Analysis: Apple server not quite enterprise-calibre

I like Apple Computer Inc.'s latest server for what it is - not an enterprise showstopper, but instead a perfectly suitable server for graphics workgroups and educational institutions that already use Macintoshes.

Apple says it did what its customers asked it to - introduce a rack-mount server to replace pedestal versions of Macintosh servers they already have. The company shipped a powerful, single- or dual-processor 1U (1.75-inch) server with the promise of up to 1.3 terabytes of external storage capacity the company will introduce this fall.

Each Xserve accommodates just under a half-terabyte of data, and as many as 84 Xserves can be stacked in a standard 72-inch rack. It has many of the same fault-tolerant features as Intel servers, and hot-swappable drives.

However, that's where the comparison to enterprise-class machines should end. At the introduction of the Xserve, Apple asked the industry to help it, being inexperienced in the enterprise business - but the company should have stopped at positioning the Xserve as a departmental server and let users do the figuring on the enterprise-class stuff.

Instead, the company continues to compare its new gear to enterprise-class servers. On the Apple Web site, a technology overview compares the Xserve to the Dell Computer Corp. PowerEdge 1650, the Hewlett-Packard Co. ProLiant DL360, the IBM Corp. xSeries 330 and Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Sun Fire V100 - all 1U, rack-mounted machines.

Each of these machines, however, with the exception of the Sun Fire, uses single- or dual-Ultra SCSI drives instead of the ATA drives the Xserve uses.

Take the comparison a little further. Dell's PowerEdge 1650, for instance, has redundant power supplies and fans and supports external storage, something Apple won't do until this fall. Although it uses dual-Pentium III processors, it operates at 1.4 GHz, compared to the Xserve's 1 GHz.

The Xserve has up to 2M bytes of L3 cache; Dell's 1650 has 512K bytes of L2 cache. However, Dell's server supports up to 4G bytes of main memory, while the Xserve supports 2G bytes.

The Xserve comes to market with a paltry list of application support. Rather than introducing a server that can be managed from Tivoli Systems Inc., Computer Associates International Inc. and HP management frameworks, Apple Xserve's management software only ties to HP OpenView. Instead of running Sybase, IBM DB2 and Oracle, the Xserve only runs Oracle. As for backup and recovery, Apple offers Dantz Retrospect, not Veritas NetBackup, Legato Networker or Tivoli Storage Manager.

Sybase Inc. says it is working on a version of its database for the Xserver. And IBM says it is committed to a Macintosh version of Notes, code-named Rnext, which is expected to be released in the third quarter of this year.

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