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Ask Slashdot: Uses For a Small Office Server? 260

Posted by timothy
from the networked-games-obvious-choice dept.
ragnvaldr writes "I'm the 'IT guy' for an office of about a dozen people. And when I say IT guy, I mean I'm the only one here who can use google well enough to figure out how to make things work. We have a 500GB Mac server with a Drobo with 6TB of storage attached. So far all this server does is back up data, and I want to make it a little more useful. We also have a Filemaker server on it, which I have yet to learn how to use at all, let alone efficiently. Any suggestions to make this machine a little more useful?"
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Ask Slashdot: Uses For a Small Office Server?

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  • by Mikkeles (698461) on Friday June 03, 2011 @07:35PM (#36334756)

    Porn server, of course!

    • Porn server, of course!

      Because nothing makes an office more productive than large quantities of porn.

      On the plus side, it makes evidence gathering easier to settle the sexual harassment lawsuits.

      • by Dahamma (304068)

        Porn server, of course!

        Because nothing makes an office more productive than large quantities of porn.

        Speak for yourself. My company used to encode porn for streaming. The more porn in the office, the more productive the office was!

    • by cshark (673578)

      At my office, we wouldn't need a porn server. Everyone's homepage gets randomly set to meatspin enough that nobody wants to see naked flesh. The president of the company has everyone's password for a reason.

      • Everyone's homepage gets randomly set to meatspin... The president of the company has everyone's password for a reason.

        So he can set their homepage to meatspin?

    • by mixmasta (36673)

      Mais oui ... an MP3 folder would be apropos as well.

    • by mixmasta (36673)

      Mais oui ... an MP3 folder would be highly apropos as well.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 03, 2011 @07:39PM (#36334780)
    ...you let a perceived need dictate a use, not the other way around.
    • yup. Something about a solution in search of a problem is coming to mind.
    • by Anubis IV (1279820) on Friday June 03, 2011 @08:31PM (#36335096)

      But when you're as inexperienced as this individual is, sometimes you have needs that you don't even recognize, and which you may be able to solve with the resources already available. Clearly he shouldn't be trying to make it something it isn't, but they may not realize that there are easy fixes out there to problems they have in the office and simply put up with at the moment.

    • by jamesh (87723)

      ...you let a perceived need dictate a use, not the other way around.

      That's crazy talk! Every business needs a server. First he needs to put some XML on it, then once he has the XML working he can install a cloud (everyone is talking about cloud so it must be good!). Then sit back and watch the money roll in!

  • by NEDHead (1651195) on Friday June 03, 2011 @07:39PM (#36334788)

    Doorstop?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 03, 2011 @07:42PM (#36334804)

    Seriously, data backups are crucial in every enterprise, even small ones. That's a *great* use for your server. Are you checking on your process by restoring files once per month? Once per quarter? I joined a bioscience center that had faithfully been making backups for half a year before I joined but five months of the backups had no data. So do check, please.

    I have more questions about your backup methods than I can easily list here. Still, there are other good uses for *every* server. They can all:

    1) Provide DHCP addresses
    2) Offer NTP to keep the clocks synchronized
    3) Provide comprehensive system logging (for all systems of concern)
    4) Store and/or offer common utilities like print services

    • by macs4all (973270)

      Seriously, data backups are crucial in every enterprise, even small ones. That's a *great* use for your server. Are you checking on your process by restoring files once per month? Once per quarter? I joined a bioscience center that had faithfully been making backups for half a year before I joined but five months of the backups had no data. So do check, please.

      I have more questions about your backup methods than I can easily list here. Still, there are other good uses for *every* server. They can all:

      1) Provide DHCP addresses 2) Offer NTP to keep the clocks synchronized 3) Provide comprehensive system logging (for all systems of concern) 4) Store and/or offer common utilities like print services

      Can things like 5 months of "no backups" happen with an rsync-based backup to external hard drives? (see my comment above regarding same). I'm honestly asking.

      If all the clients AND the server use NTP, then why does the SERVER have to dole out the correct time, too? I would assume that if they are using a Mac as a Server, they are probably an all-Mac shop (or nearly so). OS X offers NTP clock/calendar sync on every workstation (in fact, Apple, Inc. itself provides NTP services). I think that Windows 7 doe

      • by Bazman (4849)

        "Can things like 5 months of "no backups" happen with an rsync-based backup to external hard drives? (see my comment above regarding same). I'm honestly asking."

