Mac Mini Vs Synology as a server

Hi friends,

I have a Thecus NAS N5200pro drive that has been in service for many many years, it’s been quite the workhorse. We run a printing business with about 12 staff, and all of the production routes through the Thecus. In the most part it has kept up, but it needs replacing. While four of the staff are working from the NAS all day, we keep a regular archiving routine and the capacity rarely goes over 4TB.

I am wary of NAS drives and RAID as I have had many people in our industry wrestle with problems over the years, I myself have also buried four NAS drives during the lifespan of this magical Thecus of mine.

Listening to the episode on MacMini as a server I got the idea that perhaps this would be a neat solution, especially if I hung a 6TB Thunderbold HD off of the MM, and set up a daily clone, and perhaps a Backblaze backup. I also got excited about the idea of running Hazel to shuffle around files as part of our management of data.

My questions:

  1. Will the MacMini keep up in this file sharing role?
  2. Am I introducing a complexity in the MacMini (updating OS, Apps etc) that a Synology would hide?
  3. What RAM and processor would I need for this file sharing task?

Back in 2014 I used an i7 Mini with 8gb and 12TB of external storage to serve files for 20 employees all day, every day. It never got more than 20% of processor use and never had a problem even when everyone was connected and working. 8gb was more than sufficient for file sharing, normally 50% of the RAM was available.

Updating was necessary but it wasn’t any more difficult that updating any other Mac, I just did it at weekend.

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The Synology will also require updates, btw. For shuffling files only, you will manage fine with a less-than-top-of-the-line Synology. It is also built for managing redundant drives. I have replaced one 3TB drive that started misbehaving, no loss of data or function. Rebuilding the RAID did take a while though.

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Thanks Airwhale. The RAID failures I’ve seen are related to dead logic boards and RAID controllers, which need to be backed up separate to the data. It’s the hidden complexity of the NAS that worries me.

A friend told me with a four bay Synology, you can set two bays aside with SSDs to hold just the cache, which makes them very fast to find the files. That’s attractive, but complex.

Thanks Rob, I expect, the current models will match that easily. It’s funny hoe the numbers match but the performance is different. Hard to know exactly how it will run today without trying it!

I don’t listen much to Accidental Tech Podcast but I think it was a year or two ago that Marco made a strong case for normal users not needing a NAS as opposed to drives hanging off a connected Mac, citing the complexity, finickiness and maintenance to such a setup.

Although I love the app options Synology offers - everything from serving music/movies/mail, to hosting websites, to running your own cloud drive - I really don’t want to manage and maintain the hardware and software and deal with troubleshooting. I’m generally fine with the streaming in macOS, as well as paying for services for web hosting and the like.

That said, I’ve got a 2012 quad-core i7 Mac mini with 1Tb storage an 16Gb RAM just gathering dust, because I don’t even want to fire it up and maintain it as a server. :man_shrugging:t2:

We had a Power Mac (the cheese grater) for a long time as a server, with Mac OS X Server and we were 10-12 users connected to it. I had a couple of issues with the system and no redundancy with a RAID 0 at the time. Since it was long in the tooth, I made some research and went with a Synology 1813+ at the time, we changed it to a 1819+ just before Christmas and the speed increase is noticeable. I’m backing it up from work to my home on a DS1813+ via Shared Folder Sync and it’s working good for that. You can have your data backed up the cloud different way too, like Google drive, Dropbox or an S3, backblaze is also supported. You can’t really automate moving files on it with it’s own software though. But I guess you could mount a sharepoint and do that from one of your macs.

The lack of any further Server development on MacOS is what would trouble me going with the mac mini for as a file server machine. If you want to use the mini in a home environment, ok, but with sharing, not sure.

At home I also have a DS918+ which I love, and had a DS415Play before that, so I guess I’m a bit sold on the Synology bandwagon;-) So take all that info and let it marinate a bit before you make your move.

I ran a 8gb 2011 Mac mini as an email server for 200+ users. The single internal drive was constantly backed up locally and offsite, and cloned nightly to an external drive. It ran 24x7 for years without a problem.

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This theme comes up pretty regularly on the forum.
In summary:

  1. Some hang drives off Macs and have a good experience
  2. Some hang drives off Macs and have a bad experience
  3. Some use NAS devices and have a good experience
  4. Some use NAS devices and have a bad experience

While we can debate the pedantic nuances, RAID was
designed to “protect” data, by mitigating the single point
of failure inherent with a single drive.

