Contemplating getting my own server
October 20, 2009 1:59 PM   Subscribe

How would the new Mac Mini server compare to a cheap shared hosting account?

At present, my website is hosted on's 'economy' shared Linux hosting plan. I noticed that Apple has now released a version of the Mac Mini designed to act as a server, costing about $1,000 Canadian.

Does anyone have any idea of how it would compare with GoDaddy, in terms of performance? I have found myself frustrated by how slowly content loads from their servers, especially anything that depends on MySQL databases, such as WordPress and MediaWiki.

$1,000 would be akin to about 10 years of shared hosting payments, but there might be secondary benefits to running my own server, rather than farming the task out to someone else. Any thoughts?
posted by sindark to Computers & Internet (28 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
you'd still need to deal with internet access, most residential ISPs won't allow you to host web servers off of home accounts.
posted by Oktober at 2:05 PM on October 20, 2009

Do you have somewhere to house the server, called colocation? By way of comparison, my server, which is a standard 1U (1.75" tall) device, costs USD$59 per month to provide Internet access, power, and cooling. Most home Internet providers object to--and actively work against--running a server at home, so if you're doing anything moderately interesting you will need colocation. If the device is any taller than 1U, or can't fit in a standard rackmount without a tray or other supporting device, many colocation providers will charge more for the space.

Having a colocated box all your own out there on the big, wide Internet is fun to have, but there's costs to be considered beyond the price of the box.

On preview, what Oktober said, but with more scary details. :)
posted by fireoyster at 2:07 PM on October 20, 2009

Response by poster: I will post some bandwidth stats shortly, as I cannot access them here. That said, I have never come anywhere close to the limits on GoDaddy's economy plan.
posted by sindark at 2:09 PM on October 20, 2009

Oh, but to answer your original question: Unless your site is huge or very disk intensive, running it on a box where yours is the only site will always be faster than shared hosting. Even my dinky (by today's standards) server can handle intensive MySQL-based sites with ease, as long as there's not more than two or four getting hit at the same time.
posted by fireoyster at 2:09 PM on October 20, 2009

I would investigate more expensive monthly plans before taking on the chore of running your own server. There are just so many headaches in running your own server. You need a battery backup. You need a backup strategy. You need to install all your own software and security updates. You need to pay for a decent connection with a good upstream. And there's no one to complain to when it just doesn't work.

Further, even if you do take this on, I'm not convinced that the mac mini server is a great choice for a web server. You're paying a lot for OS X Server to get a lot of features you don't plan to use.
posted by smackfu at 2:17 PM on October 20, 2009

Response by poster: My current DSL provider allows you to host a server on a consumer account, with an 800 kbps cap on upstream bandwidth.

My WordPress page only gets about 20,000 pageviews a month, while my MediaWiki installation gets even less. Most of the traffic consists of jpeg files in the form of daily images attached to blog posts.
posted by sindark at 2:22 PM on October 20, 2009

Given what you wrote, I think a much better option for you would be slicehost (or one of their competitors).

It's a shared machine, but you are given an entire virtualized instance (as if you had your own colocated server) and you are guaranteed a certain amount of CPU/Memory for your instance. You would have complete control over what software is installed and how it's configured.

The mac mini purchase doesn't include bandwidth, and you'd also have the inconvenience of having to install all the software on OS X, which is somewhat more difficult due to the fact that it's not nearly as common as Linux and the support community is smaller.

Also keep in mind the fact that running a server 24/7 uses electricity less efficiently than a server farm. It might only increase your electric bill by $5/month, but that's already half of what you're paying for hosting now without buying anything.
posted by helios at 2:23 PM on October 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

What smackfu and fireoyster said.

I'd also like to point out that the Mac Mini will be painfully slow and tiny by modern standards long before you'll hit the break-even point.

One option halfway between using a webhost and buying your own server is to use a virtual server like slicehost. That gives you a simulated computer on someone else's hardware.