        Of course. Suppose the server gets rebooted, but there's an issue with the backup drive, and the server spits a warning and carries on without mounting it. Now the clients are dumping to server:/backups as usual, but oh dear, that's on the little 10G root file system and not the 6TB backup. Which soon fills up. And there's insufficient monitoring an

  • by tofu2go (727555) on Friday June 03, 2011 @07:49PM (#36334846)

    It sounds to me like you haven't identified a business need and are fishing for one. Wouldn't it be better to look at how the business operates and from there see if there is something that can be done more efficiently? If there is, then ask yourself how this server can be used to address that problem. A server can do a lot of things, but don't look at those things and try to force it on the business when the need doesn't necessarily exist. It may create more problems then it solves.

    If what you are really looking for is something to play with, then Filemaker sounds like a great place to start. It could be your introduction to databases. Once you understand the power of databases, you may find areas of the business that might benefit from a database. But until you have the knowledge, you aren't in a position to implement and support one. Just remember, if you're going to play with something, don't do it on a production server. Backups are a real business need. Even if that is the only thing the box is used for, it is a perfectly good reason for its existence.

    • Filemaker sounds like a great place to start. It could be your introduction to databases.

      Dear god, just tell him to commit suicide!

      Once you understand the power of databases

      Not using filemaker you won't!

      Set up a webserver on your personal machine and start playing with some utilities that you think might be useful in your environment. When you've got more than 2 things you'd like to see in use at your office, pitch it to your boss and get his approval. Then create a webserver on the apple server and start building your new company intranet.

      Oh, and stay as far away from filemaker as you possibly can. In my last job I was the go-to fi

      • by jscotta44 (881299)

        Just say you are incompetent in FMP databases and be done with it. PHP/MySQL if fine. However, the guy obviously has other duties and it not an actual full time IT guy. He just wants to be able to do more with the tools he has. He is not asking if he can pick up another career as a SQL expert. FMP can do an awful lot for a businessif they have a business that can benefit from a custom database or one of the pre-built solutions. It will never replace MySQL or Oracle, but it is probably fine for a 12-person o

        • The 80's called, and they want their database back.

          Seriously, what kind of performance can you get out of FMP? NONE!

          The databases I was working with were written by a FMP "expert". The one I remember best was online for 3 hours before it crashed. The 13,000 users accessing it simultaneously probably didn't help. I spent 6 hours rewriting in PHP/MySQL. It didn't even hiccup.

          If not having any love for FMP makes me incompetent, I'm ok with that. FMP is a piece of shit app anyway. The only thing worse is

          • by macs4all (973270)

            The 80's called, and they want their database back.

            Seriously, what kind of performance can you get out of FMP? NONE!

            The databases I was working with were written by a FMP "expert". The one I remember best was online for 3 hours before it crashed. The 13,000 users accessing it simultaneously probably didn't help. I spent 6 hours rewriting in PHP/MySQL. It didn't even hiccup.

            If not having any love for FMP makes me incompetent, I'm ok with that. FMP is a piece of shit app anyway. The only thing worse is Access.

            First, You do realize that Access and FMP were one and the same at one time. FileMaker grew up; Access didn't.

            13,000 users does sound like a bit much for FileMaker, though, since Filemaker 11 Server Advanced has only been tested with 250 simultaneous users [filemaker.com]. So, I call Shenanigans, or somebody should have been FIRED for specing something that far beyond its guaranteed limits. Or you are a fucking liar. I tend to think the latter, because I can't find anything to even REMOTELY suggest that capability in MyS

      • by macs4all (973270)

        Filemaker sounds like a great place to start. It could be your introduction to databases.

        Dear god, just tell him to commit suicide!

        Once you understand the power of databases

        Not using filemaker you won't!

        Set up a webserver on your personal machine and start playing with some utilities that you think might be useful in your environment. When you've got more than 2 things you'd like to see in use at your office, pitch it to your boss and get his approval. Then create a webserver on the apple server and start building your new company intranet.

        Oh, and stay as far away from filemaker as you possibly can. In my last job I was the go-to filemaker guy (I didn't build the FM databases, I just cleaned up the mess). My approach was to wait until a filemaker database crashed, and rebuild it correctly in PHP/MySQL.

