Mac Mini web server

Discussion in 'Parallels Desktop for Mac' started by muka5001, Mar 21, 2007.

  1. muka5001

    muka5001

    Messages:
    4
    We currently have 3 Dell rack optimised webservers in a local data center, however the center in now up to capacity and we have no room for expansion. The servers are running a lot of services between them including DNS Server, HTTP Server, FTP Server, POP & SMTP, PHP & MYSQL so we are cautious about loading them up with more services.

    We are looking to use Mac Minis as enterprise web server running Mac OSX as the host and Win2k Server under Parallels desktop.

    This may sound crazy but there is some method in the madness.
    Firstly the Dells take up a lot of space and power, for each Dell we replace we can have at least 6 Mac Mini Servers in its place.
    Secondly we can dedicate a single service per MacMini and if a failure occures we can redeploy quickly, so what we loose in Raid5 redundency on the Dells we mitigate with loss of one service (not multiple as current with Dells) and being able to fix and rapidly redeploy the OS.

    We've been testing for about a week running Win2K and Mailenable Pro on two MacMinis with relative success. The MacMinis are setup to run Windows networking in Bridge mode on the wired ethernet and the host Mac OSX network is assiged to Airport, this gives us flexibility to connect using PCAnywhere on the Win2K OS and Apple Remote Desktop on Mac OSX, if a problem occures with Win2k and it crashes, theoretically we can connect on Apple Remote Desktop and restart the Virtual environment.

    I was wondering if anyone else out there had similar experiences, clearly we could do all this in Bootcamp but its much easier and more flexible with Parallels, our only concern at present is future longterm reliability


    I'd be really interested to hear constructive comments / experiences
     
    Last edited: Mar 21, 2007
  2. logandzwon

    logandzwon

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    27
    A couple of things here, 1st off, 6 minis that tightly together generate a lot of heat. Second, a mini is more than 1 rack unit high, plus you need a shelf to put them on. In other words, you're looking at 6 minis per 2U.

    Second thing, security, stability, etc... What I mean is that paralells can't run as a background service, meaning a user must be logged on, meaning to automatically run at start-up you must have automatic log-on as a user with enough privileges to start up your VMs, (and delete/modifiy them.) You can set-up some kinda auto start the screen saver with a password, but isn't really good enough security for a production system.

    Third, the minis actually pack quite a bit of power. You can have mutiple VMs running per machine, so you could actually run 2-3 vms on each machine, giving you 18 windows VM in 2U. Then mesh all your services to be load-balanced/fail-over between mutiple VMs and machines. You could have mutiple system failures and still not lose any traffic.

    But again, I wouldn't run this till someone has a stable VM server that runs as a backround process like VMware server.

    On top of that, you can everything you mentioned in OS X nativly Either threw the ApplePorts or with OS X server. DNS Server = Bind 9, HTTP Server = apache 1.3 (I think), FTP Server, POP & SMTP (either sendmail or postfix I forget), PHP 4.4.4 & MYSQL (I think version 3) are all built-in to OS X server too.
     
    Last edited: Mar 21, 2007
  3. unused_user_name

    unused_user_name

    Messages:
    495
    I would be careful about stacking a bunch of minis in a rack in a server room. They really were designed to have at least 4 of 6 sides open to air for cooling.

    If you do rack them make sure to get something like CoreDuoTemp to keep track of how how they get.

    If you are going apple, you should check out the Xserves. They were designed to be put in a rack.

    One more thing: why not run your services under OSX (or maybe linux?). I don't see anything in your list that requires the use of windows. If you are buying apple hardware anyway, why not expirament with running your services directly from OSX?
     
  4. pplante

    pplante

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    2
    Why not just run Windows natively on the machines? The minis are not powerful enough to run multiple VMs, and you are just adding extra bloat.
     
  5. muka5001

    muka5001

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    4
    Thanks, i appreciate your feedback.
    I would love to transition everything over to Mac OSX Server but unfortunaltley we have some complex web related services that we have developed using windows based API's and libraries that are driven by php (these are currently not available on OSX platform) so we are pretty much stuck with Windows for the http, mail and ftp services.

    I take your points on security and heat. We actually have 6u at our disposal, its a bottom shelf of a rack and the power packs could go under the rack. The data center is climate controlled obviously, but more than that, they have air cooled racks with built in fans so I'm hoping this won't be a problem. From a security perspective we are subletting the space from a much larger company that owns the rack, in short we can trust them and its a locked cabinet.

