Enterprise Unix Roundup: Leopard, Enterprise-Ready but Not for All

By Brian Proffitt (Send Email)
Posted Jan 2, 2008

Brian Proffitt
Leopard Server has a lot going for it, and Apple thinks it can run in any size company. But instead of crafting an über-market strategy, the vendor is playing it cool and selling to traditionally Mac friendly verticals.

Late last year, the Roundup mentioned that The Open Group had bestowed Mac OS X Leopard the official Unix moniker, and pointed out some (then) current arguments why OS X might indeed be Unix, but perhaps wasn't quite ready for the enterprise.

In the course of the column, some factual errors on my part were made, and in the course of getting the corrections out, I was offered the opportunity to speak with an Apple manager to find out just what the company's plans are for OS X. Curiously, its plans do include the enterprise space, although in a tightly targeted distribution plan.

When I spoke with Eric Zelenka back in December, he laid out the to-date development history of OS X and highlighted where in the marketplace Apple is likely to take Leopard Server in the months to come. You would expect Zelenka, as senior product manager for server and storage Software, to paint a rainbow-esque "the future belongs to Leopard" picture. On the contrary, Apple knows exactly where it wants to sell Leopard Server, and it isn't to every IT shop on the planet.

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But first, some background: At the core of Leopard, Zelenka explained, is 64-bit technology specifically tuned to work with multi-core Intel platforms. In fact, he noted, Leopard marks the complete rebuilding of the OS X core to work in a multi-core/multi-processor environment. This capability gives Leopard real oomph in the data center. Not to mention the 32-bit performance of apps that can run right alongside 64-bit applications.

Zelenka pointed to Apple's long history of interoperability as another plus for Leopard users. The development team is committed to open standards as well as open source projects, and Apple's working relationship with other proprietary software vendors supports its interoperability claims.

Still, even with all of this 64-bit goodness, Apple isn't planning on taking over the world, like some other operating system company you may have heard of. For one thing, Apple is firmly committed to keeping OS X on its machines. It has no interest in shifting to commoditized boxes. Where others might see limited platform capability as a weakness, Zelenka sees it as a strength. In particular, he pointed to Xserve, a 1U, dual-core Xeon server "that's a great box for around $3,000."

At that price point, Zelenka contends that it's a pretty good deal for the small to midsize business (SMB) space but sees no reason why such a device should confine itself to the SMB market. Right now, Zelenka explained, Apple sees Leopard as a good fit for any size business, although it's only targeting its core markets. This is not because of software or hardware limitations — these are just the markets Apple wants to hit. Specifically, the verticals of interest to Apple for Leopard are the creative, education, Federal and government, and life sciences channels.

One way to get Leopard's paw in the door with enterprises in these verticals is to target sales at the department level. Once inside, Apple hopes that customers will see the benefits of the platform and garner more sales throughout the entire firm.

"We're not going to go out and bust down the doors at the banking industry," Zelenka said.

Right now, the strategy seems to be working; Apple is seeing quite a few upgrades and additions to server technology in these verticals, which were traditional homes to Mac clients. It is also seeing some Unix-to-Unix migrations, mostly for customers that perceive cost savings in hardware and IT overhead for operating system management.

Don't look for Leopard Server on any machines other than Apple's, mind you. Apple is thoroughly committed to keeping things in the family.

"We're building the world's best operating system, for our computers," Zelenka indicated.

Brian Proffitt is managing editor of JupiterWeb's Linux/Open Source channel, which includes Linux Today, LinuxPlanet, and AllLinuxDevices.

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