        You DO realize, of course (but it sounds like you don't) that you can design a BAD database application in ANYTHING.

        FileMaker is one spectacular feat of database engineering, and actually quite unique in many, many areas. It's just a shame that your vision is too narrow to realize that.

        It is absolutely amazing to me the number of people on slashdot that can't see past their small little mindset, and must shoehorn every single thing into that narrow world.

        Would I try to run American Airlines' reservati

  • Use and study it as much as you can: knowledge pays for itself and OSX Server is not the same thing as a raw linux/bsd box. (And while you're at it: enjoy every single pixel of their Apache and Mailman admin interface OSX style, you'll miss 'em in real life!)
  • Wrong way around (Score:5, Informative)

    by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Friday June 03, 2011 @07:53PM (#36334882) Homepage

    It's generally better to start a project from "I want to accomplish [x], so what do I need?" rather than "I have [x], so what can I accomplish with it?" The first approach will be much more focused and more likely to succeed.

    Second thing to keep in mind: you don't want to experiment on a production server. I don't care if the "production server" is only a backup server-- if you don't want to endanger your backups, then it's still a production server. This means you shouldn't do anything with this server until you've planned what you want to install on it, and you've already set up a test implementation and you know what you're doing.

    Third thing to keep in mind: in current IT practices, it's often not worth it for a small company to do things for themselves unless they need to. You probably need a local file server and therefore also a backup scheme. Aside from that, things like web hosting, email, and chat are usually better handled by a big company that can afford a datacenter. If you do try to do email internally, make sure you back it up and have a plan for outages and disaster recovery.

    All that aside, you could start with basic services: directory services, file sharing, email, etc. Filemaker has its uses, but let the use determine the tool. Don't go around pounding on everything just because you've found yourself a hammer. Define the job, and then pick the best tool for the job.

    • by thegarbz (1787294)

      It's generally better to start a project from "I want to accomplish [x], so what do I need?" rather than "I have [x], so what can I accomplish with it?"

      The problem is if you don't know what is possible how could you know if there are efficiencies to be gained from it? Not everything in IT is an "expense" that needs a business case for justification. Some things are features we already have and we don't know that we could potentially improve our way of life with it.

      Example:
      At our work we already have several Toughbooks. We already have WiFi coverage over the plant. We already have an database of all assets. The inspection team had a wonderful set of procedu

      • by jscotta44 (881299)

        Amen for common sense! Bot for your own business place and for your position on the original poster's question. You are the kind of guy I like to have around me in business.

    • It's generally better to start a project from "I want to accomplish [x], so what do I need?" rather than "I have [x], so what can I accomplish with it?" The first approach will be much more focused and more likely to succeed.

      While generally this is true, professionals tend to forget that at the very beginning plain ignorance (not stupidity... ignorance means one simply does not know) is the main problem. The question is "I don't know what I can accomplish or what I'm supposed to do. How do I know what's reasonable, what's too expensive, what might be accomplished?" If you're used to Algebra, how do you know when you need Trig or Calculus? It's obvious to those who use it a lot (e.g., a given physics problem can be many time

    • by ignavus (213578) on Friday June 03, 2011 @10:58PM (#36335544)

      It's generally better to start a project from "I want to accomplish [x], so what do I need?" rather than "I have [x], so what can I accomplish with it?" The first approach will be much more focused and more likely to succeed.

      Rubbish. That is waterfall methodology all over.

      Sometimes you don't know what you want to accomplish until you know what is possible. The problem with technology is that many people don't ask for what they want because it has never occurred to them that it is possible. They don't even know what they want because they cannot articulate a need that they have no words or concepts for.

      Looking at what is possible can help someone to clarify their real needs and desires. That is what this guy wants. A few hints about what is possible, about what other people are doing, not a sanctimonious lecture about the need to define your goals at the start of a project.

  • by cold fjord (826450) on Friday June 03, 2011 @07:54PM (#36334894)

    Make sure it is reliable before you get people to rely on it. Make sure both the computer and storage are on UPS and have good surge protection. Ideally you want the server to shutdown before it loses power. Also, make sure you have some sort of backup scheme in place. Tape backup, DVD, whatever, just make sure you can backup the data and restore. It's a really good idea to test your backups from time to time to make sure they can be read. Ideally you will also save your backups either off-site, or at least in a fire safe. Also, check that the server area doesn't get too hot as that can cause problems as well. Make sure you apply current OS patches. Ideally you will also have anti-virus protection. If the office has access to the internet, make sure you have at least a cheap hardware firewall, or better if you can, to protect everyone. Consider physical security. Do you lock the room with the server? Use cables to secure it? Document things in case you need to rebuild it.

