Mac mini with ThunderBolt Server Solution

Russ Snediker -

A Great Small Business Server Solution

Using Apple's Mac mini Server and the ThunderBolt connection protocol it's possible to get faster data throughput with a Mac mini than with a Mac Pro — all in a smaller form factor and smaller price tag!

We've put together a complete server package that includes a Mac mini, an external ThunderBolt RAID 5 device (writing at 500MB/s) and three external USB drives to be used for backup (one, full-timeonsite backup destination and two, rotating destinations for offsite, disaster recovery storage).

(updated 08/13/14)

The latest Mac Mini Server has not yet been upgraded to ThunderBolt 2, but TB2 devices are compatible with TB1 ports in 10.9.4, for now we still recommend the TB1 RAID by Promise. 2 SSDs are now available as an option, but no longer a mixed SSD and HDD CTO option on the Server mini model. The $100 you save on 3rd-party RAM can be used to bump the CPU up to the 2.6GHz version.

Mac Mini Server ($1,848.00):

  • 2.6GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7
  • 2X256GB Solid State Drives: (use cloning tools for Server OS redundancy)
  • 4GB 1600MHz DDR3 SDRAM - 2x2GB (use 3rd party RAM link to upgrade to 16GB)
  • AppleCare Protection Plan for Mac mini - Auto-enroll

Data Volume ($1,049.99):

• Promise Pegasus R4 4TB (4X1TB) RAID System (2.7TB Usable) 
• Apple Thunderbolt cable

OWC link: Promise Technology 4.0TB Pegasus R4 RAID Storage

***** PRICE AND STOCK FLUCTUATES, ALWAYS CHECK LINKS FOR UPDATES *****

Example Backup Destinations ($657):

3x 3TB USB 3.0/FW800 NewerTech miniStack ($220 each)

RAM Upgrade:

• OWC Memory 16.0GB 2 x 8.0GB PC12800 DDR3L Kit ($199.99)

***** PRICE AND STOCK FLUCTUATES, ALWAYS CHECK LINKS FOR UPDATES *****

 

GRAND TOTAL: $3,754 (plus tax, shipping, and implementation)

 

Although this solution provides more than enough storage and throughput for most offices, we can actually get double the throughput to the client machines with one more component!

A typical Mac Pro data share (without a RAID5) will provide a read/write speed of around 85-90MB/s. Because a single Gigabit Ethernet connection maxes out at 125MB/s (1,000Mb/s), you're only getting a maximum of 70% of the potential throughput the port can provide.

The Mac mini with ThunderBolt has internal read/write speeds of around 500MB/s! This far exceeds the throughput of a single Gigabit Ethernet connection (and now becomes the bottleneck). However, we can use Apple's ThunderBolt to Gigabit Ethernet Adapter ($29) to greatly increase the throughput.

In theory (tested with similar components but not yet with this adapter), we can bind together the Ethernet port from the Mac mini and the Thunderbolt Gigabit Ethernet Adapter port to provide a full 250MB/s of simultaneous throughput to client computers. NOTE: Your switches must support Gigabit link aggregation.

One other option brought to us by Matthew Bookspan of BlackTip IT is using a Redundant Array of Independent Servers.

Who's excited!?

Have more questions? Submit a request

21 Comments

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    Mark Mirabile

    I've been considering setting up a similar configuration but I was thinking I must be nuts because I couldn't find anyone else doing it.

    I'm presently using an Editshare san media network.  We have four edit systems running via GB Ethernet.  So why not use a mac mini server with  promise drives and plug Imac edit systems in via a gigabit smart switch?  Poof instant media network.  Should work right?

     

     

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    Russ Snediker

    @ Mark Mirabile Yes! It will totally work! If you'd like us to assist with configuration or have additional configuration questions (there may be some better options), please reach out to our Support Desk via support@forgetcomputers.com.

     

    Thanks!

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    Neil Martin
    Edited by Neil Martin
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    Ben Greiner

    Neil, no we haven't. I believe it will work — as long as the network switch supports link aggregation. Please let us know if you do have a successful test (or not).

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    Neil Martin
    Edited by Neil Martin
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    Ben Greiner

    Nice! Thank you very much for sharing, Neil.

