Q&A: Accessing a studio file server

Q Our design studio uses an old Mac Pro as a server to store artwork. We often work from remote locations, and would like to replace this with a file server that we can access over the Internet, but do not need other services such as a mail or web. Would a new Mac mini with OS X Server be the best option, or what?

A The cheapest option would be to have a user-less Mac with file sharing turned on, and your firewall opened up to allow incoming AFP sharing. However this would open your network to attack through that open port: one weak password and you could be sharing files with visitors.

Alternatively, if you are prepared to pay for the service, you could store everything ‘in the Cloud’, such as with Adobe’s CC service, although this is reliant on Adobe’s servers and cost for the amount of storage required.

The industry standard technique for allowing remote access is VPN. In essence, you have a VPN server sitting between your network and the Internet; this would ideally be a dedicated piece of hardware from CISCO or similar incorporating a firewall too, and your remote Macs would run VPN client software, such as VPN Tracker, although Mac OS X has a limited client built into it, for which there are several free or cheap interfaces.

OS X Server could do the whole thing in software, as it has a bundled VPN server, but would need careful configuration to maintain appropriate security. A dedicated hardware VPN implementation should be more robust and less prone to configuration error.

Your file server should have capacious disks, such as with RAID 1 (mirroring) and Time Machine backup. These could conveniently be external drives on a Mac mini Server. There are lots of good choices.

Updated from the original, which was first published in MacUser volume 26 issue 7, 2010.