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The mac mini is a really appealing option to someone like me with little knowledge of servers. I am looking for a server that I can use for a small business, to: host websites, store company files and allow email for staff.

Can a mac mini provide such services without a difficult setup and horrible maintenance?

If so what would be an ideal spec for the server, if not is there anything cheep and better (more user friendly)?

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It all depends on what you're going to use it for. –  John Conde Jul 6 '11 at 1:22
    
If you are looking for a server to handle E-mail and websites for a small home business I would suggest going with a hosting provider instead. They are going to be much more reliable as far as uptime and they take care of all the complicated set up for you. But like John said above it all depends on exactly what you're going for. –  Adam Thompson Jul 6 '11 at 3:51

3 Answers 3

Hosting the website would be a pain because you would need to have a dedicated line put into your house for people to be able to access it. There are some other things you could do but if you are not that up to speed with web servers they might be too technical.

As suggested in the comments by Adam a hosted solution might be for the best, you can pick them up relatively cheap and will have a support team on hand to help you with any issues.

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Any old PC running Ubuntu will get you up and running. Assuming you are on the end of an ADSL line (or Virgin Broadband) you will be able to use the service provided by dyndns.org to make your box accessible from the outside world with a few settings entered into your router box. Because of how ADSL works - one way is more quickerer than the other - your box will be really slow - 0.5Mbs rather than the full 10 you will get with an affordable VPS.

These forums are not supposed to feature product endorsements, but a Mac Mini is quite expensive for what you are wanting. A Novatech barebones bundle will do the job for a fraction of the price - you'll just need to outlay £350 for a brand new box of greater specification than the (CD-less) Mac Mini. Updating to the latest and greatest Ubuntu will be free and you will not be going forward learning Mapple specific web-hosting. (OSX is not a common server OS outside of design agencies).

Another option - with a product endorsement - is to get a VPS. Memset offer virtual server packages for £10 a month + VAT and with a www address from 123-reg for <£10 you will be able to get up and running with very little initial outlay and no hardware to maintain. This will give you 10Mbs up and down - un-metered. You will have to pay extra for a control panel - personally I would just install Webmin and with FTP + phpMyAdmin you will be able to upload stuff and maintain your DB.

Email is very hard to setup and get right, you might prefer to keep your email with 123-reg and pay £10 a year for a catchall mailbox, adding more mailboxes when you need them for another £10 + VAT a piece.

In comparison to the above options, the Mac Mini will be nice, quiet and small but not such a good all round package.

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Given the questioners lack of server knowledge, can you recommend a Ubuntu distro that lets you set up all that sort of stuff through a web interface, rather than having to fiddle around with separate programs? I've heard of such things in the past, but I'm not up to date on the ones that are being actively maintained. –  paulmorriss Jul 6 '11 at 9:03
    
@paulmorriss Webmin is working great for me, even though it is not part of the distro. I changed the port number for a bit of security and the default address for /phpmyadmin. Also the Server version can be loaded up with the Desktop OS, personally I would recommend the Desktop version to start with and add Apache to that. The HowToForge.com website has great tutorials on the 'perfect server' setup. –  ʍǝɥʇɐɯ Jul 6 '11 at 9:11

A Mac Mini is simply a small computer. It was engineered to have a small footprint on your desk and the trade-off is that it may have fewer I/O ports than other computers. Mac Mini's will also often have smaller or less capable processors, because of the engineering desire to eliminate the need for other space-hogging elements like larger heat sinks and or fans. My older PPC-based Mac Mini has been serving me very well for the past 5 years. I have it serving a number of web-sites (all fairly low traffic though) and it serves as a network fileserver and host for my Drobo.

So, just because it is small doesn't mean it isn't capable. It is. And, there is no reason to install Ubuntu as Matthew suggests, Mac OS X is fully capable to provide services like HTTP (web), Mail, FTP and other things we've become to expect. In fact, My Mac Mini has 2GBs of RAM and this is 4X the amount I would get in many cases for an entry-level hosting service online.

Finally, if the normal Mac OS X doesn't provide enough services for you, you can even install Mac OS X Server on the unit to get more enterprise-level services. I know of a hosting service that actually sells racks and racks of these to customers and they perform quite nicely as "servers", with a small "rack" footprint and power consumption.

I have a number of Macs and other types of computers here and no matter how old my Mac Mini gets, I still have good use for it. It is a work horse!

Best, - Martin

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