Musings on IT, data management, whitewater rafting, and backpacking

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mac mini in a data center

Apple dropped the Xserve, pushing the Mac Pro and Mac mini as server alternatives. We need to run many Mac-based applications in our data center, and we've chosen Mac minis.

How do you rack mount a Mac mini? How do you provide IEC C14 or 208V power to a Mac mini?  How do you add an Ethernet management port to a Mac mini? How do you control a Mac mini through a KVM switch?

Old and New Mac mini important differences

Old Mac minis (original to mid-2010) are 6.5 x 6.5 x 2 inches with an external power supply.

New Mac minis (mid-2010 and newer) are 7.7 x 7.7 x 1.4 inches with an internal power supply.

Rack Mount Kits

State-of-the art data centers need to control airflow through cabinets and equipment. Strapping a Mac mini to a generic shelf doesn't cut it. Cooling air enters underneath, and exits through vents in the back.

MK1 Manufacturing makes a variety of rack mount kits, for both old and new Mac minis. We have several of these, for both old and new Mac minis. No problems.

Sonnet Technologies makes one kit, for the new Mac mini only.

Power Cords

Mac minis are sold in the USA with NEMA 1-15P or 5-15P power cords which support 120V power only. Some data centers require IEC C14 power cords, or 208V power, or both.

The old Mac mini needs an IEC C5 to C14 power cord.

The new Mac mini needs an IEC C7 to C14 power cord.

Mac minis draw up to 110 watts, so 2.5 amp cords should work.

Stayonline has the correct power cords in several lengths and gages, and adapters if you want to use standard power cords. We haven't tried these yet.

These power cords might be available from other sources, but I couldn't find them easily.

Ethernet Management Port

You can remote control a Mac mini over the network using iChatApple Remote DesktopVNC, or other applications. Some data centers require a second Ethernet connection for remote monitoring and management. Mac mini comes with only one Ethernet port.

Apple's USB Ethernet Adapter works great on a Mac mini to add a second Ethernet port. The Adapter supports up to 100BaseT; Mac mini has Gigabit Ethernet built-in (except the original 2005 model), so choose which network port needs more bandwidth. You can find USB Ethernet adapters from other sources, but you might have trouble with Mac support.

KVM Switch

Sometimes you need access to the console. In many data centers, you do that through a  KVM switch.

Newer KVM switches support USB keyboard and mouse ports. Mac minis use USB for Keyboard and Mouse, so that's easy. You might get confused using a PC keyboard on a Mac.

Most KVM switches support analog VGA ports for video. Mac minis don't have VGA ports.

Mac minis have DVI, Mini-DVI, or Mini DisplayPort for video, depending on the model.

Apple sells VGA adapters for these ports, and you can find adapters from other sources.

You might need help to figure out which Mac mini models you have, and which VGA adapters you need.


  1. Just found a (free!) source of USB-Ethernet drivers for Mac OS X, along with some comments on performance:

  2. Update:

    - We're using both MK1 and Sonnet rackmount kits in our new data center, and we're happy with both.

    – We're using both C5 and C7 Stayonline cords in our new data center, and they work great. When I had trouble ordering the correct length of 208V cords, Stayonline tech support said the 120V cords would work fine. All Stayonline cords of this style are rated to 250V.

    - We've been managing our Minis (7 at last count, but they breed like rabbits) using ARD plus built-in Ethernet or Apple USB Ethernet adapters. Works great.

    - We bought a KVM switch and parts, but ARD meets our needs so far, so we haven't installed the KVM yet.

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  4. For anyone interested we implementing 208v power for a new mac mini cabinet deployment at a high end datacenter. We're hoping to stick 100+ mini's per cabinet. Thanks for all the details on connectors.