IMHO, providing “production” data to 12 people is a text
book case for enterprise or prosumer level technologies.
I mean, it’s your business, right?

SO, could you use a Mac, hang some drives, and run
some 3rd party RAID for data protection? Sure.

OR, you could get a device that was made for data protection.

I’m always surprised when folks talk of how “difficult” NAS
systems are to install and administer. Most vendors offer
live demos. Here is Synology’s:
https://demo.synology.com/en-us/dsm

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A shared drive or partition (including external drive) on a Mac Mini can be used as a Time Machine target for other macs on your network. Just throwing out an idea that may be beneficial above a NAS system.

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OR you could put that Time Machine on the NAS
and avail yourself of the data protection RAID provides.

My point, it’s not Mac vs NAS, it’s RAID vs non-RAID
for “production” data. I choose RAID every time.

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You could use a G-Drive or LaCie external caddy running disks in RAID, probably spend less for the storage in total, and have the benefits of the Mac Mini for mail rules, file sharing, hazel, media streaming, app and software update caching (presuming this is still actually part of macOS server), and whatever else. You can do things like set up video playlists in iTunes that allow you to auto play through entire shows that you can’t do with regular iTunes streaming.

The thing the Mac mini is begging for that it can’t currently do is run as a Home Hub.

But I’ve never been a fan of NAS solutions, so add pinches of salt to taste I guess :grin:

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Indeed.
You pays your money, and you takes your chances. :+1:

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First, I have to say that I went the Synology route.

But for a long time, I considered the Mac Mac Mini solution.

I chose the Synology NAS because I really “only” wanted a server and I did not feel comfortable to waste energy having a full-blown computer running 24/7 (I am fine with everybody disagreeing, it is just my feeling…). And the NAS was cheaper. I have had no issues with Synology whatsoever. Keeping it up to date also has been a non-issue. I still use Hazel on my NAS: my iMac starts and shuts down once a day and performs the Hazel voodoo. It works just fine. I do not need to have it running 24/7. Even my NAS does not run 24/7. It sleeps when I am sleeping. :slight_smile: Yes, I may be a little weird when it comes down to energy consumption.

I do not see any issue using a Mac Mini as a NAS replacement. Running a Mac Mini with external hard drives is fine. And if you want to add some data security and redundancy to it, just use an external RAID enclosure and connect it to the Mac Mini and you have the best of both worlds.

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This server is not working properly on my device. It is showing lots of error after updating the device. Do you have any idea to fix Asus Error Code 55 properly?

Thank you everyone for taking the time to contribute.

A couple of notable points is that Apple have dropped the native Server app, which made running as a server easier, and even though I’m just serving files, apparently it has raised one big speedhump:

File permissions aren’t inherited automatically for multiple users. While I’ve not looked into third party handling of this, I understand it needs to be managed with the command line. I’ve wrestled with this in the past and still have some folders that can’t be moved or deleted, so this may be my deal breaker.

I am leaning towards the Synology NAS.

Apple was nice enough to come out with a migration guide for those (few) remaining souls using MacOS Server:

However, foe diehards there’s a trick to reinstall the features of MacOs Server on Mojave:

I will delete if this is not allowed, but I have a Synology DS1515+ with 3 WD Red Pro 4TB drives inside it that I’m selling. When using Synology BTFS raid configuration it was just over 7tb of usable space out of the 12. But if a drive fails you can install a new one and be back up and running after some time to recreate. There are 5 bays total so can add two more drives if you want. And like your friend said I think some people use SSD drives in one bay for cache and speeding up purposes. I also upgraded it to 6GB ram which is the Mac for the unit.

The NAS and the drives are all around 3-3.5 years old. Never once had any issues with it, but over time I’m realizing I never use Plex anymore and iCloud is just way more convenient and intuitive for me storing my photos and files now. I have the drives wiping right now and will be cleaning it up and packing it in the box it arrived in.

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I don’t know if it’s allowed or not, but given the hardware this community goes through, and the rate at which older devices are cycled down or sold, it feels like there may actually be benefit in a category for selling/recycling old kit.

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I agree with @Wolfie.
Would there be interest in creating a
“swap shop” type section of the forum?

Am sensitive that this can deteriorate into
“why we can’t have nice things”, but it
might be interesting to see what flows
through the community…

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