On preview, helios beat me to it.
posted by suetanvil at 2:25 PM on October 20, 2009

I'm not convinced that the mac mini server is a great choice for a web server

You can get an older Mac mini for $300-500 that will run the desktop version of Mac OS X 10.6.

The desktop OS runs all the same open source software that Mac OS X Server runs. That includes GNU compilers, Apache, PHP, MySQL, etc.

An older Mac mini will run what I suspect are all of the services you want to run for much, much less than the $1000 OS X Server version of the Mac mini.

The major version upgrades of OS X Server software are themselves quite pricy and not worth it unless you need to manage multiple Macs and user accounts at home.

Further, the OS X Server mini model does not have an optical drive, which will make installing the OS a little more difficult when you do plan to upgrade. It's easy to add external storage via the Firewire and USB connectors.

If you have bandwidth at home that makes uploading data feasible, look for an older Mac mini, unless you need the workgroup management features of the OS X Server platform.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:26 PM on October 20, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks a lot for the information. I have been planning to move to something better when my GoDaddy contract ends. It does sound as though moving to a better hosting company is probably a preferable option to getting my own hardware, even if relatively inexpensive hardware would be adequate for my needs.
posted by sindark at 2:27 PM on October 20, 2009

Another thing to consider: If your blog is linked to by a major blog/newspaper/whatever, you probably want it to do whatever you can to ensure that it stays available and survives the huge temporary spike in traffic. If you're hosting it on your 800k DSL line, your site will die pretty quickly.

Most hosting providers give you a certain amount of bandwidth per month, rather than per-second. This allows you to have traffic that occasionally spikes.
posted by helios at 2:29 PM on October 20, 2009

As mentioned by others, if you want to run your own server, you want a virtual server as provided by slicehost, linode and others.
posted by singingfish at 2:30 PM on October 20, 2009

As for performance, we run OS X at home for development use. Our Mac mini runs Perforce, Hudson, and some bug tracking software with MySQL and Apache in the background. We have it hooked up to an external Firewire RAID drive that we use as a boot drive.

Our setup runs very smoothly and quickly. The Mac mini really makes a nice home server. You'd be just fine running a blog on it.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:32 PM on October 20, 2009

Today's article from TUAW might be worth reading:

Why An Apple Based Mac Mini Server Has Big Possibilities
posted by backwards guitar at 3:02 PM on October 20, 2009

Best answer: A site hosted on a 800k DSL line is pretty much doomed to feeling sluggish even if only one person is using it, and

I'm finding performance of your blog on godaddy to be a mixed bag. Some pages loads are very snappy, others have a long lag. Are you using some sort of wordpress caching plug-in?

In theory, you should be able to find shared webhosting that doesn't suck, but that's not my experience. was very solid, but they won't run a PHP opcode cache on their shared hosting servers, so ~50% of every wordpress page view ends up being spent reading and parsing all the PHP code. Webfaction gave a lot more latitude for that sort of thing, but I found that their level of performance was pretty uneven. I finally went with a $20/month VPS from Linode. Technically, I'm sharing a server with ~40 other sites, but I've got a guaranteed amount of memory which is plenty to cache almost all my data (so I'm not dependent on disk performance and load on the parent server), I have a guaranteed share of CPU time if usage on multiple VPSs peak, and I get to use up to 50% of the total CPU capacity on the box if I have a peak when there are spare CPU cycles. Uptime has been great, and performance has been both excellent, and consistent.
posted by Good Brain at 3:06 PM on October 20, 2009

Response by poster: I normally serve about 2.5GB of data per week. PHP and JPEG files represent 18.7% and 15.7% of the traffic, respectively.
posted by sindark at 3:07 PM on October 20, 2009

Response by poster: "Are you using some sort of wordpress caching plug-in?"

