WWDC: Xserve makes a strong showing

Some of the loudest cheers during the keynote speech that kicked off this week’s Worldwide Developers Conference weren’t for the previewed features in Leopard or for the Intel Xeon-based Mac Pro. Rather, the news that brought whoops of excitement from the assembled developers involved the Xserve, Apple’s server offering, and the fact that the forthcoming Intel-based hardware has added redundant power supplies.

The enthusiastic reaction to the updated Xserve illustrates a particular challenge Apple has faced in its effort to capture more server business. While the company has won praise for its 1U rackmount server, it’s also received considerable criticism for missing a feature such as redundant power supplies, considered by many to be a necessity in the server space.

Apple needs to serve to distinct markets with a single server, executives say. Many people are happy with the hardware, says Apple senior director of server and storage hardware product marketing Alex Grossman, but want a more simplified version of the accompanying Mac OS X Server software. Still others thought OS X Server was fine the way it was, but wanted a stronger hardware product.

Apple took both considerations into account when updating the Xserve and the Leopard version of Mac OS X Server, Grossman said.

“We’ve designed these machines so they will run just as well in a data center as they will in someone’s closet,” Grossman added. “Our users range from organizations that use the Xserve in mission critical environments to schools and individuals. They all tend to use it in different ways.”

On the software side, Apple worked to give users a choice of what type of environment they plan to deploy; once that’s selected, the software only shows the administration tools and features that are relevant to that choice. That eliminates unnecessary confusion for a specific segment of Xserve users.

That sort of streamlining should benefit individual users who want a powerful, affordable server, Apple says. It also targets small businesses that may want to bring more of their serving in-house, but are worried about ongoing maintenance.

“People want to use the server but they think they will have to hire IT staff,” said Eric Zelenka, Apple’s senior product line manager for server and storage software. “We have really simplified the server setup and give [users] slightly different tools for different setups.”

Configurable with two Dual-Core Intel Xeon processors running at speeds of 2, 2.66 or 3GHz, the Intel-based Xserve is more than five times as fast as its PowerPC predecessor, according to Apple’s tests. Apple says the updated server will become available in October.

The updated Xserve supports up to 32GB of 667MHz DDR2 ECC FB-DIMM memory with twice the capacity and three times the bandwidth of the Xserve G5. Two eight-lane PCI Express expansion slots provide up to 2GB/s of throughput each. The Xserve includes support for up to three 3Gb/s SATA or SAS drives, for up to 2.25TB of hot-plug storage. Thermal management capabilities take advantage of the low power of the Intel processors, running as low as 65W.

Scheduled to ship at the same time as the single-user version of OS X 10.5, Mac OS X Leopard Server includes many of the same new features. Of particular importance is enhanced 64-bit support. Zelenka said that Apple is doing more than talk when it comes to 64-bit support—Apache 2, MySQL 5, Postfix, Cyrus, iChat Server and QuickTime Streaming Server have all been updated with 64-bit support.

Other new features in the server software include iCal Server, which makes it possible to share calendars, schedule meetings and plan events; a Wiki server that lets users collaborate and share information; Spotlight Server, which finds content on servers; and Podcast Producer, designed to help facilitate podcast production.

This story, "WWDC: Xserve makes a strong showing" was originally published by PCWorld.

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