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I really hope this question doesn't come across as trolling or asking for buying advice. It's not intended.

I've just started working for a small ad agency (40 employees). I actually quit being a system administrator a few years ago (too stressful!), but the company we're currently outsourcing our IT stuff to is doing such a bad job that I've felt compelled to get involved and do what I can to improve things.

At the moment, all the company's data is stored on an 8TB external firewire drive attached to a Mac Mini running OS X Server 10.6, which provides filesharing (using AFP) for the whole company. There is a single backup drive, which is actually a caddy containing two 3TB hard drives arranged in RAID 0 (arrggghhhh!), which someone brings in as and when and copies over all the data using Carbon Copy Cloner. That's the entirety of the infrastructure, and the whole backup and restore strategy. I've been having sleepless nights.

I've just started augmenting the backup process with FreeBSD, ZFS, sparse bundles and snapshot sends to get everything offsite. I think this is a workable behind the scenes solution, but for people's day to day use I'm struggling.

Given the quantity and importance of the data, I think we should really be looking towards enterprise level storage solutions, high availability and so on, but the whole company is all Mac all the time, and I cannot find equipment that will do what we need. No more Xserve; no rack storage; no large scale storage at all apart from that Pegasus R6 that doesn't seem all that great; the Mac Pro has fibre channel, but it's not a real server and it's ludicrously expensive; Xsan looks like it's on the way out; things like heartbeatd and failoverd have apparently been removed from Lion Server; the new Mac Mini only has thunderbolt which severely limits our choices; the list goes on and on. I'm really, really not trying to troll here. I love Macs, but I just genuinely don't know where I'm supposed to look for server stuff.

I have considered Linux or FreeBSD and netatalk for serving files with all the server-y goodness those OSes bring, but some the things I've read make me wonder if it's really the way to go. Also, in my own (admittedly quite cursory) experiments with it, I've struggled to get decent transfer speeds. I guess there's also the possibility of switching everyone off AFP and making them use SMB or NFS, but I understand that this can cause big problems with resource forks and file locks.

I figure there must be plenty of all Mac companies out there. If you're the sysadmin at one, what do you use? Any suggestions very gratefully received.

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3 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Good question. There are a few good solutions available to you. I tend not to trust Apple's plan for enterprise or large-scale deployments following the abandonment of the Xserve and Xraid. Other folks in your position include media-creation professionals, video and audio production and education.

You're going down the right path in looking for supportable and more standard technologies. Think about it like this: Nowadays, you have storage solutions that can provide block and file access. Apple is lacking in this area, yet, their products are being adopted by an increasing number of end-users. There's a gap.

I actually use ZFS-based solutions (NexentaStor) to provide centralized storage to Mac (iSCI), Linux (iSCSI, NFS), Windows (iSCSI, CIFS) and VMWare environments (iSCSI, FC, NFS). This is what I do for professional and personal installations. For example, my Time Machine drive is accessed via the iSCSI initiator on my MacBook Pro, to a ZFS volume on a local server, then replicated to another ZFS filer in a co-location facility.

For the scale of system you need and the use-case, I see two main options...

  • Use a Mac server as a front-end/management system using iSCSI or Fibre to leverage block storage provided by a real storage system. I recommend NexentaStor, but that could just as easily be any other ZFS implementation or entry-to-midlevel enterprise storage.

  • Some ZFS appliance vendors offer native AFP support. The BrickStor devices from Racktop Systems have this. So, with a native solution, your users could bypass the head server and work directly from this storage. Add the benefits of SSD tiering/acceleration available to ZFS filesystems, and you may gain a good performance boost for users working with files over the network.

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Thanks very much - this is super helpful. The iSCSI stuff in particular sounds very promising and has given me plenty to think about. –  mered99 Sep 8 '12 at 23:57
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We've got part of our infrastructure on a mac xserve platform attatched to an ActiveRAID box, and I'm concerned about where things are going in that space too. Anyway, moving on:

Ewwhite has addressed everything I could possibly hope to say about storage but I did want to add one thing regarding backups?

Have you considered cloud-based backup? There are a few providers out there which could work as a solution - both "full service" online backup services (e.g. crashplan) and countless "cloud storage" vendors which you could roll your own backup routine for. I'd personally go for a "full service backup provider" myself, but either way I think these kinds of backup routes are a lot more viable now than they were even a relatively short time ago.

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I would actually love to use cloud-based backup, but the amount of data pushes the cost way beyond what I've got to spend. I've heard really good things about crashplan too, but it's not available where I am (UK). –  mered99 Sep 9 '12 at 0:02
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I am also doing some IT work for clients. We switch the servers to run open indiana with ifs data pools. We got the supported commercial netatalk version which works even better than a mac osx server. the only thing missing atm is the spotlight searching which they are working on. Netatalk Spotlight Tech Preview

I am so happy with openindiana/zfs i can strongly recommend it.

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