Hardware Today: Apple Server Snapshot

After its initial launch several years ago, sales of Apple's Xserve rack server line struggled. Throughout each quarter of 2003, Xserve sales averaged in the 5,000 to 6,000 unit range. Then, in first-quarter, 2004, sales slumped to a low of 4,412. Apple responded with a timely revamp followed by a drop in price to a little more than $2,000. Result: Sales have more than doubled, according to Gartner's quarterly survey numbers.

Is Apple's Xserve taking a bite out of the Wintel market?

"Clearly, the core audience for the Apple Xserve is among existing Mac users," said John Enck, an analyst at Gartner. "It plays well in any environment that has a good deal of heterogeneity in the client and server environment."

Recent Server Snapshots

The March 2004 version introduced the Mac OS 10.3 (code named Panther) and a 64-bit IBM G5 processor. This latest iteration has further strengthened that foundation with more RAM and greater storage space. As a result, Xserve is gaining traction in markets looking for high performance and a low footprint.

In the scientific community, for example, Virginia Tech clustered 1,100 Xserve servers to form a supercomputing platform that ranked number 7 in the latest Top500 Supercomputing Sites survey. Another adopter, government contractor Colsa, combined 1,556 Xserve units for hypersonic flight simulation.

"We have seen significant growth in science, education, SMB and the creative arena," said Alex Grossman, director of hardware product marketing at Apple. "Many of these users are looking for high-performance computing."

In the case of Xserve, that performance comes with up to 8 GB of RAM, a 1 GHz front side bus, and a 2 GHz 64-bit processor. While Intel is planning to move Itanium to 90 nanometers some time next year, IBM is already there with the G5, the processor used in XServe.

Xserve's allure is further heightened by a complementary RAID box that adds as much as 5.6 TB in a 3U space, up from 3.5 TB in the March release. That works out to about $2 per GB. Apple also recently added a new hardware RAID card to supplement the RAID software built into Panther to enhance storage performance.

Each Xserve RAID box has three hard drives and can be arranged in RAID 0, 2, 3, 5, 10 as well as more exotic configurations, like RAID 30 and 51. RAID 5 delivers 800 GB of space, and RAID 0 offers 1.2 TB per unit.

"A lot of customers don't need the extra RAID box, as the Xserve alone gives them all the storage they need," said Grossman. "When it comes to tier-two storage, its hard to beat Xserve RAID for cost effectiveness."

The storage box is Fibre Channel based to the host, and much of the traditional Fibre Channel complexity is masked from the user, according to Grossman.

The following chart details Apple's server offerings.

Apple Servers at a Glance

Product Name Options Description Base Configuration Base Pricing
Xserve Single Processor Single processor 64-bit PowerPC G5 1U server 512 MB RAM, 80 GB SATA, Mac OS X (unlimited client edition) $2,999
Dual Processor Dual processor 64-bit PowerPC G5 1U server 1 GB RAM, 80 GB SATA, Mac OS X (unlimited client edition) $3,999
Cluster Node Compute-optimized dual processor 64-bit PowerPC G5 1U server 512 MB RAM, 80 GB SATA, Mac OS X (10 user max edition) $2,999
Ultimate Custom configuration with maximum storage capacity 2 GB RAM (up to 8 GB RAM available), 3x400 GB SATA, Mac OS X (unlimited client edition, Mac OS X server maintenance program) $7,148
Xserve RAID 1 TB, 2.8 TB, and 5.6 TB RAID options available Low-cost, high-performance platform independent RAID 7200 RPM Ultra ATA drives, dual controller, 400 MBps Fibre Channel in a 3U form factor $5,999 to $12,999

>> A Good Fit

This article was originally published on Dec 6, 2004
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