Apple Rolls Out the Xserve

After years of speculation about plans for rack-mounted server hardware running the Mac OS, Apple takes the wraps off the Xserve and offers a "technology preview" of a 14-drive RAID storage system.

CUPERTINO, Calif.—After years of speculation about plans for rack-mounted server hardware running the Mac OS, Apple Computer Inc. on Tuesday took the wraps off the Xserve and offered a "technology preview" of a 14-drive RAID storage system.

The system, which Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced at last weeks Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose, Calif., features a 1U rack-optimized design that will let administrators stack up to 42 Xserves in an 8-foot-tall, industry-standard rack.

While he said Apple is approaching the server market with a "humble" attitude ("We know we have a lot to learn," he added), Jobs said that the new systems specs, ease of use and pricing will challenge market stalwarts such as Dell Computer Corp. and IBM.

The Xserve is slated to ship next month starting at $2,999; Jobs told reporters that custom configurations could be ordered immediately from Apples Web site.

In addition to the rack-mount capability, other specialized features of the servers include a new, server-specific motherboard design, four hot-swappable drives, and L3 cache and system controllers designed for "exceptional throughput."

Xserve will ship with the current version of Mac OS X Server; Jobs said current customers will have to pay to upgrade to the server configuration of the next major Mac OS X release, code-named Jaguar and officially slated to ship at the end of the summer.

The server hardware will come bundled with GUI administrative software designed to optimize Xserves performance on mixed networks. Server Admin will help administrators set up and manage network services remotely, and Server Monitor will offer instant visual feedback on all server systems as well as automatic notifications via e-mail, pagers, cell phones or PDAs.

The $2,999 base configuration will feature a single 1GHz PowerPC G4 processor with 256KB of L2 cache. Diverging from Apples desktop models, every processor in the Xserve will also be connected to 2MB of DDR SDRAM with 4GB-per-second throughput. It will also pack 256MB of RAM, a 60GB ATA/100 Apple Drive Module, dual Gigabit Ethernet ports and a CD-ROM drive.

A $3,999 configuration will include two 1GHz G4 chips and 512MB of RAM.

Thanks to the new motherboard design, each Xserve will be able to handle up to 2GB of 266MHz DDR SDRAM on a 133MHz system bus. Each will support four hot-swappable drives and feature two 64-bit, 66MHz PCI slots for expansion.

Jobs demonstrated the easy serviceability of the Xserve, sliding a unit from the rack and showing the accessibility of its hardware. "Theres no top to take off," he told reporters.

Jobs also demonstrated software that will offer remote monitoring of drive status and pre-failure, temperature, fan status, power supply and network link. Other security features include an enclosure security lock, an intrusion alert and a software lock.

Among the Xserves other hardware features: RAID mirroring; a VGA graphics card that supports headless booting; an optional AGP 4X graphics card; three 400M-bps FireWire ports, one on the front and two in back; two USB ports; one DB-9 serial console port; an optional Ultra3 SCSI card; and an optional fiber Gigabit Ethernet adapter. LEDS mounted on the front speed status monitoring, Jobs said.

Jobs touted the new servers relative value compared with competing offerings from other vendors. He pointed to Mac OS Xs unlimited user license and contrasted it with Windows licenses that range from $799 for five users to more than $3,000 for 25 users.

New sales, support

Tim Cook, executive vice president of operations at the Cupertino, Calif., company, outlined how Apple will tweak its sales and support operations to accommodate server customers. "We fully recognize that server support is very, very hard," Cook said. He outlined a list of server-specific priorities, including reliability, experienced technical support, and 24/7 support via phone and e-mail. In addition, Apple will introduce on-site hardware service and 4-hour on-site response.

Jobs stressed that Apple will focus the Xserve on markets in which it has traditionally had a strong presence: education, creative, biotech and video. However, Apple also announced partnerships with enterprise powerhouses Oracle Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co.

At the event, Oracle announced Mac OS X support for Oracle 9i; a developer release is slated to ship in the near future, the company said. HP announced Mac OS X support for OpenView management software.

The Xserve isnt the first product Apple has labeled a "server"; over the past decade, however, its server configurations have been little more than slightly reconfigured desktop models. Apple has worked intermittently on rack-mount designs since the mid-90s, sources said, and it has been actively soliciting developer input on the Xserve since the WWDC gathering in May 2001.

Looking forward to its next server offering, Apple sketched out details of Xserve RAID, a rack-mounted storage unit due to ship by year-end. The Xserve RAID contains 14 hot-swappable ATA/100 drive bays for a theoretical maximum of 1.68 terabytes of storage. Like the Xserve, the Xserve RAID will feature extensive redundancies for power supplies, cooling, RAID controllers and more.

In a first for Apple, the Xserve RAID will support dual 2GB Fibre Channel technology for a theoretical maximum throughput of 400MB per second. According to sources, Apple will offer a Fibre Channel PCI Card for the Xserve server unit.

Apple did not specify pricing on the Xserve RAID.