Apple Guards the Secrets of the Server

News Analysis: The secrecy surrounding Apple's server plans raises questions about the post-Intel future of its Xserve.

Apple Computer is guarding its server plans closely, leaving observers to wonder what will come of the product line.

The Mac manufacturer said on April 5 that it will preview its new Mac OS X 10.5, dubbed Leopard, at its Worldwide Developers Conference in August. But the company has yet to reference a Leopard server edition. Nor has it hinted about any plans it might have to move its Xserve server line to Intel processors from the PowerPC under its June 2005 decree to move from PowerPC chips to Intel processors by June 2007.

Secrecy is Apple. Despite saying it will preview Leopard, Apple has a well-known penchant for keeping the details on its new products under wraps before making grand announcements in front of large audiences. Given the fact that their machines are business-critical, most server makers typically notify customers in advance of any changes to their products. Apple, however, has so far simply stated it would discuss the server line at the WWDC.

So whats Apple to likely to do? If it moves Xserve to Intel processors, Apple could base them on Woodcrest, Intels latest server chip. The dual-core chip, which is likely to run at around 2.6GHz and is said to use up to about 80 watts of power, is being seeded into the market right now and will officially launch in June, Intel has said.

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick here to read more about Intels desktop and server chips.

But even when Apple does its big product announcement productions, the server products get a minimum amount of time on stage, if at all. Sometimes the server announcements are relegated to the back pages of the press packet.

This lack of attention could be a reflection of the revenue stream that the server line generates. "I estimate that Apples server revenue is less than 1 percent of the companys total revenue," said Tim Deal, an analyst at Technology Business Research in Hampton, N.H.

This fact may also explain why Apple pays less attention to updating its server hardware and software than its other products.

Apple recently issued a maintenance release of the Xsan Storage Area Network software. In addition to fixing some bugs, Xsan 1.3 increased functionality by supporting bigger storage systems. It now supports volumes larger than 16 terabytes in size and Fibre Channel LUNs (logical unit numbers) greater than 2TB.

But Version 1.3 is only the third update of Xsan since the software was introduced 18 months ago. By contrast, Apple released six updates to Mac OS X over the past 12 months, not including security updates.

/zimages/5/28571.gifApple looks to a new generation of managers to ensure that recent departures wont spell the end to the companys vibrant growth. Click here to read more.

Apple updates Mac OS X Server with each release of Mac OS X. Apples job is made easier by the use of an assortment of open-source software in its server bundle. Tiger Server includes Samba, OpenSSL, Open LDAP and the open-source Berkeley DB database for use with Open Directory. Tiger Server also has a Weblog server based on Blojsom, an open-source blog server. The Apache Web server is also part of the bundle, as is Apache Tomcat, an environment for Java code to run in cooperation with a Web server.

Much of this software is already available for Intel PCs, so moving it to a future Intel-based Xserve shouldnt be a major hurdle for Apple.

Next Page: The switch to Intel servers.