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X Marks The Server

I've got to admit, I've been most curious about Apple and what its server strategy will be going forward from its switch to Intel processors. Now, perhaps we'll start finding out. Apple honcho Steve Jobs used the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference last week to complete Apple's Intel line by unveiling the two most long-awaited items -- the Mac Pro desktop, which fills out the desktop line at its most important point, and a quad-core Xeon-based Xserve 1U server line that goes up to 3 GHz in speed and concentrates on efficient power management.
Apple has lined up its ducks nicely to support a push to transition enterprise customers to the Xserve, working on virtualization, tuning its Unix-based OS as a server platform, and supporting Windows on the desktop -- a move you can be sure will be replicated to the server sooner than later. (And it's not the only company working on Mac-based virtualization: VMware has thrown its hat into the ring with its own version of Mac virtual machine software.) OS X Server is by all accounts a snap for administrators to configure and use, with a good reliability factor. And the move to Xeons will expand the universe of support software available to Mac server users, from systems management packages to applications.

Which brings us to the inevitable Apple question -- price. And this is where the dons of Cupertino may have finally gotten it right to some extent. The $3,000 starting level of the Xserve is plenty competitive with other quad-core Xeon boxes, so Apple has a good starting point for aiming at some higher-level enterprises and convincing them to make the switch. Where it's lacking an effort for its Intel line right now, though, is the sweet spot of small businesses. And I wonder if the strategy isn't backwards for Apple, because small business should be a strength for it; the simplicity of any Mac based machine makes life easy for the small-business IT manager if he or she can afford the server. It's fine for Apple to aim at the enterprise with its new rollout, but until it gets a killer cheap Xserve or a new model aimed at the little guy, it doesn't have a complete server-line strategy just yet. But I also doubt that Jobs and his minions are sitting still on this question.