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Archives for 2016 | Macminicolo Blog - Tips, tutorials and reviews on running a Mac mini server

New posts on the MacStadium blog

As we continue the merge with MacStadium, most of the new blog posts have been written on the MacStadium blog. Here are a few you may have missed if you aren't following over there:

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Tips on upgrading from OS X 10.11 to macOS 10.12: For the most part, things have been smooth but there are some things to watch for in the upgrade. And get a good backup.

A review of a "New Mac" scented candle: Yes, you read that right. It's what we all said we'd do some day but never got around to doing.

How to setup a Mac server as an MDM using Profile Manager: Super useful for small businesses, or even families that are starting to get a lot of iOS devices in the home.

Setup a file server with Resilio on a Mac mini: It's a secure and simple file sync server. It's much like running Dropbox on your own hardware.

We've written VPN tutorials for the last 5 releases of OS X and we'll soon be posting the tutorial for macOS Sierra. Keep an eye on the Macstadium twitter account for that and other future posts.

Mac mini hosting in UK and US East

When we announced our merger with MacStadium, we told you there would be a lot of new and exciting features. Things are coming along.

We’ve just updated our pricing page with all sorts of options. You can now choose between hosting in three locations: Las Vegas, Atlanta and Dublin. These US locations help us cover coast to coast here in the States. The Dublin location is perfect for those in the UK, Europe and into North Africa.

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Of course we still offer Mac mini colocation. Now we also have options for renting a Mac mini and renting a Mac Pro. (On a geeky sidenote, we were also recently awarded a patent for our custom built Mac Pro racks. Now we can scale, quickly, in nearly any location if needed.)

Mac Pro Racks-2

If you'd like to see all the new options in once place, just take a look at our new pricing page.

As always, if you have any questions, just send us a message. We're happy to help.

Some changes here at Macminicolo

This is it. The blog post I wasn’t sure I’d ever write. Partly because I knew it’d have to be about me and I’m a pretty private person. But also because I wasn’t sure this would ever happen without some difficult choices. Sometimes you have to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong. So here it goes…

I'm
Brian Stucki. I’ve been running Macminicolo for over ten years. For half that time, I ran the whole thing alone. Later, Justin joined me for data center duties. Running a hosting company is a mixed bag opportunity. It’s exciting because you get to be involved with cutting edge technology. In a niche like Mac hosting and colocation, the customers are always intelligent and working with them lets me be a small part of what they’re building. I’ve tried very hard to do good, honest work and do right for our customers and the community. For every email I’ve received confirming the death of the Mac mini, I’ve also received emails from people who put a Mac mini into our data center and it saved their business.

The other side of hosting company ownership is constant connection to the online world, middle of the night support tickets, and a nagging worry that tech will change and you’ll be out of business. I call it the SBO ulcer. (I am not a doctor but I’m guessing many of you feel it too.) I remember listening to
a podcast about when Instapaper was sold and had a lot of the conversation resonate with me.

Over the last decade, the business has been very successful. It has grown well financially but just as important to me is that it also has a great reputation. Macminicolo is
the name for Mac hosting and Mac mini information. I’m very proud of this position and I’m happy that people have this view of Macminicolo. With a good name like ours, I receive an offer to buy the company about 5 times a year. I’ve always turned them down because I wasn’t interested in changing things, or the company was undervalued, or just because the new owners would have done a horrible job in running this niche service. Often, they didn’t understand what made it special and they just see the dollar signs. That would have hurt me to sell, and would have left my customers/friends in a bad place. No thanks.

So what has changed?
In short, I’ve decided to sell ownership of Macminicolo and merge it with another company. I will stay on as President of Macminicolo and also serve as a Vice President of the parent company, MacStadium.

Now, I could just announce this with no explanation and be done with it. I could also write one of those generic acquisition posts focused on sunsets and brands and blah. Instead, I’ll be forthright and real like I’ve always tried to be with customers.