    Consider information security: does everyone get access to everything?

    Besides that, file servers tend to be very handy, even for small offices. Put any sort of shared resources you use on the file server instead of on individual PCs. Things like: document templates, form letters, contact lists, etc.

    Beyond that, it really depends on your business doesn't it? I assume you bought Filemaker for a reason. Information sharing must be important somehow. You can use Filemaker as the heart of a lot of business applications. Would an internal web server be useful? Internal mail server? List server?

    One more thing, teach people how things are intended to be used.

    Help them out - make sure their PCs are properly patched, have anti-virus, and ideally aren't running as administrator.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    if your company is more than ten people, you should try a wiki [wikipedia.org] of course.

    .~.

  • by thesandtiger (819476) on Friday June 03, 2011 @08:02PM (#36334952)

    Set up a document versioning system to track changes.

    • by scrib (1277042)

      Seconded. Version control of some stripe is a fantastic (and oft overlooked) thing for most organisations.

      Which flavor of version control is left as an exercise to the OP. The "right one" for the office depends a great deal on what is produced, what they can budget, and what the users will tolerate. It's funny, sometimes users don't appreciate the extra steps it takes to check out/check in a file, until someone changes it under them.

  • 6Tb of storage is excellent for a file server. However, unless you are bringing files offsite and running occasional restore tests, then it's not really a good setup as a backup. I'm not sure of the Drobo's capabilities, or how the drives are configured within it, but you might consider taking a couple of them offline and cycling through them like tapes; bringing the spare drives offsite.
  • Then use this server as a test environment for your learning purposes and for demo applications. You could use this server to help discover what you might or probably don't need.
  • by david.emery (127135) on Friday June 03, 2011 @08:24PM (#36335060)

    I'm presuming this machine is for internal use only. If you need to host external services, such as a website, pay $1k for another Mini Server and use that exclusively for external facing services.

    That being said, you could activate the Wiki function and produce a little company Intranet where people could post and update information. That's quite easy to do once you've enabled the WebServer (using Server Admin).

    It's also easy to set up LDAP server, which will at a minimum simplify your account management. You could use Mobile accounts on each workstation, so that the workstation's data is local but is automatically both backed up to the server -and made available- if the user has to log onto or borrow another machine.

    You could configure VPN for safe remote access (but that's a bit tricky.)

    Right now the best book on OS X Server Admin is Daniel Eran Dilger's book. (http://www.amazon.com/Snow-Leopard-Server-Developer-Reference/dp/0470521317)

    My experience as a SOHO user/administrator of Server going back to Tiger Server is that each version has gotten easier to use, but unless the out-of-the-box configuration is -exactly what you need-, it's worth paying a couple $100s to get an expert to fully configure the server initial setup, particularly the DNS. If the DNS isn't set up perfectly, a lot of stuff breaks in OS X Server. (I've used Mid Atlantic Consulting here in the DC area.)

    Finally, you need to have an additional backup strategy that involves off-site/off-machine backups. Consider the recent tornadoes all over the US! I have a pair of USB drives and my plan is to monthly back up to one and swap it for the other stored at an offsite location (friend's house.) (Disclosure: I'm about 6 months behind doing that, one of the drives in an external exclosure died and I haven't gotten around to replacing it.)

  • I think the most important thing you can do for your small company is to research and implement an off-site backup solution. Find one strikes the right balance of cost versus privacy/security for the business sector that you're in. So if you're using the Mac as a central place to back up the employees individual computers, or if you've made it the place where everyone saves all their files, that's a great first step. But it needs to be augmented with off-site backup.

    I have seen too many examples of sma

  • I run the server for a small company as well, and since we do some Apache/MySQL stuff on it anyway, there's a lot of lightweight, mostly turn-key Apache/MySQL stuff I've set up opportunistically, some of which have turned out to be useful to the whole organization, and some of which have just turned out to be useful for me and the developers. It's a bit simpler to set up on a Linux server where a lot of this stuff is prepackaged for you, but Macports is rather straightforward, and installing PHP apps is onl

    • there's a lot of lightweight, mostly turn-key Apache/MySQL stuff I've set up opportunistically, ... [snip] ... PHP apps ...

