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I have two Macs in two rooms. Both have just macOS (High Sierra).

I would like to log into either one from my user account, and find my files the way I last edited them on either Mac.

Accessing one's account from any one of multiple linux machines is a common arrangement on that OS. All CS departments do this with hundreds of linux PCs.

Is the same possible with Macs, perhaps through a RAID attached to a dedicated Airport Extreme?

The term "Server" in macOS Server seems to point to the ability to host a web server. I don't understand why that is an additional feature when one can run a server on vanilla macOS just fine. Does the term "server" here refer to the ability to access one (or multiple) account(s) from any one of multiple Macs in the same LAN?

Context + comparison with Linux/Windows solutions

On Linux machines (in CS labs) the speed to access one's files is formidable. It's all but impossible to tell that the files are not local but on an NFS. MS Windows has something similar, but the speed is pathetic. So much so that all users always end up storing a lot of files on their local machines (even in 2017) just for the file read/write operations to be good; it's extremely slow to access files on Windows servers.

Ironically, a Samba server running on Linux and serving Windows machines is a far superior solution. Have you tried a Mac-only solution (with either of the two scenarios you suggest: dedicated NFS or one Mac dedicated to be a server)? Is the file read/write speed in roughly the same league as files local to a Mac?

Update

The question is becoming too broad. I'm forking the two sequel questions:

  1. Direct Attached Storage
  2. Network Attached Storage
  • If you're logging into the same account from multiple computers and your Desktop and Data is identical regardless of which computer you're at, then a Server is definitely involved and the Data is centralized. – user3439894 Oct 7 '17 at 23:47
  • @user3439894 Would you care to provide some pointers? No need for details. Just pointers to the general outline of the setup. – Calaf Oct 8 '17 at 0:08
  • Please add a budget and the type of network! – klanomath Oct 8 '17 at 17:23
1

Is this possible?

Most definitely. It all depends on how you want to architecture this.

  • Direct Attached Storage
  • Network Attached Storage (NAS/SAN)
  • Cloud Storage


Direct Attached Storage

Direct attached is quite easy - you simply hook up both machines to a storage array (Fibre Channel) is quite common but copper is now becoming very accessible. This will have the highest performance and is what is used in labs and large scale deployments. While fast, it's also expensive.

Network Attached Storage

Network Attached Storage (NAS) is quite easy to implement. I personally use Synology NAS to create my own hybrid cloud (personal local cloud that syncs with OneDrive and Dropbox). With a little configuration I have the same shares mapped to my iMac, MacBook Pro and old (white) Macbook. This is effectively what you are asking for and this is probably the most cost effective solution.

One "tweak" which will certainly speed up your file access times is to add a second network adapter to your Macs which only connect to the NAS. Many NAS devices have dual gigabit connectors that support bonding (both acting as one single interface). By moving your network traffic onto its own interface, you greatly reduce latency and improve performance for next to nothing in cost.

Cloud Storage

Cloud is the easiest solution. By having your files automatically sync with a cloud service like iCloud, OneDrive or Dropbox, you effective get exactly what you are looking for. While convenient, it's slow and depending on how much storage you require, there's a cost involved.

  • How come this is the accepted answer when it doesn't answer the question at all? Using DropBox or adding a Synology NAS to the network will not "magically" allow you to login to your account on multiple Macs on your network. It will only allow you to share files in a folder between multiple Macs, which is something completely different than having your home directory and account (including settings) accessible from multiple machines. – jksoegaard Oct 9 '17 at 10:37
  • @jksoegaard - The second sentence the OP defines what he's looking for. A single, network login with centralized home directories is something that can be done on a NAS device like the Synology, but that wasn't the request – Allan Oct 9 '17 at 11:56
  • As far as I understand Calaf he has explicitly requested a single, network login with centralized home directories. He is not looking for simple file storage where you have a shared folder on iCloud, a NAS or similar. He wants to be login on either Mac and have his desktop, files, settings, etc. be the same. – jksoegaard Oct 10 '17 at 19:12
  • @jksoegaard- 2nd paragraph: I would like to log into either one from my user account, and find my files the way I last edited them on either Mac. Nothing there says "network login" or anything about preferences; just "files last edited on either Mac." – Allan Oct 10 '17 at 19:25
  • It actually does say that. It says that he wants to login from "my user account" from either Mac - i.e. one account, multiple clients. In the next parapgrah he describes the Linux setup he wants to emulate, where you have 100s of clients and you can login with your account info on any one of them. Calaf should clarify what he really wants. – jksoegaard Oct 11 '17 at 12:51
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Yes, the same is possible with Macs.

Usually you would create such a setup using macOS Server, which includes these features. macOS Server costs $19.99 on the App Store.

This will require you to have either a seperate dedicated server, or assign one of your existing computers to also be a server. The server must be running in order for you to be able to login with such a "shared" account on other computers.

You can also setup this manually, similar to a Linux setup:

This would require you to have some sort of directory setup in order to share the account itself across computers (i.e. typically OpenDirectory or Active Directory - that is variations of LDAP). In your very limited setup you could also manually setup your account on each Mac.

In addition to this you would need a NFS file server to store the actual contents of your home directory (i.e. all your files) on.

The performance of either solution in terms of read/write speed is comparable to the Linux solution, as it is really the exact same type of setup.

  • My request for a clarification on the speed was too long. I added it to the body of the question. – Calaf Oct 8 '17 at 14:54
  • @Calaf I have edited the answer to include information about speed. – jksoegaard Oct 9 '17 at 10:39
  • I don't understand. When you say "assign one of your existing computers to also be a server," do you mean something other than selecting "File Sharing" under "Sharing" in "System Preferences"? If yes, could you be specific about it? If not, then why is macOS Server needed? Or would macOS Server provide any other facility beyond what's possible with vanilla macOS? – Calaf Oct 9 '17 at 16:03
  • Ah.. I see your answer to the sequel.. thx – Calaf Oct 9 '17 at 16:09
  • Yes, I mean something other than File Sharing. I mean installing the macOS Server component and setting it up with both a directory service and NFS-exports for the home dirs. – jksoegaard Oct 10 '17 at 19:10

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