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Although similar questions have been asked before [1,2] non of them fully address whether OSX 10.6 Sever is a good candidate for everyday use on a top of the line computer. For the really lazy;

1 - Discusses on the importance of having a high spec computer in order for OSX Server to perform to its best.

2 - Discusses on the appropriateness of using OSX Sever in a software development environment.

Getting on to the nitty gritty, my question is more focused towards whether using the aforementioned OS is a good idea for an advanced used (not so much in network related subjects) that desires to do both Software Development, Image/Video editing, and setting up shared services such as; Calendars, Webservices (Wiki's + Websites) and email.

When I say top of the range, I refer to the recently released iMac configured to the following specs;

  • Quad-Core i7 3.4Ghz (Boost to 3.8Gz)
  • 8 Gb of DDR3 RAM
  • 2 Gb ATI Radeon HD 6970M
  • 2 TB of storage. Partitioned 1:1 between Mac and Windows

In terms of internet connectivity I run a 50Mbps fibre-optic downlink with 5mbps uplink.

The reason why I believe OSX Server will be an option to consider for me is the fact I plan to work on a startup with a colleague (with no IT Background) but we live in different countries for now, so the ability of;

  • Having an easy to use wiki
  • The ability to create VPN for accessing NAS files
  • The option of remotely setting up business related software and beta releases on their PC
  • Facility for sync and collaboration (Mail, Calendar, and Document access editing)

seem to represent an added value between the two. I obviously understand that having the server setup in a computer that will be getting switched off and on will disable the services, but appart form that is there any other advantage or disadvantage I am unaware of?

If you are familiar with any software that possesses similar functionality to what am looking for, please feel free to put your suggestions forward.

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'Crossfire' means 2 (AMD) GPUs. What you describe is a single GPU system. –  boehj May 3 '11 at 20:41
    
my mistake, edited and corrected accordingly –  Carlos May 3 '11 at 20:48

3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted
+50

To answer your question, you can work perfectly under Server (given the above machine) in fact, if you disable some of the services, the OS X will be very similar to the regular version. On the other hand, you can always rely on Google docs and calendars, Remote Desktop and even OpenVPN if you really need an internal network.

I mean, configuring the above (even on OS X Server) carries a lot of overhead, backup planning and maintenance.

Focus on your "startup" and leave the unrelated tasks to others. Will having a server at your place (with all the electricity costs associated) make your start up better? earn money faster?

Anyway, that's a topic for "startups". The answer is yes, that computer is more than capable to serve as a server for all those tasks and much more.

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Thanks a lot Martin, you made several good points, and most certainly keep them inton account. Take it easy. –  Carlos May 3 '11 at 21:05
    
Perfectly makes a lot of assumptions. Adding a device that isn't ready for a 64 bit kernel is what causes most people to avoid this setup. Currently the added cost and time to learn server seems a waste for a startup with no IT experience when solutions proposed (google, openVPN and such) work hosted for free or cheaply on the client os. –  bmike May 4 '11 at 16:43
    
@bmike First do notice that it was me the one who suggested to use alternatives, and second, OS X 'server' kernel is the same kernel as regular OS X, except it only comes in 64 bits. OS X server will run perfectly on that machine for any use, but more importantly, the use that the user is mentioning, he's going to do development and image editing, none of the presumably required tools will have problems with 64 bit kernels. I still insist your response spreads a false misconception. 64 bit kernels work fine these days, sans an occasional inexistent driver. –  Martín Marconcini May 4 '11 at 18:49
    
You make very good points, but why insist on "run perfectly for any use"? I haven't found ANYTHING since mid 1970's that runs perfectly for any use. No OS, no computer, that's just crazy talk. I think you are over reacting to my words of caution. I'm not against people trying server - just go in with some knowledge of what issues will bite you if you do it long enough. Hopefully lion will force 64 bit kernel solutions to prosper widely, but despite great progress, we're not there yet. –  bmike May 4 '11 at 19:05
    
@bmike I believe you're not reading my answer they way I intended it. I didn't say that OS X runs perfectly for any use in my reply; if you put it that way it looks out of context and of course nothing works perfectly for any use, but assuming OSX is enough for this user in particular, the OSX Server is going to be exactly enough for the very same user (given what he said he was going to use). I insist that he shouldn't have a local server unless his business is really tied to that, after so many years I came to the conclusion that outsourcing things is the best route in a lot of cases. –  Martín Marconcini May 4 '11 at 19:09

No. I love mac server and have used it for years and it's one of the best UNIX servers for small businesses - but for all the details you ask in your question, it's not the right choice for the functionality you mention. The mac you have is plenty powerful but will you really take down your server to boot into windows?

Server running as your everyday mac won't help you be a better developer. Server won't help with image and video editing (and may slow them down) Server is overkill for a small company's (less than 5 to 10 people's) needs for calendaring, wiki, web and email - especially one with no IT background. A cisco small office VPN router costs less than $150 if you don't want to run the equivalent VPN software for free on the non-server Mac OS.