    I also agree the best option would be to run windows in bootcamp but XP PRO is not an option as IIS is not an enterprise version only accepts 10 inbound connectsions and we simply can't afford 2003 server, which leaves us with Win2k which we are more than happy with, but installing this on bootcamp is, i believe difficult and there are no firm drivers supported. I'd be interested in inforarmation on this tho' i've trawled the net and found little.

    Getting back to the main point, running Win2k Server under Parallels, my primary concern is stability, so far in our testing the mini's seem fine, we have had one lockup in windows which seemed to be after installing parallels tools but nothing since, and nothing to lock the Mac OSX environment. I'm wondering if its worth having the tools installed at all, we can live without video card support.

    The mac is set to autologin, and under sys prefs, accounts, i've set a login item to launch the alias for the win2k server virtualised environment, unfortunately this causes a dialog box error (sorry can't remember the actual error), i'm assuming its because the VM is trying to launch before Parallels services have started up?? I think if there is a delay it will launch.

    I hadn't thought of using Xserves running multiple VM's, its a great idea, however would this not be limited to two VM's per server, 1 per ethernet port or is there a way around that?
     
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2007
  6. dkp

    dkp

    Messages:
    1,367
    I don't see a role for OS X at all in this. The Mac Mini is a nice little computer but the consumer oriented virtualizing tools available for it would rule it out a data center implementation, at least for me. You would be better off with stackable 1U Intel servers built for the purpose: remote access, redundant power, networking, NAS/SAN support, LOM, etc. These can run OTS virtualizing software that is built for the purpose and that runs without requiring a logged in user session. This rules out Xservers because there's not proper virtualizing support available for OS X in this configuration (IMHO). Not that I haven't begged Parallels enough :)
     
  7. Eru Ithildur

    Eru Ithildur

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    1,954
    Come again. PHP is available on OS X... So, as long as everything is PHP, and you don't have a backend like MSSQL you should be fine... Just go dig up the same version as PHP you already have. Implement, then upgrade to the latest (if you haven't already).

    What type of Dells do you have? The Tower 'servers', or real rack-mounted servers? Minis are similar to the towers, just a whole heck of a lot smaller (this, of course, has its pluses and minuses).

    If you are looking for an Apple solution, as was reccomended earlier, look at the XServe. Or you can do a hybrid if you really want to get Apple in. Or you can just upgrade. :p What do you want from an Apple that you wouldn't have from Windows? Ease of use? Lower cost once you are set on high-end equipment? Or just the name?
     
  8. logandzwon

    logandzwon

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    27
    Here is what mini look like coloed, the xservers are in the right;
    http://www.macminicolo.com/i_mini/minisdark.png

    http://www.macminicolo.com are in the in the buisness of coloing these guys.

    I actually use these guys to host my mini; http://www.xservhosting.com/

    The xserves are made for this envirment, but if you have the room I'd rather have a bunch of load-balanced low end machines then one high-end machine. That is, prodived your system and support that. On top of that, if your gonna go the xserve route with paralles, why not just get vmware server for your current boxes and run your VMs there.
     
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2007
  9. Eru Ithildur

    Eru Ithildur

    Messages:
    1,954
    Those are some sweet pics...

    Yeah, I guess load-balanced might be better... But what is the cost? What is the long-term cost as well... Minis fail faster... Maybe?
     
  10. ivnj

    ivnj

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    5
  11. Eru Ithildur

    Eru Ithildur

    Messages:
    1,954
    Looks like it may be treading on thin ice in regards to intellectual property... Looks like an imitation of Apple's to me, just with a different featureset.
     
  12. ivnj

    ivnj

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    5
    Maybe but mini itx form factor wasn't an apple innovation if I rememnber my history. Mini itx has been around for a while.

    http://www.mini-itx.com/

    http://www.mini-itx.com/store

    Mini itx consumer motherboards are available also and have been for a few years.

    Thanks,
    ivnj
     
  13. logandzwon

    logandzwon

    Messages:
    27
    Yup, true it's nothing new. The advantage to the mini is that it's cheap and easaly repair, well atlest replacable. You can even keep a spare box or two around the office and if one break go swap out the HD while you wait for apple to fix the broken one.

    hehe you can tell I've tought a lot about this. I planned out a mini based cluster for a project I was working on at one point.
     
  14. muka5001

    muka5001

    Messages:
    4
    We have 4 x 2u dells and 1 x 1u, utilising these as VM's is to be honest something i hadn't considered, Paralells is my first experience of virtualised OS, and i've been impressed so it was a naturual progression. We are a design agency and prefer Mac OSX over windows, Windows Server (for us at least) is a necessary evil. My reasons for wanting to go the parallels route were:
    1. Mac minis are small cheap and easy to replace, in the event of a hardware failure i can be at the datacenter within a couple of hours, wiith a pre-loaded replacement.

