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This past April we tweeted about the Mac mini edition of Parallels Server for Mac. More recently Parallels has put out a press release announcement and we took some time to test their solution. There are many customers that want a mix of Linux and OS X which is hard to pull off with a single Mac Mini. The main benefit of the Mac Mini is the low monthly hosting cost while retaining ownership of the equipment.

Our parent company also runs Linux / cPanel hosting brands. There is a team of highly skilled Linux engineers on staff with us. We felt our standard cPanel install was a great test for Parallels Server for Mac on a Mac mini. Our baselines come from our experiences running a similar setup on Atom dedicated servers and also within a VPS’s.

The installation and creation of a CentOS VM went extremely smooth. We allocated 2 CPU cores and 2GB of RAM to this VM. Ideally you would run 8GB in the Mac Mini and supply the VM with as much as possible (4GB). This was completed over a VNC session to simulate a real life experience. A base installation of CentOS was then loaded with cPanel with a standard configuration with a Firewall. The installation of cPanel took less than our Atom based servers. WHM/cPanel recognized the host OS as being virtualized and ran the VPS optimized license*. This is a great point as it reduces the cost of the cPanel license by significant amount.

In an attempt to push the VM we ran an Easy Apache build while trying to do a backup. Needless to say it went a little slow, but that was to be expected. Our VNC session hung for quite some time before returning once the backup was complete. The SSH session however never recovered. Logging back in to the server showed everything was responding as normal.

Parallels Tools was installed and we rebooted our Mac mini to simulate a full system restart. We set the startup options to automatically shutdown/start the VM on a reboot. The VM came back to life moments after we saw the OS X login screen appear in the VNC session. The second backup was incremental and completed in much less time and without any connection issues. The snapshot feature worked quickly as well.

If you wanted to run 25-50 cPanel accounts it seems like it may begin to slow down. Installing LiteSpeed in place of Apache would help keep it running smoothly, but it doesn’t appear that it would detect the VPS configuration and a full license would be required.

This particular configuration may seem backwards to some people. If you are familiar with traditional web hosting, and more specifically cPanel, moving to OS X server may seem a little overwhelming. OS X server itself does a great job of hosting multiple websites without very much configuration. Handling email, FTP, etc for these various websites (virtual hosts) is another story. While it can be done, there is no automated way to provision a full web hosting account on OS X.

    The configuration would be perfect in the following scenario:

  • One or two native OS X programs are required
  • A small number of web hosting accounts with Email/FTP/Control Panel
  • Preference to managing web hosting accounts with WHM/cPanel
    Our thoughts:

  • The cost of $300 for Parallels Server allows you to maximize ROI by fully utilizing your Mac mini and your colocation services
  • The backups and snapshots make it easy to turn up your VM on another mini if needed
  • Research all your license fees to know your total costs before choosing this solution. Software like cPanel, LiteSpeed, Softaculous, etc all require paid licenses.
  • If you need help configuring a Linux cPanel VM we can help get you started.
  • When a Core i* based Mac mini comes out and supports 16GB of RAM, this type of solution will be even more viable.
  • We’ll continue to test and work with Parallels Server to see where it can be applied efficiently for the benefit of our customers.

* [It is your responsibility to make sure you are in compliance with the cPanel licensing]

Update: cPanel no longer supports Parallels Server as a virtualized license, they require a full system license for it to operate. Also Parallels Server does not support OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion.