5 Strategies for Replacing Your Apple Xserves

Apple's announcement late last year of its intent to abandon the Xserve -- its rack-mounted server hardware -- has plunged many organizations into uncertainty. The main dilemma is how best to plan for future growth and cope with existing Xserves coming to the end of their useful lives.

By now, Apple's announcement that it plans to discontinue the Xserve has sunk in for many enterprises, but uncertainty remains over how best to plan for future growth and cope with existing Xserves coming to the end of their useful lives. Here are five paths to consider.

The problem is compounded by the fact that Apple steadfastly refused to provide product roadmaps, making any future planning extremely difficult. For example, although the company currently forbids customers from running its server operating system -- OS X Server -- in a virtual machine running on standard Intel server hardware, it's conceivable that in the near future the company will permit it. If that happens, the fact that the Apple Xserve has been discontinued becomes a non-issue: Your Xserve hardware running OS X Server could simply be replaced by standard hardware running OS X Server in virtual machines.

Unless and until that happens, here are five other strategies worth exploring to reduce your reliance on existing Xserves.

1. Straight switch: replace your Apple Xserves with Mac Pros or Mac Minis running OS X Server

The solution that Apple recommends is to replace your Xserves with Mac Pro or Mac Mini hardware. However, although these two machines can certainly run OS X Server, they might not suit your organization for a number of reasons:

  • Neither the Pro nor the Mini fit into a 1U rack
  • Neither machine offers Lights Out Management (LOM) functionality, although third party products offer a subset of this
  • Neither machine offers redundant power supplies
  • The 12 core Mac Pro suggested by Apple as an alternative to the Xserve costs around $1500 more than an Xserve and uses substantially more power
  • The Mac Mini is far less powerful than the Xserve, has no hot swap drive functionality and offers only one Ethernet NIC
  • There's no certainty that Apple will not discontinue OS X Server in the near future in the same way that it has abandoned the Xserve

If you do decide to use Pros or Minis, the good news is that third-party racking solutions will likely become more common. H Squared, for example, announced a Mini-rack that can accommodate 18 Mac Minis (36 cores) in 5U of rack space. Mac Pros are bulkier, so the likely solutions will be less space efficient, and at the moment Apple says only two Mac Pros can fit on a rack-mounted shelf in a hefty 12U of space.

2. Replace your Apple Xserve file and print servers with standard 1U servers running Windows Server 2008 R2 and third-party enhancements

A survey carried out recently by the Enterprise Desktop Alliance (EDA) found that 90 percent of companies using Xserves were using them as file servers. Other common uses included the provision of services that offer management support for the Mac desktops and laptops in their organization, including:

  • Software update
  • Directory services
  • Workgroup manager
  • Client management and other centralized administrative functions

A standard server running Microsoft Windows Server 2008 R2 can make Xserve migration easy. It can provide a viable alternative to Apple hardware running OS X Server for the provision of these service when it is augmented with third-party software from companies, including GroupLogic, Centrify and Absolute Software:

  • File server: Group Logic ExtremeZ-IP adds AFP compatibility and integration
  • Print server: Group Logic ExtremeZ-IP supports Bonjour with PPD downloading
  • Backup Server: Group Logic ExtremeZ-IP supports Time Machine
  • Open Directory: Centrify DirectControl adds full GPO and Workgroup Manager management
  • Update Server: Absolute Manage updates Mac OS X and 3rd party OS X applications
  • Client Management: Absolute Manage provides client management functions from a Windows (or Mac) console

This article was originally published on Feb 24, 2011
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