Get server and use it because you want to learn by doing, not by making up marginal reasons to justify it. (I don't think you're doing that but wanted to make the point that running server takes time and expertise)

Server is designed and tuned for multi user performance and not single user workload. Some consumer programs don't run as well in Server (or are not supported on server), but the vast majority will work fine even if you can't call up Microsoft or Apple for support once they hear you are running on a server OS. Servers are designed and tuned to run for a long time and you don't want to be rebooting them to take away the services they provide. You can't optimize for both a client workload and a server workload so there is no free lunch and one or both will suffer if combined.

If you only want to play and learn the answer is YES - run server on your desktop, but your question includes you providing real services for a running business. Only you can decide which tradeoff is most important for your situation, but there are a few to be aware of before going down this path.

Running a cheap server (or even look into vmware to virtualize your server os on a larger iMac or MacPro to isolate the server OS from your desktop OS). In practice, you won't likely be slowed down with a distinct (or virtualized) server on the local network (even slow 100Mb ethernet). Your wiki and VPN will be blazing fast with only a handful of users connecting.

It's really hard for even a workgroup of 25 people to bog down a current mac mini server. They really don't need fast CPU or disks. Adding low end RAID storage and FireWire 800 allows the mini to scale up. It takes a special video workload or hundreds of users to need Mac Pro Server. You can learn most of what you need on OS X client by starting up the server processes on the client and save yourself the $499 license fee. I would wait since Lion is announced to have server included at no extra cost.

  1. most of what you need to learn is free or the cost of a Lion OS.
  2. if you depend on services - having a client workload detracts from the server workload - better to have a mac mini for the server that you can let run 100% focused on the server workload.
  3. servers rarely are used to capacity so old hardware is often useful as a server well past their usefulness for an interactive client workload. Pick up a used mac for a song and run server locally or co-located.
  4. security - are you comfortable gaming and install apps all the time on your server where your corporate information is stored? You might want that locked down and unchanging which restricts normal client flexibility. Your server admin account should be highly secured since servers are online 24/7 and high targets for crackers/hackers.
  5. maintenance - every change you make on the server could interrupt services which is why businesses isolate and control their server OS to a much larger degree than client OS. It costs time and money to do otherwise.
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I'm curious about the statement "Some apps don't run so well in Server". Do you have examples? –  Nathan Greenstein May 4 '11 at 3:25
    
Time machine doesn't back everything up, many third party extensions are still not ready for a 64 bit kernel, iLife/iWork and other apps have way more bugs and less thorough testing on server os. –  bmike May 4 '11 at 4:50
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@bmike I'm sorry but your "iLife/iWork and other apps have way more bugs and less thorough testing on server os" doesn't make any sense. I have OS X Server on two machines and I've never ever experienced any different behavior on iLife, iWork or even Aperture. The operating system's core is exactly the same, with Server having more services and more tools to configure those services. I still believe it's not a good idea to run your "own" server on a startup but for different reasons. That machine he posted is more than capable to run server and his local performance will be unaffected. –  Martín Marconcini May 4 '11 at 8:10
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Sounds a little FUD-like to me. Other than a few plists and what apps are bundled, Mac OS X and Mac OS X Server are the same operating system. It’s not true that applications—especially Apple’s—perform differently on Mac OS X Server vs. Mac OS X. I’ve been running 64-bit Snow Leopard on an mid-2009 MacBook Pro for nearly a year and haven’t run into any issues with 3rd party extensions not being “ready.” –  alwillis May 4 '11 at 8:16
1  
@bmike What you call "server code" is -curiously- false on OS X. Mac OS X Server doesn't have server code. It's the same operating system as OS X non server. There are some "server apps" installed and some services ready to use, but the core of the operating system and the structure is identical. The server brings services and applications designed to configure … server services, that's why. In fact, its existence is not really justified to the point where Lion rumors say that it may disappear to merge into a single product (like it should have always been) –  Martín Marconcini May 4 '11 at 18:53

Because Mac OS X and Mac OS X Server are (besides a few plists and bundled software) identical operating systems, you certainly could use Mac OS X Server as your everyday operating system, just like you can run Mac OS X as a server; see diymacserver.com.

But—other than having a few additional applications for administering Mac OS X Server itself, you don’t any extra capabilities.

I agree with some of the other commenters—use the great web apps that are available for calendaring, project management, collaborative document editing—a wiki.

Finally, if you need to do development, get XCode if you don’t already have it. Vagrant is great for being able to quickly setup specific environments, like Ruby on Rails with MySQL and Apache running on CentOS, for example.

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They are certainly not identical. Server shares many of the same code and components, but the install deploys them in different configurations and server is far more complex than client version. You can choose to minimize these changes as a server admin, but server opens a whole world of hurt if you set up DNS, DirectoryServices, User Account Management and location, software updates (and probably 15 more major subsytems) improperly. Greater power cuts both ways and has to be used with proper knowledge. Minute differences in a plist can produce radically different end results. –  bmike May 6 '11 at 16:02

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