By: John May
jmay@pointinspace.com

I can't quite say where this all started, or why I ever initially thought it'd even be possible, but once the idea was in my head I found myself quite addicted to making it happen.

My situation is this: I run a FileMaker Hosting company (Point In Space Internet Solutions - http://www.pointinspace.com/) specializing in serving on the Macintosh platform - partially because I've been a die-hard Apple user since my father built our first Apple II (when you could actually get the schematics, and even the parts), and partially because of the types of sites we host (Filemaker, Lasso and the likes). Filemaker is a great, easy to design, friendly database to use to add dynamic data to web sites, however it has this one little limitation of only being able to host 50 databases on one machine - hence the need for lots of machines. Since cost is always an issue, it seemed only logical to me that there must be some way to take advantage of these phenomenal computers called the iMacs, which have plenty of horsepower for serving, and can be acquired for less than a grand - much cheaper than the Apple "servers" that run three to four thousand dollars a piece.

Now, the problem with this whole theory is that there's this big thing built into the iMac called a monitor - something which negates the factor other than low-price that I wanted to satisfy - space efficiency. I'd seen these servers called the Cobalt Raq, great little one rack-space computers, however not Mac-based. So, I asked myself, why couldn't the iMac be a Raq with a little coaxing?

After looking around the internet for rack-mount boxes, I actually found that Marathon Computer had beaten me to the punch (or so I thought), and was going to be shipping a product called the iRack - a rack-mount case all configured to have an iMac's guts dropped right into it. To make a long story short, after getting the run-around from them for a month, with "one more week" quoted to me for a shipping date for weeks on end, it seemed like I needed to find another solution.

So, I decided to do it all from scratch, something which scared me a bit considering one wire connected to the wrong place could mean certain death for the iMac. After a little bit of investigation with the trusty multi-meter, I found that the iMac's power supply conformed very closely to a standard ATX PC supply. This being known, I picked up a standard PC one-unit rack-mount case with power supply, fans, and drive mounts. A custom-wired power adapter, a little modification of the back panel and some 3/4" stand-offs and I managed to successfully mount the motherboard and get the machine booted. The only remaining complications were constructing some longer cables for the monitor plug and CD-ROM, the latter of which required some special-order high-density connectors from good 'ol Digi-Key. Total price: the rack case and about 50 bucks in parts.

Since then I've built five more of these and they've been serving out databases flawlessly for a month now. The satisfaction factor was certainly worth the effort and long nights. Take a peek at the pictures below (click on them for a larger version) to see the results:

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Rather have me convert your iMac? Drop me an e-mail and let's make a deal!


Some additional Q & A from readers:

Q: Are all the iMac's ports still available once rack-mounted?

A: Sure thing! As you can see in the pictures, the motherboard mounts up against the back of the case, making all the ports accessible. The monitor plug is on a separate card, which just gets mounted separately to the case backing. Convienently, it's a standard Mac monitor plug.

Q: What are you doing with the empty cases?

A: Good question! What's left when it's all over is the case, monitor, power supply and speakers. I've toyed with the idea of turning them into "iMonitors", but the computer's power supply would need to be detached and it's buried deeper in the case, so I'd need to do a bit more tearing-apart to figure that one out. One popular suggestion has been to carry on the tradition of the Mac aquariums (iQuarium?).

Q: Is the iMac really a good machine to use for a server?

A: Why not? All the parts (hard drive, motherboard, etc.) are quality components, just like in its bigger brothers. The power supply gets replaced by the one provided with the rack box, which is an industrial-grade one meant for serving. Like I said, I've had three of these running for a month non-stop with absolutely no problems as of yet.

Q: What about heat dissipation?

A: If you look at the pictures closely, especially the top-view of the open rack, you can see the metal cover over the processor towards the bottom of the picture. The rack's fans are mounted up front, and blow into the case, which just happens to create a nice current right over the processor. There's actually mounts there for a second hard drive, which I've been told can be connected as a slave to the IDE bus, but that would land right in the path of the air current, thus I decided against adding an additional drive.


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