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What's the real ongoing-cost of adding an OS X Server?
January 2, 2012 4:31 PM   Subscribe

We're adding a Mac OS X Lion server to our small business soon. What's reasonable amount to budget for monthly OS X Server support compared to what we pay occasionally now for issues on our workstation-based network that we can't solve ourselves? Are we in for monthly billing shock once a true server gets added? All the details and

As our business grows, we're considering adding an OS X Lion server to our small business' stable of Macs. Our motley collection of hardware includes: 3 Mac Mini-'s running Java/mySQL retail POS and credit card processing applications, an iMac running the POS system for back-office work, a couple of MacBooks doing general business related work (accounting, word-processing, social media stuff, and a wee bit of inDesign work), a slug (3-4) iPads and iPhones, and then a gaggle (8) of printers ranging from monochrome/color lasers, thermal printers, Dymo label printers, and workhorse receipt printers. Total users: 5-8 at any given time. And a TimeCapsule and PogoPlug for backups. All running on a combination of wired and wireless connections. We're likely to add a couple more Mac workstations this year.

We've been having some problems recently maintaining connectivity (both local network and on the internets), as well as starting to feel the strains of this workstation-based system, in terms of file access, user setups, and the like. We're pretty handy when it comes to fixing "hey, the internets down" and "why won't the printer print?" type questions, so we expect (hope?) to be able to continue these routine troubleshooting ourselves.

So, how do we judge what a reasonable cost will be for ongoing monthly maintenance of our new Server and 5+ workstations? We're evaluating both a fixed monthly fee and per hour approaches, but are not sure how much more hand-holding/admin time adding an OS X server is going to need. Moreover, is regular "maintenance" necessary for this type of network or can we safely let it hum along in the background and just call in Mr. Chips whenever something goes broke?
posted by webhund to Computers & Internet (1 answer total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'll start by saying there are a few different ways to make use of OSX server, and the level that you decide to pursue will dictate how easily you'll be able to come to your own rescue in the future.

For very light-use, you can simply use the 'File Sharing' services of OS X server. The server will have accounts for each person in the office, and then folders (or 'shares' (noun)) that are places to centralize storage. If you want to, you can restrict shares to certain users for security. On your office macs, you'd go to the 'Go' menu in the finder and choose 'Connect to server', log in as yourself, then pick which share you want to connect to.

For something more typical, you can set up 'network home folders'. In this scenario, any user could sit down at any Mac and by logging in, get their same desktop & files no matter where they sit. This has significant advantages, but not all software plays nicely with this approach (though most does). This requires some significant configuration (DNS setups, Open Directory setups, and telling all of your existing client Macs to authenticate against that Open Directory database, for starters.)

No matter what you choose, please invest in a solid backup strategy. Back up to three different destinations, on two kinds of media, and make sure that one of those destinations is off-site. Backups can save the day, but only if they are set up in advance. Time machine to an external HDD, CrashPlan to a different external HDD, and CrashPlan to their "cloud" would be sufficient.

Also, put the server on a UPS device, which is part surge-protector, part battery backup for when the power goes out or you get a surge or brownout. They can be pretty cheap (especially if you only use the mac mini server.) If you *do* opt for the mini server, format the internal pair of drives and turn them into a mirrored RAID. This protects you if one of the internal drives happens to stop spinning for whatever reason. Then reinstall OS X Server (probably requiring a download) and follow the setup instructions.

Get your network sorted out before you bring the server in, though. You don't want the server getting erroneously 'blamed' for whatever is going on.

To do everything properly, I'd expect a competent professional to take less than a full day, including meeting with you to get your organization's requirements.

For month-to-month service, I'd expect them to monitor disk space usage, pull down a file or two from the backups to make sure they're working properly, test the UPS, and check the server logs for errors. At your request, they will also apply any security updates. They should also review with you whatever support requests you've put in for the month, and any recommendations they may have. Most of this monitoring and administration can be done remotely over the internet.

Feel free to send me a message if you want to know more. I've been doing this type of work for a decade now for small (<30 seat) companies. OS X Server can be good, but Network Attached Storage can be a less expensive option that is far easier for the Average Joe to administrate themselves.
posted by Wild_Eep at 6:02 PM on January 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

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