Why did you sell the company?
For me, it boils down to three reasons:

family
Here is my family. (How’s that for keeping it personal?) My wife and kids are the most important thing in the world to me. This sale has helped me put a little money away for a rainy day and relieved some dad stresses like making sure my girls can go to college and that I won’t have to be a burden to my boys when I’m old and senile. This sale also lets me see more of them now. For ten years, we haven’t been able to take a truly disconnected vacation. I’ve always monitored and maintained the data center even from afar. Frankly, kids deserve to be with their dad in the wilderness where nothing can interrupt them. Merging my company allows me to do that but still have plenty of eyes and hands at the data center to keep good service. This, by far, is my main reason for merging.

Second, I think we’re on the cusp of a major change in how tech companies host their products. Companies that offer online services are looking for more control of their data and offerings. Startups and businesses are moving away from huge, faceless hosting companies so they can control their own data and have more direct hands on servers, etc. I want to be sure that they can look at Mac hosting options that are large enough to be viable, but personal enough to be a good partner. While I think we’re good at the latter, I can’t offer the former on my own. We'll still be the best at working with the individual colo customer. But now with this merger, we have all sorts of additional options. Need 500 OS X VMs running across dozens of Mac Pros? No problem. Want hundred of Mac minis, Pros and blades in place tomorrow to
use for your company? Sure. Want to build a personal ACN in three diverse locations to deliver your podcast episodes? Coming right up.

Finally, I found a good company with good people and a long-term plan. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve had a number of offers over the years. Four months ago, I got a call from Greg, the CEO at MacStadium. Since that time, we’ve had many conversations about what could and should take place. When it comes to Macs in the data center, they’re doing some
great things already. They have a great mix of knowledge and also a willingness to learn and grow. That’s rare.

MacStadium is based in Georgia. They recently expanded to Ireland as well. They were looking to offer another data center on the West coast and that’s part of what led them to me. Rather than start from scratch, Macminicolo gives them immediate space in this part of the United States and hundreds of great customers already on board. They’ve committed some significant investment to make this location even more robust. As mentioned earlier, I’ve also committed to take a major role at the company. This will allow me to do the things I enjoy (i.e., promote the Mac as a hosting option, teach people how to
use OS X in the data center, be a known friend for customers) but step away from the things I’d like more help with (i.e., middle of the night support tickets, invoicing, network expansions.)

Conclusion
I can’t explain just how much I had to think about this decision. I’ve put a lot of time, energy and attention into building Macminicolo. In the last few months I have performed the calculations, said the prayers, applied the SBO Ulcer test and projected the best and worst case scenarios. I ran the options by successful people I know and trust. Everything pointed to making this decision and I’m excited for it.

Wordpress hosting with Macminicolo and ServerPilot

One of the more common requests from potential customers is to have a server to "host a bunch of wordpress sites." Often it is a small hosting company that just needs a server that they own and control to host the sites of their customers. This is definitely possible on OS X with a LAMP install, or you can even do it manually. (Though, that takes some skill.)

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If you’re looking for a rock solid Wordpress server on a Mac mini, ServerPilot plus Ubuntu is a great option. (Remember, you can run Ubuntu natively on a Mac mini, or as a virtual machine.)

ServerPilot is a service that will optimize an Ubuntu server for Wordpress as well as any other PHP application. It goes really well with services like DigitalOcean or Rackspace as that’s what it’s mostly designed to do.

Why would you want to use a Mac mini for this?

macminiWe are an OS X heavy company for sure. We love it. But sometimes there’s a single purpose for a server here. If that purpose is wordpress hosting, this is a great option.

The main reason is that it will be on a machine that you own and control. When you or your customer has data on the machine, it’s good to be in control of the machine.

Pricing is another consideration.
DigitalOcean is great. You have a lot of options for service levels. If you look at the pricing, it’d be pretty easy to match or exceed many of the available hardware plans. For instance, a server with 8GB of RAM and an 80GB SSD would be $80/mo. You could put your upgraded Mac mini in a data center with 16GB of RAM and 1TB SSD and host it for as low as $35/mo.

With Rackspace, well, who knows really. I tried to look at pricing and options but I was lost in the site and mostly just backed away from my browser.

