Nov 24, 2015 — by: E. Werner Reschke
Categories: Mac Mini, Mac Pro, OS X

Mac mini servers, OS X ServerI know, I know,... the turkeys have not yet entered the ovens, and I am talking about Christmas. Shame on me. But as we finish off the month of November and move quickly into the gift-giving (er, getting) season, my mind wanders to what could be and what should be in the Apple server space.

Until 2011 Apple made a very sturdy, ultra-dependable server solution: XServe. It did all the things a good server would do: RAID, redundant power supplies, 1U enclosure and all around robust hardware (fans, circuits, etc). The problem was Apple was not selling many and was about to make a major push to delivering consumer-based cloud services with iCloud. Inside the hallowed halls at Apple the decision was made to build Apple’s cloud on UNIX rather than OS X. While understandable that sealed the fate of the XServe.

Apple tried to appease customers with a Mac mini server configuration. And while not nearly as robust as the XServe it came in at about 1/2 the price. Mac mini server’s one major failing is a single power supply, so when it dies, this solution can cause chaos in IT circles. But in 2014 Apple killed the Mac mini server configuration also. All that remains from Apple’s server era is software called OS X Server app.

I will admit that while OS X is a fantastic desktop operating system, it lags behind UNIX in the server world. However, that does not mean Apple should give up on this market space. I know they are pushing everyone to iCloud, which is fine for consumers, but many businesses, small and large alike, prefer the ability to build their own Clouds, that run on their own hardware, that are 100% under their control. Having corporate data on someone else’s servers means the NSA and other security agencies can request a breach of that data through the Cloud provider, without the business ever knowing. Companies that manage their own private cloud force the prying eyes of government to make their request directly to that business, thus the business knows what is happening. Even when not it is not the Government requesting access, do you believe Microsoft, Google, Amazon or Apple are always forthcoming when their servers have been compromised (aka hacked)?

If OS X is not the flavor of choice for cloud-programming, using Parellels or VMWare to run UNIX virtual machines atop of OS X works quite well. VMs are great for server solutions because if hardware fails, migrating a VM to new hardware is a very straightforward process (if you have good back-up copies elsewhere). However, right now the only choice for a robust server is a Mac Pro, which does not easily mount within 19" server racks. The Mac Pro carries the Intel Xeon chipset with 4, 8 or 12 cores and with hyper-threading to go up to 24-virtual cores. This is wonderful for running multiple VMs on one piece of hardware. Alas the price can quickly become quite steep. Mac minis work as VM hosts, but now with only 2 cores (4 virtual cores), a Mac mini is limited in running any sort of CPU-hungry VM software.

All I want for Christmas...

What I’d like for Christmas is to see Apple bring back the Mac mini with at least 4-cores. An 8-core Mac mini would be a pure delight. However, the real solution is for Apple not to adjust its hardware line-up at all but to develop the OS X Server app so it could span across multiple Macs (making them work as a single Mac). This would deliver a very powerful solution without breaking the bank. Tie together 2, 4 or 6 Macs using the updated OS X Server app and all of a sudden there is a powerful, robust Server solution. If a Mac goes down (which is highly unlikely but will eventually happen), OS X Server continues on as the hardware node is replaced with another one. 

Christmas could be doubly wonderful if Apple would just put a small software effort into a solution that uses current hardware. This effort could bring major returns in increased Mac mini and Mac Pro sales. In addition it would make several OS X Server people have an extra Merry Christmas.

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