Apple extends enterprise reach

Deepening its commitment to the enterprise, Apple Computer on Monday will announce its new Xserve and the company's first storage product, Xserve RAID.

Touting an aggressive combination of pricing, performance, and services, Apple is openly targeting edge-server rivals Sun Microsystems, IBM, and Dell Computer in a move analysts suggest represent a deliberate attempt to move beyond core markets.

Available in March, the servers and the accompanying Server Admin and Java-based RAID Admin tools leverage Apple's open-standards strategy.

"We want to be at the portable fast end of the spectrum with an open-source model but also have all those benefits that you [expect from] Sun," Phil Schiller, Apple senior vice president of worldwide marketing, said during an exclusive briefing with InfoWorld, Computerworld's sister publication.

The news comes at a time when enterprises continue to seriously evaluate Apple's long-term commitment to server-based products, according to Gordon Haff , senior analyst at Illuminata. "Ultimately, Apple needs to do something like this [because] desktops are getting so commoditized and so much of the intelligence is moving into the network and server," Haff said. "The role for a consumer-friendly, special desktop environment [such as Apple's Mac OS] … has to inevitably decrease as you move to thinner [mobile] computers."

Arriving six months after the first Xserve, the new 1U server will ship with a single 1.3 3 GHz G4 processor , 2MB of dedicated L3 cache per processor, and 256MB of DDR RAM for US$2,799. A dual-processor version with two 1.3 3 GHz G4 CPUs and 512MB of DDR RAM is priced at $3,799. Both configurations ship with an unlimited-user license agreement. Xserve also f eatures a 167MHz system bus , two FireWire 800 peripheral ports , 60GB ATA/133 Apple Drive Modules, and dual Gigabit Ethernet .

Meanwhile, Apple's Xserve RAID storage system feature s as much as 2.52TB of storage in a rack-mounted system. The system features a 3 U rack enclosure with ATA drive modules, each with 180GB of storage capacity. As many as 14 drives can be installed. A 720GB configuration, with four drives, costs $5,999. The 2.52TB version is listed at $10,999, under half the cost of the closest competitor, the 2.1TB Dell EMC CX200 at $27,999, according to Apple documents.

The Fibre Channel-based RAID system features dual control centers, dedicated memory cache per engine, and dual power supplies and fans. Xserve RAID connects to Xserve via a $499 Fibre Channel PCI card to be made available in March .

The AppleCare premium server and support plan, priced at $950 per server for a three-year contract, will also be part of the rollout. The service offers four hours of onsite response in most cities and e-mail- and phone-based support, Apple executives reported.

Jean Bozman, vice president of research at IDC, said Apple server sales have seen an uptick in the third quarter, although the company sold fewer than 10,000 units. The interest indicates Apple has the opportunity to expand beyond its graphics, educational, and government markets, particularly given Xserve's capability of handling streaming media and Web applications.

"If [Apple] can take this and continue this momentum, ... the question is, Can they break out into the broader base?" Bozman said. Apple's ability to bridge the Java and Windows worlds also "positions them for a play in Web services," she added.

One Apple customer to preview Xserve RAID said it is feasible to run the system across multiple platforms. "Coupled with Xserve, the unlimited client license, and pricing … I don't see anything else competing with it at all," said John Moog, CIO of Minneapolis-based RiskWise Inc.

The company has already deployed 120 Xserves and said the combination of desktops and servers based on Mac OS X continues to validate its enterprise potential.

"Desktops are a harder sell, unless you have a server strategy," Moog said.

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