Server Week: What is OSX Server and Why Would a Home User Need One ?

*By guestblogger Todd Oldhoff *

As someone who teaches about using OS X Server I get a lot of questions from home users about why they would even need a server in the first place. Most people perceive that servers are for big business operations. They are huge machines that sit in a dedicated room and are monitored by IT professionals who make sure everything is running smoothly and fix things when they break down. The whole process seems overwhelming and most feel they lack the expertise and spare room to even consider running a server. So why would a home user need to run it in the first place?

I want to start by saying this is a great question to ask and one that we should ask not only as it relates to servers but all of the software we use. If you don’t have a real need for an application you should just avoid it as it will only clutter up your hard drive and cost you money to purchase. Also, if at the end of this post you still don’t see the need for running a server than don’t do it. This article is designed to help you see what a server could do for you so you can truly determine whether the features fit any of your needs. So let’s get started with why you might want to run a server by looking at the hardware requirements.

One of the myths most people have about servers is they are huge machines that need dedicated rooms to run. The beauty of our current place in history is that servers can be run on very small hardware that won’t take up more than the size of a shoe box on your shelf depending on your needs. You can run OS X Server on a Mac Mini and have plenty of power for your home environment. In fact I would recommend using a Mini for home use because of the power benefits and it’s small size. I would however recommend getting at least 8GB of RAM and, if you can swing it, 16GB. With that you should be in great shape to run OS X Server. But server can also run on any Mac you have in the house so don’t feel like you have to purchase a new Mac to run server (unless of course your Mac is too old to run Mavericks). As long as you plan on leaving your server on and not move it around, you could even use a laptop.

Now that we have the hardware issue out of the way, let’s look at some of the benefits of running a server in a home environment. Each of these things should give you a good idea if Server is for you:

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 Wireless Time Machine Back Ups

If you don’t happen to have a Time Capsule or would rather have your storage space outside your router, you are out of luck when it comes to wireless Time Machine backups. Yes you could do some things to try to get it to work with an Airport Extreme Base Station with an attached drive but things could get corrupted and its not supported by Apple. With OS X Server you can designate any drive connected to your Mac Server to serve as a back up disk for Time Machine and the best part is that it is supported by Apple.

 Your Own VPN Service

With most of us spending a lot of time on unsecured public networks, fear of data being stolen over the air is a real concern. VPN creates an encrypted connection to the internet and protects what is sent and received over the air. OS X Server has a built in VPN service that you can use on all of your devices to make your remote web access secure.

Network Accounts

With most of us having multiple computers at home with multiple users wanting to access their stuff on those computers having the ability for any user to log into any computer on your network to access their files and desktop is a much needed service. With OS X Server you can create your own network accounts and host your user’s home folders on the server so they can access their own desktop and files on any Mac in the house. This really saves arguments over who gets what computer in the house. If you have kids you know what I mean!

 File Server

One of the first things most people think about when it comes to a server is gaining access to files when they are away from their main Mac and outside their network. With a server, you can designate any folders or drives as accessible outside your network and set who can access what files and folders.

 Manage Multiple Devices

Most homes have become mini corporate environments with multiple Macs and iOS devices. Managing all of those devices can be tedious and difficult to set up and maintain. With OS X Server you can manage all of your Macs and iOS Devices from a simple web interface and push changes over the air to your devices as groups or individual device profiles making managing devices a lot easier.

 Personal iCloud Service

For some people the idea of having all of their personal information online in the cloud somewhere makes them uneasy. What happens if a security breach happens with the service you are using? Instead of having those things on a hosted service, they may want to manage their own calendar, contact, iMessage and Mail Server. For those with kids this is a great way to help them get their feet wet in some of these services while you control what they can can’t see or do. Built into OS X Server are services to that allow you to manage these things and then sync your settings to all of your Apple devices.

 Personal Web Server

Built into OS X Server is a web server complete with a built in Wiki website that you can customize. You can also host your own websites with OS X Server though there are some challenges for home users depending on your ISP service and how they feel about home users hosting websites. But even with that limitation you could host an in-house only website that your family uses on your home network only to share things. Another great way to get the kids used to using a website and publishing to it in a safe environment.

 As you can see there are a lot of different uses for OS X Server for home users. If you saw anything in there that you could take advantage of, then OS X Server is for you. You don’t have to use every service to run server but can pick and choose what works best for you. For those of you that like step by step instructions on how to set all of this up, I have a Youtube Channel where I do just that. You can check out more information on my website or on my Youtube Channel. If you choose to get started and get stuck along the way feel free to send me an email or leave a comment.

 About Todd.

Todd Olthoff is a Mac enthusiast who loves to pass on what he has learned to others. He regularly produces screencast tutorials on his website and on his Youtube Channel. He is also a regular contributing screencaster for ScreenCastsOnline and for MacStadium a Mac colocation company.

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