WP Super Cache. The site works terribly without it.
posted by sindark at 3:07 PM on October 20, 2009

Response by poster: Actually, given how badly my broadband connection suffers when I try to web browse while using a VOIP phone, adding a web server to the mix is probably a terrible idea.
posted by sindark at 3:10 PM on October 20, 2009

Best answer: There are secondary drawbacks to running your own server, too. You have to keep all the Internet-facing software up to date so that nobody hacks your SSH server or webserver. You have to make sure the thing keeps running. You have to maintain the hardware. If you want mail (maybe you don't) then you have to deal with spam fighting. Why bother with all that?

If your shared hosting sucks, get some better shared hosting. I've been happy with Site5 for years, and lots of other people like NearlyFreeSpeech. There is good shared hosting out there. Or you can get the virtualized hosting, which gives you root access, but that costs more.

But, if you really still want to run your own server at home, why get OS X? The hardware costs a fortune. You can easily find a cheap commodity PC and put Linux on it for far cheaper and you will get something more flexible too. If you like the Mac Mini because it's small, you'd still do better with a cheap laptop with Linux on it. A cheap laptop would handle the load from a small site with power to spare.
posted by massysett at 4:09 PM on October 20, 2009

The hardware costs a fortune.

This is not really true, any longer, unless you build your own computer from spare parts. A Mac mini also uses less energy and takes up less space than a Wintel laptop and power supply.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:22 PM on October 20, 2009

We've been hosting mail and web services, including blogs, wikis, and so on, from Macs (currently a pair of Minis, which is way overkill) under our desk for more than ten years. It's plenty doable (short of bandwidth issues) but can be a bit of a pain to set up. My husband is our tech guy, and he recommends DIYMacServer if you're interested in going that route locally with a non-server Mac.

If you're considering colocation, there are plenty of places where you can get a Mini and colocation services. We considered doing this the last time we moved two years ago and did the research then, but ended up keeping up our own service. Google "mac mini colocation" and you'll get the names of a number of providers.

Good luck!
posted by immlass at 7:13 PM on October 20, 2009

Response by poster: Related article:

Apple Blurs the Server Line With Mac Mini Server
posted by sindark at 8:30 PM on October 20, 2009

We ordered one of those Mac minis this evening, which will supplement an Xserve G5 at a fraction of the cost. They're really great for SME.

It's worth saying here, especially for Googlers coming past, that OS X Server can be a real bloody nightmare at times. It's a pain that can pay off if you really need what it does (ie, you are running an all-Mac office), but if you don't know you need it, you don't want it. You'd be fine with standard OS X, and to be honest, for a straightforward webserver you don't even need that.

If you don't know what you're doing, there are places like Mac mini colo or the very cheap Mythic Beasts that will sell you a mac mini and hosting space too, and it can be nice having a Mac that you can pull up a desktop on and do Finder stuff with, especially nice if you're on a Mac at home.

But if you're happy with the command line and configuring your software, I'm pretty sure that a reasonably specced Slicehost is going to cover your needs well.
posted by fightorflight at 9:33 PM on October 20, 2009

Go to linode or somewhere and get a VPS (or more than one) sized accordingly. It'll be much eaiser and more reliable in the long run.
posted by TravellingDen at 11:04 PM on October 20, 2009

You'd be fine with standard OS X, and to be honest, for a straightforward webserver you don't even need that.

Yes. Practically, when I'm working on running web server stuff locally on my mini for development, the first step is always to switch to a command line, and from that point on the experience is identical to Linux.
posted by smackfu at 10:01 AM on October 21, 2009

Response by poster: One related question:

If I want my site to perform better, but don't really need the added bother of administering a virtual server, what would people recommend?

I am happy with other people taking care of Linux/Apache/MySQL/etc. I just want to be able to use WordPress and MediaWiki and have everything load quickly for me and my visitors. Is there a hosting company that does a good job of providing that?
posted by sindark at 11:50 AM on October 22, 2009

Response by poster: I am already using WP Super Cache with GZIP output.

That helps for pages that get loaded often, but not for people who go straight to a rarely visited page via Google.
posted by sindark at 7:29 AM on October 23, 2009

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