Why run a home server? 

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California Sierra at sunset

I’m often asked why I go through the trouble of setting up and maintaining a home server, when I could buy a NAS that solves most people’s needs out of the box?

Well, for a bunch of reasons, one being that I enjoy nerding in server stuff and another that I love the Mac.

Throughout the years, my server needs have revolved around media streaming and backup. Before the Apple TV days (remember the iTV project?), a Mac was required to stream your content to a TV, and I’ve always preferred using a dedicated Mac over a laptop.

I’ve had a macOS (Mac OS) server running at home since around 2004 when I bought a Power Mac G4 Cube off eBay, followed by a first Intel-based Mac Mini mid-2007.

, I have a late-2014 Mac Mini running macOS Sierra hooked up to my TV with a bunch of hard drives attached.

It serves essentially as a backup and media server. I run Plex and iTunes on it. Although I don’t stream from iTunes anymore, it automatically downloads my purchases for backup. I prefer the Apple TV app (on my Apple TV – terrible naming) to stream movies or rentals.

macOS Launcher grid of icons
Mac Mini Launcher

I run Mac DVDRipperPro, TunesKit MV4 Converter and HandBrake to backup and convert the content of my DVDs and digital purchases.

As well as hosting all our music, films, TV shows and home videos (in .dv format), it also stores original copies of our iCloud Photo libraries, my Lightroom master files and all the content of my Dropbox account (just in case).

Most of it is backed up to Backblaze and copies of the photos are sent to Google Photos. It also runs a Time Machine backup server for our local Macs and rsyncs locally a copy several of the websites I maintain. The internal drive is cloned weekly with SuperDuper for rapid recovery.

Beyond media steaming and backup, it’s also handy to have a computer I can ssh or VPN into when I’m on the road.

It is still plenty fast enough for file server tasks and is super reliable. I’ve been running Mac Minis in a professional environment since 2010, and they have never failed me – Em… knock on wood.

California Sierra at sunset
macos 10.12 (Sierra) Wallpaper

I’ve stuck to macOS 10.12 (Sierra) for software compatibility reasons and because I didn’t require any of the new features from a server standpoint. A day will probably come when Plex/iCloud won’t support this OS version anymore, and I’ll have to (re)consider upgrading my setup.

I briefly tried to replace my server with a Synology DS918+ last , but it didn’t serve all my needs and didn’t fit properly in my backup strategy.

It was a close call, as it offers a Plex, Time Machine and DropBox client, it can be configured with plenty of disk space organised in a RAID array. You can ssh in it, setup a VPN, run rsync, but you can’t rip a DVD, or convert video formats easily. Disk management isn’t as strait forward as on a Mac. I can unplug any of my server external drives and plug them in to another Mac on the fly. No iCloud access either.

That said, it runs really quiet, and doesn’t take up much space either. I’m not a big fan of its platic outer casing and drive drawers either (the inner case is metal). It looks good, but feels a bit fragile.

When things break, I might revisit the NAS situation, but more likely be on the market for a refurbished 2018 Mac Mini that should keep me happy for another decade.

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