Servers

New Mac Mini Misses the Mark for Small Business

When it redesigned the new Mac Mini, released this week, Apple had an excellent opportunity to show it is serious about small business. Alas, Apple did what it generally does for small (and large) business: Missed the opportunity.

This is sad, because Mac OS X Leopard Server is easy to setup, powerful, and does pretty much everything you would want a server for a small business to do. It includes an iCal server, wiki server, podcast producer, supports client backups, and provides file and print services. It is a sweet piece of software and many more companies should be using it.

Apple sells an unlimited user license for $999 and a 10-user license for $499. I actually paid for a 10-user license for my home-based business. The pricing seemed fair and the operating system was certainly easy to install on my Mac Mini. Client installation was easy, too.

What I didn't realize, and Apple doesn't make as clear as it might, is that to actually use the Leopard Server you need hardware that includes two network cards, one facing your internal network and the other visible from the Internet. Installed that way, which is to say properly, Leopard Server is a joy to behold, so long as you do not require tight integration with Microsoft's wide range of enterprise technologies.

Now, back to what I did not realize: There is no way to add a second network adapter to a Mac mini. Apple does not offer one, nor do any third parties. I called tech support to inquire about my options and decided that running Leopard Server with only one network card was not a very good idea. I abandoned the project.

Alternatively, I could have bought a Mac Pro desktop machine. The new model, released this week, costs $2,499 and up, but includes two built-in Ethernet ports. I could not justify spending such an incredible amount of money for a server that does not need to be terribly powerful.

There are many small businesses--and even homes--where a Mac Mini ($599 and up) would make an excellent server. It would not be hard for Apple to include a second network interface on the machine, perhaps charging extra to make it functional.

Alternatively, maybe Apple could offer some sort of an external Ethernet card for the Mini. While your wired internal Apple network can run at gigabit speeds and needs the built-in adapter, a much slower Ethernet interface would work just fine connected to the Internet.

I think it is nothing short of tragic that Apple does not have better offerings for the businesses that could really benefit from its technology. Microsoft's focus seems to be split between consumers and enterprise-sized installations. That leaves small and medium-sized businesses less well tended by Redmond, providing an opening Apple could exploit if it wanted to.

It is hard to say Steve Jobs has many serious failings as the one who makes all things possible in Cupertino, but a little more focus on business customers would be most welcome, not to mention profitable for Apple.

Update:

Thank you to everyone who has written to tell me about third-party USB-to-Ethernet adapters (which Apple previously told me aren't supported) and the new Apple Ethernet adapter for the MacBook Air (which doesn't seem to have been tested on a Mac mini running the server OS).

It appears the Airport Extreme dual-band technology in the Mac mini released this week will, in some installations, meet the need for a second Ethernet connection. But, until this update it wasn't really suitable.

I plan to do a follow-up post or even a longer piece talking about how the newest Mac mini can be used as a small business server--even if Apple doesn't market it for that purpose.

Finally, the Mac mini can run the server OS with a single network interface. Not that you'd want to, but some felt that wasn't made clear in the blog item.

Thanks for all the comments.

David Coursey uses Macs daily in his small business, but wishes Apple would make its products more business-friendly. Contact him via his Web site.

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