The original (2.52TB) Xserve RAID (
; September 2003) was an impressive first try for Apple’s entry to the mass-storage market. The enhancements in the second go-around are pretty easy to sum up, but they still make the Xserve RAID an excellent choice.
The most important new feature is that the capacity of the 3U RAID chassis is now 3.5TB, thanks to Apple’s decision to switch from ATA-based drives—used in the first generation of the Xserve RAID and the first two Xserve models—to larger-capacity Serial ATA drives. But the Xserve RAID’s capacity is one of only a few technological advances I can point to that have become 40 percent better in the course of a year.
There are some subtler changes in the new hardware, as well as a few in the updated RAID Admin management utility. Although the Xserve RAID’s twin Fibre Channel controllers still aren’t redundant—each controller serves half of the drive bays—Apple’s decision to switch the controller module’s interface from an HSSDC2 (High-Speed Serial Data Connector 2) receptacle to an SFP (Small Form-factor Pluggable) jack should simplify the setup process. The downside is incompatible, but visually similar, cables for the two Xserve RAID models.
The Java-based RAID Admin utility is still not going to provide anyone’s idea of instant response, but the version I did most of my testing with (1.3) does seem to be somewhat peppier than the version that shipped with the original Xserve RAID. Version 1.3.1 includes a number of bug fixes and became available as testing wrapped up; all I had time to do was install it and verify that it didn’t break my testbed.
The Xserve RAID is now a true multiplatform player; in addition to Mac OS X, it’s now certified for Microsoft Windows Server, Novell NetWare, and Red Hat Linux. On top of that, leading storage hardware and software vendors including Brocade, Emulex, and Veritas have certified the Xserve RAID with their products. So customers can now use the Xserve RAID in their storage area networks—thus spending less money than they would for similarly configured hardware from HP and IBM.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
The Xserve RAID is nearly perfect; for its price, there’s no better RAID available. When Apple releases its upcoming Xsan software, it’s going to be tough to find a better all-around package for building SANs (storage area networks) on a budget.