Best storage practices for OS X Server and Time Machine

That's the question posed to me in this week's Mac Help. Now, I'll extol the virtues of the Mac mini as a home and small business server until my dying day. Sometimes I think I'm the only one, then a question comes in that reminds me I'm not. This one focuses on storage for OS X Server, Time Machine and more.

R.S. writes:

"I am in the process of restructuring my home network. I currently use a Mac Mini as my media server and have a Thunderbolt connected HD where all that media is stored and shared across the network. I would like to use Time Machine to backup my Mac Mini, my MacBook Pro, and my Mac Pro through the server app. Would and can I use either a NAS on my network or a Thunderbolt or USB connected drive on the Mac Mini to have Time Machine backup all these devices to the one drive? I wasn't sure if I had to have a separate drive to backup each device?"

R.S. has a setup like mine: The Mac mini is the household hub. It's already storing and streaming media content like movies, TV shows and music to other devices on the home Wi-Fi network. This saves me from having to burden my other Macs, including SSD-based Macs with more limited storage capacity, by piling on hundreds of gigabytes of media that I'm not in a hurry to get rid of, but don't need access to all the time.

The interesting wrinkle here is that R.S. is running OS X Server. It's a $19.99 download from the Mac App Store. Using OS X Server, you can back up every Mac on your network too. If you have the storage for backing up the whole network already hanging off the Mac mini server, then you can certain use it.

My Mac mini is set up with a CalDigit T4 Thunderbolt 2 RAID (opens in new tab). I back up everything in the house to it as a Time Machine server and I use it for media storage and streaming too.

Thunderbolt is daisy-chainable; if you've already got a Thunderbolt drive you've got your media stored on, I'd recommend using an additional device to do the Time Machine backups.

As far as Network Attached Storage (NAS) is concerned, it adds another layer of network complexity that makes me uneasy. I prefer to keep my topology as simple and as fast as possible. Thunderbolt 2 RAID meets that criteria: It's fast and it has redundancy; if a drive fails my data is safe.

Buffalo's Terastation 3400 (opens in new tab) may fit the bill, though: It sports built-in support for Time Machine.

Most of us will get away just fine with a Time Capsule, Apple's Wi-Fi router with built-in network storage, presuming we want to spend the $299 or $399, depending on capacity. But if your interest is tweaked and you'd like to see what OS X Server can do, you can download it to any Mac running Yosemite.

Peter Cohen
  • I share the same setup with a Mac Mini as a media hub/server, and have ran into a rather interesting problem when daisy-chaining 2 Thunderbolt drives for backup and redundant backup. If I leave the 2 T/B hard drives connected all the time, at some point the drive at the end of the daisy-chain does not receive enough power (I guess the Mac Mini trying to go green on me), and then that hard drive is dropped without proper ejection. The second drive happened to be a 2-disc RAID array and over the course of a year, 2 drives died. After that experience I now only leave the first drive connected 100% of the time (and also bought a UPS).
    I now only plug the second drive on weekends to do a secondary backup. My Mac mini is the older model with only 1 thunderbolt port, but I have no need to upgrade to a newer one just for the 2nd port. Perhaps when i dies...
  • Peter, can you buy that CalDigit T4 with no drives in it, and can it do a RAID 10?
  • Hmmm nice solution, but how do you protect your data against fire and thieves? No external backup solution (tapes(!!!) or externe drive) that can be stored at the bank monthly (at least).... Just a thought
  • Emma Sent from the iMore App
  • Emma Sent from the iMore App
  • Other than the reader running OSXS, there's not much here talking about "best practices", or even the storage options available. Promise, Drobo, La Cie, and many others have a wide variety of options available in terms of storage hardware and "best practices" for time machine can be interesting, even at the home user level.