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Article: The Argument for the Mac mini Server

by on October 29, 2009

A little over a week ago, Apple released the Mac mini server edition and a faster regular Mac mini, few were completely surprised. Speculation was rampant that there’d be an optical drive-less mini, and taking the existing form factor, swapping an optical drive with a hard drive makes sense. The fact that Apple is branding it as a server is interesting, though.

Obviously, the Xserve is the item in Apple’s lineup that you’re supposed to think of first when you hear “Apple server”, but it’s also $3000 and generally designed for those who have rack setups. Throw this fancy aluminum pizzabox next to your Cisco routers, your IBM servers, and your generic RAIDs. What about small businesses who get by with something a bit more consumer-level? What about home users who have a Mac network that Apple would appreciate? What about schools who have a computer lab and then various machines scattered around the building?

The Mac mini is perfect for this role. It’s small, quiet, low on energy usage, and looks nice next to Apple’s AirPort Extreme. Who needs the Time Capsule when you have a full-blown computer that is serving the other machines on the network (or Internet) with a number of resources.

Some may argue that the $999 price tag on the Mac mini server is a bit much, especially since the Mac mini starts at $599. That being said, it has a terabyte of storage among the two drives and can accomodate much more thanks to the FireWire 800 port and the 5 USB ports. Add in other features, such as 4GB of RAM, a 2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, and the other standard Mac mini connectivity options and you have a pretty capable little computer server.

Getting back to the original point, the Mac mini server is a tremendous value—priced at $999, you essentially get Mac OS X Snow Leopard Server and 270 MHz more, 2GB of more RAM, and 840GB more hard drive space for $400. The last time I checked, Mac OS X Snow Leopard Server was going for $499 by itself. Well played, Apple.

Without getting too much into the comparison of what kind of basic PC you could build for $1000 to use as a server, you have to take into account that Mac OS X Snow Leopard is for unlimited users. Microsoft’s server products are priced by the number of people using it, not to mention the actual costs for the additional licenses. Although a Mac mini legally could serve as many computers as you could connect to it, its target market will most likely not add enough to tax its resources. Even if they did, they are still only out the $999 for the Mac mini and Snow Leopard Server.

Pricing seems to be very competitive. We know the hardware is good (my G4 mini is stil plugging along after over 4 years of constant use and the Intel-based models still feature much of the same design). Snow Leopard’s newness aside, we know the software is solid. Many will argue that Mac OS X has an uphill battle in the server market among non-Apple users. Part of this is that it doesn’t have a Microsoft logo or necessarily have buzzwords like “Exchange” or “ActiveSync” that the PC crowd clings to. Another part of it is the perception that Linux is the only other server operating system that is used in the “real world.” What is Apple to do?

Apple needs to market the Mac mini server to the public. A lot. Most larger businesses interested in a server will look at the Xserve or other rack-mounted devices, but small businesses, education, and home users are on an even tighter budget. Market the Mac mini server as a tiny server that is full-featured, easy-to-use, and simple to maintain—the iPod/iPhone of servers. PCs, Macs, iPod touches, iPhones all playing nicely together on your network, set up by you. That has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

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