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    Neil Martin
    Edited by Neil Martin
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    Bikash

    Hi Neil,

    Can you please describe the route u took to link aggregate it..
    I have one Mac mini server and several imac's which is connected to a gigabit netgear smart switch at the moment. I am thinking of expanding my server to a file server and therefore need a solution (right now it only manages the user policy).
    I assume if i get Pegasus, I will connect it via thunderbolt to my Mac Mini Server, Mac Mini Server is already connected to the switch via ethernet.
    So do i need to use the other thunderbolt output of Pegasus and use a TB-Ethernet cable to connect it to a switch? Do i also need to do any change in setting in mac mini itself in terms of software or network preference?
    Please suggest. I will start using my client iMacs to do video editing and need them to read footages from the file server at the same time.. I have few Windows clients too, So its best i can manage it using ethernet cables using switch.. Reading at 80-100 MBPS via each client mac is fine with me..

    Regards :)

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    Neil Martin
    Edited by Neil Martin
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    Bikash

    @Neil

    Ok Great. Thanks for the reply. Exactly what i was looking for. I am using Maverick. And right now i have not configured anything in my switch. I guess its auto-detectable. Not sure though, I will check that out.

    I will be looking forward to set up one for my own small office and update the post with how it goes. :D

    One question though, Do you think (based on your experience) that i will get a reasonable read speed to my 5 client computers with this setup ? I was initially thinking of making a customized Windows Server with a add-on of 4 port Rj45 PCI-e card and link aggregate those to make a file server but its very tedious job and I want to keep the things simple.

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    Neil Martin

     

     

    Edited by Neil Martin
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    Bikash

    @Neil

    You have explained everything I wanted to know in a very simple terms. :)
    Cool.. I will think about it and plan what exactly i'm looking for and then decide on how I want to continue.

    Thanks once again and it's a great forum. i am glad I found it :)

    P.S - I am unable to find the price of Pegasus in my country. Not everything is available here :( I would be out of luck if its not available or if its very very expensive. But then, I have the alternative's now :)

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    Ben Greiner

    @Neil and @Bikash, thanks for contributing to this article!

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    Riot Nrrrd

    @Ben

    Your solution is looking pretty good in hindsight given the debacle with the 2014 Mac mini "upgrade" that left us without a quad-core option! :D

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    Riot Nrrrd

    P.S. The link aggregation tip is great! My 12TB (6x2 TB) Pegasus R6 has nothing attached to its Thunderbolt port. I have to try this!

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    Ben Greiner

    Thanks @Riot Nrrrd. Please keep us posted on your testing!

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    Archana Sundara

    Hi Neil,

    I am planning to have a similar setup (MacMini with 16 GB RAM and Pegasus R6). This setup will be to host mobile home folders for a 200 member office setup. Could you please suggest whether I need to take any additional measures to make this setup a success. Do I need to think about investing in link aggregation or any other ?

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    Ben Greiner

    Hi Archana,

    Thanks for participating!

    In our experience, mobile users are fine for local home folders with network authentication, however syncing of folders through the network has never worked well in any deployment we’ve seen. (Windows has the concept locked down, but not so on the Mac side.) Can anyone share a Mac mobile home folder success story?

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    Archana Sundara

    Hi Ben,

    Thanks for the quick update.

    If I want my office setup (with 200-300 concurrent users) to have network authentication against Mac Mini Open directory and mount home folders from storage solutions like Pegasus what would be better option? Will a network home folder mounted over NFS or SMB a better option than to Mobile home folders with Sync?

    Is this solution advisable? Will I encounter any problem with this setup?

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    Chad Nielsen

    Hi Archana!

    Mobile accounts with network authentication work well, but syncing or single sign-on (SSO) NFS home folder mounting is not advisable. This Windows-style management concept has been discontinued on the Mac platform in favor of cloud sync services (Box, Dropbox, iCloud, Google Drive) as users want their files on all of their devices (Mac, Windows, iOS, Android).

    Combine a cloud service solution with backup software (CrashPlan, Time Machine, or both) to leverage the ample space on the Pegasus (or use a dedicated backup Pegasus) as well as provide versioning control for their files, something that a sync or reliance on the user to copy to their network home would not provide.

    This style of management has served us well for years, and we're happy to be rid of the headaches associated with home folder syncing / mounting / upkeep and the errors and challenges it presents to the end users and to our support team.

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