By Henry Baltazar  |  Posted 2004-05-28 Print this article Print

Although its form factor has changed only slightly, Apple Computer Inc.s newly revamped Xserve G5 has improved significantly compared with its predecessor, the Xserve with G4 processors.

The Xserve G5, which was shipped in April, gains improved manageability and 64-bit processing muscle over Apples first Xserve hardware, which was already an interesting workgroup-class server that could be used for general application environments and in clusters.

Apples new G5 processors give the Xserve 64-bit processing capabilities, which allow it to address more memory than before. The Xserve G5 can hold as much as 8GB of ECC (error-correcting code) memory.

The dual-processor Xserve G5 unit eWEEK Labs tested was priced at $3,999 for twin 2GHz PowerPC G5 processors, 1GB of RAM and a single 80GB drive. (A $2,999 single-processor version, with 512MB of RAM, is also available.) These prices are comparable to the cost of two-way servers from other vendors.

A single Xserve G5 has 750GB of raw storage capacity, using large-capacity Serial ATA drives. To accommodate the additional cooling needed for the G5 processors, capacity has been cut from four hot-swap disk bays to three. Instead of a fourth drive bay, the Xserve G5 has air ducts in the front of the server to improve airflow through it.

Apple is continuing its push into the storage market with its Xserve RAID unit and the upcoming Xsan File System. Click here to read the full story. The cooling system comprises eight fan units, and the Xserve G5 compensates for the loss of one fan by increasing the speed of those remaining.

The Xserve G5 has dual Gigabit Ethernet ports, FireWire 800 and USB (Universal Serial Bus) 2.0 built in.

The Xserve G5 we tested came preinstalled with the Mac OS X Server 10.3 Panther operating system. (The G4-powered Xserve included Mac OS X Server 10.2.) The Xserve G5 comes with unlimited client licenses, or buyers can purchase a cluster-optimized version that has a 10-user license, two processors and 512MB of RAM.

Out of the box, the Xserve G5 can function in Windows and Mac OS environments as a capable file/print server, Web server or even a directory server—all without the financial burden of client licenses.

Apple has taken technology from open-source projects, including Samba 3 and Apache, and made it easy to manage in the framework of the operating system.

Mac OS X Server 10.3 includes the latest version of Apples QuickTime Streaming Server, which can be used to broadcast MPEG-4, MP3, AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) and RTP/RTSP (Real-Time Transport Protocol/Real-Time Streaming Protocol) files.

The Xserve G5s remote management capabilities let us monitor and manage services on multiple servers at the same time. Using the optional Apple Remote Desktop package (priced at $299 for the 10-client addition), we could use an iBook laptop to control our servers remotely and to install software packages remotely.

The Apple Remote Desktop software can be used to manage Apple machines running Mac OS X Version 10.1 or later (as well as legacy Mac OS 8.1 to Mac OS 9.2 systems), including eMacs, iBooks and PowerBooks.

Using the Remote Desktop software, we could control our servers remotely to configure software and to enforce shutdowns and reboots for maintenance.

The Xserve G5 has 38 sensors that detect the status of key server components, such as the cooling systems, network adapters and power supplies.

Like its predecessor, the Xserve G5 lacks redundant power supplies. This isnt a fatal weakness, considering that other servers in this range also lack redundant power supplies, but we believe it is an absence thats worth mentioning because Apple doesnt have a more robust Xserve in its product line.

As a result, IT managers who plan to cluster infrastructures of multiple Xserve G5s should also plan to have spare servers in case of hardware failure.

If an entire machine must be replaced, Apples Automatic Setup function allows IT staff to store server configuration sets on a network directory, removable media (FireWire or a USB drive) or even an iPod to quickly get new servers up and running.

The Automatic Setup capability should help Apple sell the Xserve G5 as a building block for high-performance computing clusters.

Senior Analyst Henry Baltazar can be reached at henry_baltazar@ziffdavis.com.

Check out eWEEK.coms Macintosh Center at http://macintosh.eweek.com for the latest news, reviews and analysis about Apple in the enterprise.

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