More on ServerPilot and a Mac mini

If you have a Mac mini with Ubuntu installed, you can have ServerPilot log into the machine and automate the setup on a number of things. From their site:

What ServerPilot Does
  • Software Installation – ServerPilot installs all of the software your server needs, including PHP, MySQL, Nginx, and Apache.
  • Firewall Configuration – ServerPilot secures your server with an iptables firewall.
  • Automatic Updates – ServerPilot keeps your server's packages updated.
  • Simple Control Panel – ServerPilot's control panel makes it easy to host multiple sites on a server, manage databases, change PHP versions, deploy SSL, and more.
  • AutoSSL – With AutoSSL, ServerPilot enables free SSL certicates for your apps' domains.
  • Stats and Monitoring – ServerPilot provides stats and monitoring for your servers and apps. (Paid)

How to get started

When you signup with Macminicolo, we'll put OS X on the machine by default. From there, you can install a VM of Ubuntu. If you prefer to have Ubuntu boot natively, just mention it when you signup and we'll take care of it for you at no cost. Once the machine is live, follow the tutorial below:

First you need to get the Mac mini ready. To do this, you have to enable the root user for SSH with a password. Don’t be afraid. We’re jumping in terminal:

Connect to your machine with your regular user in SSH

ssh user@IPAddress

First we’ll enable it in sshd_config

sudo nano -w /etc/ssh/sshd_config

comment out the following line:

PermitRootLogin without-password

Just below it, add the following line:

PermitRootLogin yes

Writeout with Control-O and then exit

Then set a password for root

sudo passwd root

And then finally, reload the SSH service

sudo service ssh reload

Then you can exit terminal.

Now it’s over to ServerPilot where you can create an account.

Once you login, you’ll be able to add a server to your account.
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It’s pretty simple by filling in the IP address, the root password, and the password that you’d like server pilot to use.
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The machine will run through the automated process
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And it will confirm when the machine is ready
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When it’s done going through the process, then you're all set to create your first app. (You can also log back into your server and change the root password if you’d like. Serverpilot no long needs it for access.)
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It will confirm the install
Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 8.51.41 AM

And you can add multiple domains for that install
Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 8.51.52 AM

Then you can go to your URL and it'll show you the default install of Wordpress
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Then you can go back and add as many domains as you'd like to run on your server
Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 8.55.14 AM

Conclusion

One of the benefits of a Mac mini is that there are so many ways to use one in a data center. IF you're looking for dead simple wordpress installation and hosting, this is a great route to take. As usual, if you have anything to add to this tutorial or other tips on running a Mac mini server, you can find us on Twitter @macminicolo.

Update:

A helpful tweet from a Macminicolo customer

Some tweets you may have missed

rack1000thin
We try to keep the big posts and interesting topics here on the company blog. However, not everything deserves a full post. In those cases, we will tweet it out.

The problem with Twitter is that not everyone uses it on a regular basis. Also, the tweets kind of disappear as they travel down the timeline.

Here are some tweets that you might have missed over the last few months. If you'd like to keep up with new ones, be sure to follow us on Twitter @macminicolo. You can also fine me @brianstucki. Keep up by putting the official Twitter for iPhone app on your phone, or my personal favorite, Tweetbot.

Here are some tweets of interest, in reverse chronological order:
































Be sure your Mac mini will restart automatically when needed

One of the services that we offer here is an option to remotely reboot your Mac mini. If your machine freezes and is unreachable for you, you can cycle the power on the outlet and have your machine reboot. This relies on the user-enabled feature in OS X to "Start up automatically after a power failure." The Remote Reboot process has worked great over the years and fixes most customer issues.
restart
Ever since Yosemite was released 18 months ago, this setting in the Energy Saver panel to will randomly be disabled. It will also be disabled after most OS X updates. It’s proven to be quite sporadic and we continue to look into the reasons behind it.

Luckily, in addition to the GUI, there is a simple command to enable the setting again:

sudo /usr/sbin/systemsetup -setrestartpowerfailure on

I asked for some help on Twitter for ways to keep this setting enabled:


Luckily, I have a lot of helpful followers on twitter so it was good to hear from a number of them. (Special thanks to @consultantrr, @rjames86 and @gmarnin) After chatting with a few people and looking at different options, we decided a nice script would be the way to go.