    2. We can fit many more Mac mini's in the rack without incurring extra costs, we pay for rack space not bandwidth and besides we don't

    3. In our experience the main points of failure are Windows Server (surprise!) not the hardware, in fact in twelve month period we probably have to reboot, or revist the servers 3-5 times, whilst this is not a problem the time to diagnose the faults can be, for instance the last fault we had was corruption of the TCP/IP Stack, which took a full day to diagnose and replace and invcuded removing the server from the Datacenter to work on the bench.
    In a virtualised environment (theoritaclly) i should be able to replace the disc image file with a previously deployed state very quickly.

    4. Running on Mac OSX allows us 2 point of remote access, if the Windows Server is down we can connect on Mac OSX Remote Desktop and reboot the VM or redeploy it, all remotely.

    If there is a windows VM Ware software package that will allow us to do this, then i would definately be interested in more advice, bit of a shame we can't go the Mac Mini route.

    Finally in responsed to Eru Ithildur, as discussed we are stuck within the Windows environment for the moment, we have built some web applications that use components, libraries, DLL's etc that are Windows only, making cross grades currently impossible or at least very very difficult.
     
  15. Eru Ithildur

    Eru Ithildur

    Messages:
    1,954
    Hmm... It sounds like the mini cluster might be an option... Looking into it, it seems like something for a Medium sized business (say, a couple hundred employees)... How about giving the core services off of two XServes, one primary, one as a redundant back-up. Drop an xRAID as the storage backbone, now they have dual controllers for added redundancy, especially nice if you only need one...

    Not to be rude, but you have similar 'two points of access' in Windows...

    I do agree with it taking less time to manage. I just took an XServe down for the first time in three months for some routine maintnance, the OS X services have only gone down with Parallels... But, I was running BETAs. Stable is now on with a clean install... I'll be checking back.
     
  16. itsdapead

    itsdapead

    Messages:
    177
    Well, Parallels does "Parallels Workstation" for Linux and Windows, and their parent company SWSoft does industrial strength virtualization products - typically these let you start up, shut down, create, backup VMs via a web interface. Other big players produce products but, in deference to our hosts, I'll leave you to type "server virtualization" into Google.

    Unless you're going to run multiple VMs on each Mini, you'll be giving up a lot of performance by running in virtualization for a marginal advantage in remote maintainance. One of the features you get with some server-class hardware is a "remote management" console that lets you power the server up/down, restart it and perform diagnostics remotely via the net, even when the system proper is "hung" (I use a 1U server based on an Intel motherboard that has this feature).

    You could look at using Linux as the "host" OS and saving a software license. Actually, its a darn pity using "DNS Server, HTTP Server, FTP Server, POP & SMTP, PHP & MYSQL" - all cross platform, open source technologies well (if not better) supported by Linux/BSD/OSX - and still managing to tie yourself to Windows. Windows Server is just a punishment for people stuck with "Active Directory, WINS, ASP.NET, Exchange & SQL Server".
     
  17. dkp

    dkp

    Messages:
    1,367
    The company I work for buys up other companies from time to time and we need to quickly establish secure email services between the two sites. We've settled on Mac Mini's running Postfix with TLS. They drop in place - on bootup the local IT talent opens a pdf file on the admin desktop, follows the instructions, and 10 minutes later we have mail.

    In the early 1990's I worked for a large dot com/ISP and we were tasked with building up portable web/email systems for a newspaper. We went with Linux on Compaq computers running Sendmail, httpd, Perl, and FWTK. The had a very low level of integration and no real security but that was the world we lived in. It would have been fantastic to have had Mac Mini's then. For a temporary internet presence they would have been perfect, and deployable by non-skilled staff.
     
  18. xochi

    xochi

    Messages:
    88
    I'm a fan of Mac minis for servers too -- the low power / low heat issue is ideal for my needs. I've found that the stock internal drives are not the best -- they are slow and cheap, and I had one of 4 fail in the first year. You might consider replacing them with a 2.5" server-class drive.

    Or, even better, wait for the Samsung 32GB IDE flash ram drive -- a mini with one of these would absolutely scream in database / webserver performance, and of course would run much cooler than one with a hard drive: http://www.samsung.com/eu/Products/Semiconductor/products/ssd.asp
     
  19. logandzwon

    logandzwon

    Messages:
    27

    I love this idea, but remeber mini the intel mini is sata.
     
  20. xochi

    xochi

    Messages:
    88
    Good point -- i suppose you could use an external FW 400 IDE 2.5 case. It would be a little slower (40MB/sec instead of 55) but would have the advantage of easy swapping if the CPU died.
     

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