The PC market has historically been Apple’s sweet spot. This may slowly be changing. Although Apple’s biggest sellers remain PCs and iPods, the vendor has made some inroads in the server market since the Xserve line launched in mid-2002. Its Mac OS 10.3 fueled 64-bit Xserve G5 began shipping in late March. It is the vendor’s first foray into the server rack and illustrates Apple’s philosophy of choosing design innovation over repetition.
Apple branched out from its PC sweet spot two years ago when it launched its Xserve line. Today, its server offerings also consist of a RAID product, OS and clustering software, and a just-announced SAN solution. With this slowly growing stable, will Xserve mark the spot where Apple tempts the enterprise?
With Xserve, Apple sees its server customer base expanding beyond its traditional pool of educational institutions, federal agencies, and creative organizations. “We’ve been very pleased that Xserve has been very popular, not only in core Apple workgroups and environments,” Apple’s Product Manager for Server Hardware Doug Brooks said, “but [also increasingly] in heterogeneous Apple, Windows, and even Linux/Unix environments.”
The current hardware at the heart of Apple’s Xserve line is the IBM PowerPC based 64-bit G5 Processor. Running at up to 2 GHz (with a 3 GHz model scheduled to be released as soon as this year, depending on which rumors you believe), the G5 also has a speedy 1 GHz front-side bus, and allows 8 GB of RAM. As a PowerPC chip, the G5 stands alongside the 64-bit architectures of Intel and AMD. The Xserve G5 ships in four configurations, all of which use an identical basic hardware, with either single or dual processors and varying amounts of memory and storage.
Apple also sells a RAID product that complements its server. Xserve RAID’s main selling point is its price/performance advantage. “People’s eyebrows pop up when they look at what it provides compared to other systems in its class,” Brooks said. The RAID grants 3.5 TB of data for $10,999; it works under Windows, Linux, and Novell in a flexible Java management interface.
To round out its server offerings, Apple brings a growing stable of eye-catching software to its Xserve product line. In software, the Mac OS X Panther operating system delivers the best of two worlds: It beats the proprietary Windows approach with open standards on one side, while avoiding the open source potential for chaos still ripe in the Linux world. “We’re not just like Linux, we don’t just, pull off the latest tarballs or RPMs and offer you the latest components,” Brooks said of Apple’s Unix implementation. “We have the ability to integrate it and tune it, and also put a phenomenal management interface on top of it.”
While the Xserve G5 is Apple’s current designated server hitter, Panther runs on any G3 or better, and the PowerMac G5 has become a popular choice for rackless environments.
The Xsan software SAN product, unveiled Sunday, is a more open standards-based and block-oriented offering than Windows Storage Server. It is currently available in beta to customers with select Xserve/Xserve RAID configurations. When Xsan is stamped production ready this fall, it will provide an interoperable software storage solution for video workflow and other network data sharing.
“Providing an enterprise class storage system at the prices we’re talking about for Xsan, we’re going to see a lot of innovation in the market on top of this,” Tom Goguen, direct of server software product marketing for Apple told ServerWatch, “I think we’re going to see people use SANs in ways that they never could before because they were never affordable.”
The chart below summarizes Apple’s server offerings.
|Single, G5-based rack server
|512 MB RAM, 80 GB SATA, Mac OS X — unlimited client edition
|Dual-processor G5-based rack server
|1 GB RAM, 80 GB Sata, Mac OS X — unlimited client edition
|Stripped-down dual G5 based rack server for HPC environments
|512 MB RAM, 80 GB SATA, Mac OS X — 10 user max edition
|Loaded custom XServe
|2 GB RAM, 3x250GB SATA, Mac OS X — unlimited client edition
|1 TB RAID
|Cost-saving, platform agnostic external RAID built for XServe
|7200 RPM Ultra ATA drives, via 400MBps Fibre Channel in 3U form
|1.75 TB RAID
|3.75 TB RAID
|Xserve Software Options
|Newly announced 64-bit SAN software for OS X
|Shares up to 16 TB with 64 users simultaneously
|Currently free to private beta participants; will be priced at $999 when released in late 2004
|Budding clustering software for HPC/bioinformatics
|Clusters machines running OS X 10.2.8 or higher
|Free to public beta participants
|Interoperable Panther OS matching open standards against a proprietary, performance-optimized BSD Unix core
|Mac OS X — both the unlimited client edition and the 10 user max edition
|10 user version, $499; unlimited client version, $999