Apples Xserve: Ready for G5 Leap?

Apple is eyeing the enterprise for its Xserve model and building support from some major software names. However, the Mac market is waiting for an Xserve with a PowerPC G5 chip.

Apple Computer Inc. may be known more for its recent success in the consumer market with the iPod audio player and in the desktop computer market for its Macintosh desktop and notebook lines. However, the company also has a enterprise-server strategy—regardless of the opinion of some analysts and despite slim sales numbers.

Over the past year, the company has been working with a number of big names in the enterprise to expand support for its rack-mounted Xserve system, and the system ships with a variety of familiar open-source software. Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple also shipped Mac OS X 10.3 Server, or "Panther Server," in late October along with the desktop versions.

Still, many watchers of the Mac market await the release of a new Xserve based on the 64-bit PowerPC G5 processor. Apple has been characteristically mum on the topic.

When Apple introduced the Apple Xserve in May 2002, many doubted the server would ever find its way into mainstream IT shops dominated by servers from Dell Computer Corp. and other vendors. Potential customers questioned how rigorously Apple would support the product, and the companys on-again, off-again affairs with business customers in general. As Apple chief executive Steve Jobs said at the time, "We have a lot to learn."

To date, some of those lessons have been difficult.

Apples worldwide unit market share is about 1 percent, according to Gartner Inc. analyst Joe Gonzalez. He said Apple sold 5,600 Xserves worldwide during the second quarter of 2003, the most recent quarter for which data is available. Approximately 3,500 Xserves were shipped within the United States down from a high of 7,400 units that Apple shipped in the fourth quarter of 2002.

"Right now the rest of the world runs X86 with Windows or Linux, and its going to be obviously hard to lure them away from it," Gonzalez said.

Apples enterprise strategy, however, steals a page from the Unixcode base that underlies Panther. In all, Mac OS X contains 80 open-source applications, all qualified to interoperate with each other and tied together under a unified GUI, said Eric Zelenka, product line manager for server software at Apple.

"Apples strategy ... is to make open source easy," Zelenka said.

Zelenka acknowledged that the Xserve has served several of Apples more traditional markets, including the education market and video industry, where customers need massive amounts of bandwidth to process raw video.

The "vast majority" of customers run OS X on top of the Xserve, Zelenka said, although a small population has replaced Mac OS X with a third-party Linux distribution.


Panther Server contains more than 150 new features, according to Apple, including an integrated version of the Samba 3 file and print server, with tighter integration to Windows and Active Directory; Open Directory 2, which contains a version of the open-source Berkeley DB database; and improved management tools.

On Tuesday, Apple released a separate Mac OS X Server 10.3.1 update, which delivers "enhanced functionality and improved reliability for the following applications, services and technologies: FileVault, Printing, WebTV, and FireWire 800 drives", as well as the latest security patches.

/zimages/3/28571.gifFor eWEEK Labs review of Mac OS X 10.3, a k a Panther, click here.

Apple is also encouraging customers to sign on to the Apple Maintenance Program, a three-year non-cancelable contract that guarantees free upgrades to the latest version of the operating system.

Apple has released four major versions of its server operating system in the last three years, Zelenka noted.

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