If you follow my Twitter, you may have noticed a quiet posting in the last week showing the latest acquisition I’ve come across.  Unfortunately, this purchase, a Mac Mini Server, was not for me, but for Total Impact.  All jealousies aside, I’ve gotten to spend some quality time with the unit in the last few days and am quite impressed (aside from the usual pitfalls of course).

After AppleCare and tax, $1250 gets you a slightly-slower-than-today’s-standards Core 2 Duo processor, 4GB of memory, a pair of 500GB drives, and no optical drive.  With a box aimed at small businesses I was glad to see that Apple opted for more memory rather than shoving the fastest new processor in a hunk of aluminum.  When you figure the hope is to have a single server taking care of all roles, the memory investment seems like a worthwhile one (even if its an average capacity by today’s standards).  I knew before I even went to buy it that not having the CD/DVD drive was probably going to burn us, but I drank a bit of the JobsJuice and had faith in the idea of “remote disk sharing”.

The hardware setup was a dream.  An unobtrusive, transformer-less, power cord runs the device while the supplied HDMI->DVI adapter meant easy hookup to a digital display (A note on digital signals: You can’t simply plug a DVI->VGA converter into one of these minis, but rather need a digital-to-analog converter as well.  Apple has them for $30).  Knowing that there was wireless on board, I threw a keyboard and mouse together for liftoff.

First the gray screen followed by the typical Mac chime.  Things were well indeed.  I went through the initial setup process rather quickly leaving most options enabled and was soon sitting at what would appear to be a rather standard OS X environment.  Off the bat, a problem!  I saw two volumes available.  Of course, there are two drives, but no RAID from the factory?   Wouldn’t this be kind of, I don’t know… standard?!  Well apparently not, and to make matters more unfortunate, there was no option during the initial setup to create a mirror.  Well this is an easy fix, right?  Just re-install the OS!  Right!  Actually, wrong.

Perhaps the drinking of JobsJuice wasn’t such a great idea.  Having put my faith into this remote disk sharing concept, it was now time to see it work a miracle.  I put the Snow Leopard Server disk into my 2010 MacBook Pro and waited for it to mount.  I then selected the ‘Install Remote Server’ option in Server Admin’s file menu.  Nothing.  I tried a few more times, nothing.  I had some lunch and came back, voila!  It now asked for the hardware serial number and the IP address, easy!  I entered both to find that either Server Admin or the Mac Mini didn’t believe me.  I did this a number of times and never got further than entering the IP address and serial number.  After cruising the forums, some suggested that this was a flaw in using the wireless (which makes perfect sense, I’m usually doing all I can to stay far away from it) and that many reported success after using the wired ethernet.  Not to be deterred, I turned off my laptop and booted it in target disk mode by holding the T key.  After the 10 minute drama of finding a FireWire 800 cable, I tethered the two machines together and finally had my first good experience of the day.  The disk showed up, allowing me to reboot from the target disk machine (Hold the C key while rebooting the Mini).  I quickly popped into Disk Uility, made a mirrored partition, and reinstalled Snow Leopard Server.

Back to square one.  With the now curdled JobsJuice still churning my stomach I pressed forward with fingers crossed that I hadn’t made a fatal purchasing decision.  From here things become a blur.  Things worked.  I don’t remember most of what I set up because I didn’t have to think about most of what I set up.  OpenDirectory worked like a charm once I realized that you couldn’t authenticate to it with a local account (Use diradmin with your local administrator password), and setup of the mail server was equally easy once I got a few DNS issues sorted out that were beyond the scope of the server in question.

We have a Promise DS4600 on the way with 4×1.5TB drives that are replacing a Windows Server with a HiPoint RocketRaid and a somewhat flaky 12 bay eSATA enclosure.  Things are already infinitely smoother and as always its a special bonus when your main server can play nicely with your stable of Linux servers.  Kudos, Apple.