the unit looks much the same as any other mini, but like Snow Leopard itself, the major changes can be found under the hood.
A Terabyte of Storage
Apple has removed the optical drive found in other mini models and replaced it with a second hard drive. That allows it to boost the mini server's storage capacity to one terabyte -- 500 megabytes on each 2.5-inch, 5400-rpm platter.
For processing and graphics power, Mac mini Server has the same configuration as the high-end version of its slotted brother -- an Intel Core 2 Duo CPU running at 2.53GHz, 4GB of memory and Nvidia GeForce 9400M graphics.
It also comes with Snow Leopard Server, which if bought separately, would cost $499. That version of OS X has an armory of resources, such as file exchange and synchronization among network users, contact and calendar sharing, event scheduling, instant messaging, video conferencing, sending and receiving email, hosting wikis and blogs, producing and distributing podcasts and setting up Web sites.
Having a mini that's a server out of the box has advantages over its non-server progeny, especially for business, according to Joris Sartorius, of Green Mini Host in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
"The first big advantage is the place for two hard disks," he told MacNewsWorld. "Now it is possible to set up a RAID-redundant system. That looks more like a 'real' server.
"For business users, redundant hardware is essential," he continued. "The Mac mini SL [Snow Leopard] can provide a redundant hard drive system and together with an Ethernet adapter, a redundant Ethernet connection.
"A second advantage," he added, "is the standard inclusion of SL [Snow Leopard] Server edition, which has a lot more server features than the client version."
Sweet Protection Plan
The use of two 2.5-inch hard drives instead of one 3.5-inch drive has been questioned in some quarters of Appledom, but Sartorius discounted those concerns. "Back in the day, 2.5-inch disks were not really reliable," he said. "Today, there isn't much reliability difference between the two sizes."
Disadvantages to 2.5-inch drives include smaller capacities and slower speeds, he added. The smaller drives, though, weigh less and consume less power.
Apple is also sweetening mini server's appeal with a generous service agreement. For $149, an AppleCare protection plan can be purchased that includes enterprise support which, if purchased separately, can cost $950 or more a year. "For a small business, that totally rocks," Peter Formica, communications coordinator for Semantic Compaction Systems in Pittsburgh, Pa., told MacNewsWorld.
A Device to Watch
In introducing the mini server, Apple appears to be filling a divide in the server market as well as testing it.
"They are filling the gap between the energy-consuming Xserve and a standard Linux small business server," Sartorius opined.
"Besides," he added, "Apple is pleasing a lot of Mac addicts who are dreaming of a home server they don't have to hide in a closet or garage because it's ugly and noisy."
Although repackaging the Mini as a server is a relatively low-cost move by Apple, it may have big rewards down the road, according to Michael Gartenberg, vice president of strategy and analysis at Interpret.
"It's almost a server appliance," he told MacNewsWorld. "I suspect it's going to find a lot of interest among small to mid-sized businesses, who don't want or need something like a full Xserve implementation, but are looking beyond using a stock mini as a server."
"It's definitely a device to keep your eye on, that's for sure," he said.