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Do you use a Hosted macOS / Mac Provider?

HighEndTalkYour esteemed Dread Lord of LowEnd Content, raindog308, is an admitted Apple fanboi.  In the cloud, at the edge, for file servers, for many things, I am all about Linux and OpenBSD.  But for human-facing systems, I like Apple and their ecosystem, and actually a big part of that is because I’m a die-hard Unix guy and macOS is a really beautiful expression of the idea. 

This post marks the beginning of a new series, HighEndTalk, where we cover topics related to Apple, macOS, etc.  Don’t worry, we’re not going to start reviewing jewel-encrusted rose gold iPhone cases or talking about how to do iFixit surgery on your broken Macbook.  But as we produce content related to macOS and Apple, this is where we’ll sort it.

BTW, Jon Biloh is an rabid Android guy but he’s on his honeymoon right now so he won’t see this article.


Apple’s focus (in the 21st century, anyway) has been on end user computing and associated cloud and application services.  iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, the Mac line – that’s all stuff for the home user, as are all the accessories like AirPods and HomePods and iCloud and Apple Music and the list goes on and on.

One thing Apple isn’t known for is providing server solutions, yet OS that underlies Macs (again, in the 22nd era, not going back to the 1980s) is a very capable BSD-flavored Unix.  Drop your typical Linux user into the shell and they’ll feel right at home.

At one point, Apple did offer genuine rackmount servers.  For whatever reason, they decided they didn’t like serving the enterprise market.  I remember Steve Jobs saying at various times how much he hated dealing with enterprise IT.

Even when they were no longer selling rack mounts, Apple still offered Mac OS X Server, which was a nice control panel-type application to configure a wide variety of groupware-type services such as calendars, web server, databases, wikis, file sharing, VPN, mail, Samba, DNS, LDAP, etc.  However, in 2018, Apple discontinued most of these products.  In this case, Apple was acting as a sort of package manager for open source, and in reality a lot of people simply replaced the OS X Server versions with current ones, so it wasn’t a major loss.

So can you run, say, nginx + MySQL + PHP + Dovecot  + BIND on a Mac?  Sure.  Because Apple helps sponsor some of these projects, even without any kind of package management they’re easy to configure and install (well, as easy as it would be to build PHP from source on Debian for example).

However,  you don’t have to get that down and dirty because nearly everything in the universe can be installed via Homebrew, an open source package manager for macOS.  It’s essentially apt or yum for macOS.  What’s cool about Homebrew is that you can put its tree wherever you want and have multiple installs.  So set it up under /usr/local if you want, or create /usr/local/homebrew_dev, homebrew_prod, etc. and change where you point based on environment variables or links.  It’s a very easy to use system and completely scriptable since it’s command-line.

So should we all be hosting on Macs?  Probably not.  Apple does make reliable hardware (in my experience, Macs are tanks), and if you’re a graphic design shop with an office full of Macs and you want to setup a file server or a wiki, sure, host it on a spare desktop.  But in the cloud?  No…

…but that doesn’t mean Mac hosting isn’t popular.

There are many companies offering it, in fact.  A big driver is the App Store.  Creating apps requires Xcode on macOS (it is possible to create apps in Swift Playgrounds on iPadOS but that’s not yet a mainstream development platform).  If you’re a full-time app developer, no problem – you’re buy a nice desktop no matter if it’s macOs or Windows or whatever because it’s your livelihood.  But for the hobbyist, startup, student, or guy who has an idea he wants to try without sinking four figures into Apple gear, renting a Mac in the cloud by the hour can make a lot of sense.

Indeed, I think the Mac is very well-suited to per-hour usage.  Imagine you are a one-man developer shop.  You keep all your code in iCloud or Dropbox or whatever service you prefer.  When you want to work, you spin up an instance, connect, and because it’s in a datacenter, syncing folders (selectively, perhaps, depending on your setup and what the service offers) is very quick.  You probably don’t need a dedicated machine, just an account, so XCode is probably already installed, so once your code downloads, you’re ready to go.  Or if your code is on Github, obviously this makes this easy as well, and you have all the usual scripting (bash, etc., plus Homebrew and AppleScript to drive apps) to automate things.  I think it’d be easy to write a script that goes from “freshly provisioned instance” to “right where I left off” in a single command.

Could you do the same on Linux or Windows?  Of course.  And of course either of those OSes are going to be way cheaper (especially Linux) because you can run them on any commodity gear you wish.  With OSX, the only legal way to run it is on Apple hardware.  But if you gotta have XCode on macOS…

Looking around, I see prices such as $4/day (or $1/hour) for shared instances, which is getting an account on a server.  I imagine the service depends on your neighbors on the box and how attentive the provider is.  Or pay $25/mo for a dedicated Mac, at the lowest end, with many offering substantially higher prices.  These are all low-end range Mac Mini offerings.  You can find Mac Pro stuff too but there you’re getting into crazy money.

Maybe there’s a market opportunity for someone to break into LowEnd hosting by setting up service running, say, 2015-2018 gear.  Still very serviceable and if a piece of gear breaks, you either do a quick fix or you toss it.  I have a 2015-era laptop that runs the latest OS X release (Monterrey as of this writing) just fine and I’m sure the Mac Minis and iMacs of that era could rent out to people who’d gladly pay a few bucks less per month and have XCode take a little longer to compile.

 

 

 

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