PCs

Why the deceptively simple Mac Mini is Apple's best-selling (and best value) server

Erik Eckel takes a closer look at the Mac Mini server and its combination of features and performance characteristics. Here's why he thinks it's a great value, especially for small businesses.

When first I read of Apple's intention to retire the Xserv platform, I was struck by a single sentence contained within Apple's Xserv Transition Guide. The following caught my attention: "Since its introduction in the fall of 2009, Mac mini with Snow Leopard Server has become Apple's most popular server system."

How does a sub $1,000 Mac Mini server become Apple's most popular server so fast? Easy. Simplicity and performance. The small form factor package provides small businesses with incredible capacity, outstanding affordability, and impressive performance. That's a powerful combination that delivers tremendous value.

Simplicity

Features such as Server Assistant, Server Preferences, and Server Status Dashboard make it easier for non-IT professionals to install, set up, configure, and maintain their server infrastructure. Because the server includes unlimited client access licenses, business owners also don't need to become licensing experts versed in determining whether user or device CALs are best selected, the number of concurrent licenses that might be required, how many separate email CALs might be needed, etc. Instead, businesses can focus on devoting less attention to back-end issues and invest their energy in other, more profitable initiatives.

Performance

Apple's Mac Mini Snow Leopard server boasts significant capacity for a base unit, especially considering its small 1.4"x7.7"x7.7" footprint. In addition to including Mac OS X Snow Leopard Server, the system includes an Intel Core 2 Duo CPU, 4GB RAM, gigabit Ethernet and dual 500GB SATA drives. Thanks to Snow Leopard's design and architecture, the platform can power a small organization's file and print sharing, email, DNS, DHCP, calendaring, podcast production, Wiki collaboration, mobile access and additional tasks right out of the box.

Compare that to a Dell PowerEdge T110. With similar hardware configuration (albeit, with the PowerEdge's RAM doubled to 8GB to support Exchange), and Windows Small Business Server licensing for just 20 users. The cost for the Windows platform rises to over $3,200. Worse, no IT professionals I know would want to run Exchange on a server with those specifications; significant hardware upgrades would likely be required.

What's in store?

Apple's Mac Mini found success because it's popular, capable and approachable. Most small offices frequently don't require numerous incredibly complex services. Most just need the basics: file sharing, print sharing, email and occasionally a handful of network services.

The Mac Mini with Snow Leopard Server does all that and very well. Organizations that outgrow the Mac Mini can remain on the Snow Leopard Server platform, yet likely won't grow beyond the capacity of a Mac Pro (with support for up to 12 Intel Xeon cores, 64GB RAM and Fibre Channel Xsan storage networks).

But a tremendous number of small businesses will never even reasonably grow beyond the Mac Mini's capacity. And, considering the Mac Mini with Snow Leopard Server package hasn't been substantially refreshed since summer 2010, it's due for an upgrade. CNET recently reported that Apple is expected to sell three-and-a-half million Macs in Q1 2011, a significant increase over the prior year. Once the Mac Mini server receives an imminent facelift, look for its momentum to accelerate.

About

Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...

7 comments
Justin James
Justin James

Looking at the offering, if it's a "stupid simple" set up (which it should be), it looks like a good choice for a small business. My big concern is the drives. It doesn't look like it supports RAID 1 with its two internal drives, which means that your data is at risk... J.Ja

Justin James
Justin James

Exchange runs just fine on less RAM. Slower? Sure. But for the usage scenario you are talking about, 4 GB - 8 GB of RAM is ample, and not going to cause noticeable slowdown. Furthermore, comparing Exchange to the mail server on the Mac platform is no comparison at all. If you want a proper comparison, you'd either need to find an application that is feature comparable to Exchange (good luck) or find something comparable to the Mac's collaboration platform for the PC... which will be MUCH more resource friendly than Exchange. J.Ja

Beacivil1
Beacivil1

Uuuuuummmmmm....hackintosh server..... (in Homer Simpson voice).

Spitfire_Sysop
Spitfire_Sysop

It's generally not reccomended and the DELL website actually won't let you do it. I'm not a big fan of DELL but if you want an Apple to "Apples" comparison then you should be looking at their small form factor offering: OptiPlex 780 Ultra Small Form Factor. When configured to compete with the Mac mini the cost I got was $873.00 with Windows 7 Pro on it. So obviously when you add the server licensing M$ is going to tax you there but it is a far cry from the $3,200 quoted in this article. ($545 Includes Small Business Server 2011 Essentials. Price also includes a 25 user account limit and CALs are not required.)http://www.microsoft.com/sbs/en/us/pricing.aspx DELL Total = $1418.00 vs. Mac Mini Total = $999.00 The Mac is cheaper because the software is cheaper. Does the software compare in features and capability? (That is another discussion) I think that the Apple server product is a great deal for small business, certainly better than the SBS offerings from M$. I just wish I could run it easily on my own hardware. I would not use a Mac mini for a server, as an example. It seems anti-competative for the Apple x86 software to be designed not to run on non-apple x86 hardware. Isn't it dishonest and underhanded to seek to control your customers at the hardware level? We've all seen the "Hackintosh" and we know that it would work.

dphopkins
dphopkins

actually, you are trying to compare footprint to footprint. Most businesses don't need to buy a rack and several servers to fill it to run their business. But MS's high performance overhead causes IT dept's to purchase a beefy server to get barely acceptable performance. And then licensing causes an empty bank account and many empty liquor bottles on the floor. Instead of looking for that next great looking app, MS should be focusing on streamlining their code to make everything more efficient. Seriously, how much DOS code is in windows? DOS for heaven's sake!

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

You say it's another discussion, but the software is a part of the Mac Mini, not an add-on. You've already shown that with Windows 7 Pro the DELL model you described is already more than $400 more expensive, but to be a proper server, don't you need a server version of Windows? You also clearly pointed out that even with the $545 Server Essentials (what, a cut-down server package?) you only get a 25-client license where OS X Server allows unlimited client licenses, so you see additional savings there as the business grows. While I'll admit that a small retail business might have fewer than 25 machines, there are few small manufacturing or production facilities that have that few. So the Mac Mini as a server not only saves the company up front with a lower introductory cost, it saves money down the road with reduced cost for expansion as well as Apple's noted hardware reliability that sees the average machine show up to twice the up-time over comparably performing PCs from other vendors between servicing.

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