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.


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.


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.


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...

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