TJ Luoma has put together a nice script on github to help with the issue. You can read about it and download the script here. Once the script is ran on your machine, it will run the enabling terminal command once per hour. This is useful for anyone running a headless Mac, not just those in our data center.

This is still a work in progress. If you have more that you can add to the conversation, please send us a message on Twitter.

PSA: It's a pretty great time to upgrade your Mac mini

Since we have been hosting Mac minis for over a decade, we have quite the mix of machines here. We even have some here from our very first month in business. Eleven years and still serving for those little guys.

As these customers host through the years, they’ve leaned on us to get their machines upgraded from time to time. We offer all sorts of upgrades that will really make an older Mac mini powerful again. Here are the hardware options for each model year:

2014 Mac mini
SSD: 250GB - 500GB - 1TB - 2TB - 4TB
RAM: N/A
Parts: TR6 Torx Security Screwdriver

2012 Mac mini
SSD: 250GB - 500GB - 1TB - 2TB - 4TB
RAM: 8GB - 16GB
Parts: Dual Hard Drive Kit

2011 Mac mini
SSD: 250GB - 500GB - 1TB - 2TB - 4TB
RAM: 8GB - 16GB
Parts: Dual Hard Drive Kit

2010 Mac mini
SSD: 250GB - 500GB - 1TB - 2TB - 4TB
RAM: 8GB


Since we buy so many Mac mini parts, I’ve noticed some real trends over the years. When it comes to upgrading Mac minis, I think we’re in a pretty nice sweet spot right now. I think that most people don’t know the current opportunity so I thought I’d do some digging and get some of that data out.

Over the last year, the price of RAM has gone down quite a bit. If you have a unibody Mac mini with less than 8GB of RAM, this upgrade is a no-brainer. It takes 30 seconds to upgrade and will really make a difference. Check out the pricing of RAM in just the last 12 months. The 16GB RAM upgrades are similar, down nearly 50%.
Rampricing2015

The price on SSD drives have also become quite affordable. Dollar for dollar, it’s not on par with the spinning disk option, but definitely in the price range for the average consumer. We agree with Wirecutter that the Samsung 850 EVO is the best SSD available for the Mac mini. It's been out for a while and has proven very reliable when installed. The process is a bit more difficult than RAM, but not as hard as you think. Here is the pricing for the 850 EVO in the last year.
ssdpricing2015

The amazing thing about these upgrades is that really makes a big difference in the machine. The 2012 Mac mini shares many of the same components as the 2012 non-Retina MacBook Pro which Apple still sells. Once upgraded, the performance is competitive or better than some of today’s machines. This is why used Mac minis are always so popular.

So why a sweet spot?


For RAM, DDR3 has been the standard for some time. The factories are getting really good at turning out modules at a high rate so supply is plentiful. When Skylake is released, it will heavily call for DDR3L and DDR4 RAM so factories will shift toward that. Also, as seen on many current Macs, removable modules are becoming a thing of the past as well. The standard will become soldered and removable modules won’t need to be made anymore.

Considering these future changes, RAM takes a funny pricing cycle. It is expensive when it’s first released, then the price bottoms out, then it starts to raise again as factories focus on newer RAM. I see this often as we hunt down RAM for older Mac minis here in the data center. I think we’re nearing the low-cost point for 2011 and 2012 Mac minis.

The SSD situation is a little different. The price per gigabyte will continue to drop. There’s no doubt about that. The question here is how much longer will we get good drives in the 2.5in size? Apple is heading toward PCIe-based flash storage in their laptops for now. As the sizes and prices become available, we may see that in the desktops more as well. (The current Mac mini will offer a 5400 rpm SATA drive, a PCIe-based flash storage or a mix of the two. There isn’t an option for a 2.5in SSD though you can add one after purchase with some work.)


Conclusion


If it’s been a while since you looked at upgrading and old Mac mini here or in your home/office, then it’s a good time to look again. The performance boost will be very noticeable and it won’t cost as much as you think.
macmini angle

If you’re a Macminicolo customer, we’re available to help with any upgrades of course. If you have any other question, just contact us.