      In my experience, Apache, MySQL and PHP are anything but lightweight.

      Not flaimbaiting, just wanted to point it out. I've been a web developer for over 10 years and the above setup is all my preference (well, LAMP, not MAMP - *NIX is *NIX though)

  • "All it does is back up data."

    If you fuck uppa da backups then you gotta backa da fuck up and finda youself a new job. Capisce?

  • Be well aware of what you don't know. There are good comments about security and reliability already. Outsource things such e-mail and web services to a reliable, willing to be audited vendor. Ensure DR plan and testing is included.

    Now the big point. You have greater than 6 TB of storage. Is there a backup and recovery plan in place? RAID is not equal to backup. Is this information important to the business or is someone unwilling to learn "delete" options? Does the backup plan include off site m

  • by Tibor the Hun (143056) on Friday June 03, 2011 @09:43PM (#36335316)

    Firstly, (and most importantly) read the documentation: http://www.apple.com/server/macosx/resources/documentation.html [apple.com]

    Secondly, you can set up a wiki server pretty easily. It is extremely useful for self-help and internal process documentation. Easy to add videos, screenshots and keep the documentation up to date.

    Thirdly, if you don't have an office collaboration server, you can also run your own Jabber server.

    Both Wiki and Jabber services have their own documentation at the aforementioned link.

  • An organization of 12 people is not going to need much in the way of centralized "IT" services, so keep it simple. You don't want to create more work than necessary and your company likely wants to keep the overhead of IT low at this stage. Back up their laptops/workstations to the server and provide core services like file shares, print shares, DHCP, and authentication. Use cloud services to provide things like Exchange, SharePoint, and what not if you need them. Then just make sure you are backing up
  • That machine could be adding to the company's bottom line instead of just being a depreciating asset.

  • It's a shame that you have that much computer going to waste.
    What about using as a place to put all the illegal mp3's and videos you get from torrents?

  • If you have a Mac Mini with OSX Server, you really should be running it as such. There is a great write up regarding the setup for a complete noob here http://www.wazmac.com/servers_network/fileservers/osxserver_setup/osxserver106_setup.htm [wazmac.com]

  • http://www.fengoffice.com/web/community/why-is-open-source.php [fengoffice.com]
    was in Linux Journal this month.
    Its like your own Google Docs.

  • We have no idea what you are doing and what the office is doing. If no central database or file access is required, then a server for backup seems fine to me.

  • by synthesizerpatel (1210598) on Saturday June 04, 2011 @02:35AM (#36336006)
    • DNS server - If your ISP does NXDOMAIN redirection this is one way to avoid it, also makes your internet connection seem faster if the lookups are cached.
    • LDAP server - Don't run Apple's OpenLDAP, it's crashy, if you can muster the time to set up your own - centralized authentication for desktops and file service.
    • Internal Wiki - Doesn't take a lot of juice to run, provides good centralized documentation (even if that documentation is just how the network is setup)
    • Squid Proxy - Another internet-speedup by caching content users will get peppier response time from their browsers

    Your mac mini has a lot of juice for a tiny little box, and cycles you don't use disappear into the ether. May as well be using it as much as you can.

  • by jimicus (737525) on Saturday June 04, 2011 @07:18AM (#36336474)

    And I say this as an IT guy myself.

    You can put together all the fancy features you like. I don't care what they are, what is important is what the business can benefit from.

    So you need to do two things:

    1. Don't speak to us. Speak to the people in your company who are driving the business.

    2. Stop thinking in terms of "clever things I can do with the server" and start thinking in terms of "things I can do that offer a tangible benefit to the business". 99 times out of 100, those things will fall into one of four categories:

    a. Bring money in - either directly or indirectly.
    b. Save money.
    c. Reduce risk.
    d. Make life easier for someone else in the business.

    B and C are relatively easy. A is seldom found in IT; D often requires people to change the way they work. Getting people to change the way they work is generally very difficult, so unless the benefit is so absolutely vast that even the most deluded, stuck-in-the-mud person would see huge benefits to it before you've even finished explaining your idea, you may well be wasting your time. If you have an idea that offers only small benefits but requires significant changes to how people work, forget it.

Many people are unenthusiastic about their work.

Working...