Apple Sows G5 Seeds Into Server Market

Server Pipeline Editor Jennifer Bosavage recently caught up with Doug Brooks, product manager for server hardware at Apple, and asked him some questions about his company's server strategy.

January 22, 2004

6 Min Read
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Apple Computer recently introduced the Apple G5 Xserve at Macworld. What the company aims to do, according to Doug Brooks, product manager for server hardware at Apple, is provide a major technology infusion to the Xserve product line. How? By bringing the G5 processor, with its 64-bit architecture, into the Xserve platform. Three configurations of the G5 Xserver are available: A single processor, a dual processor and the "compute node," a configuration streamlined for rack and stack compute farms and compute clusters. Server Pipeline Editor Jennifer Bosavage recently caught up with Brooks and asked him some questions about Apple's server strategy.

Server Pipeline: What's most exciting to you about the new Xserve product?

Brooks: The big thing is the G5 processor in the box. It has 64-bit addressing and incredible floating point computation. But it's a server, so it's more than just about raw compute power. It's really about balanced IO and having balanced IP and networking. The Xserve G5 has PCIX technology, dual-gigabit Ethernet onboard, and we're offering three serial ATA hot-plug hard-drive bays on our server configurations. We have up to 750 GB of storage on a 1U [1.75-in.] form factor. Currently, it supports 8 GB of DDR, ECC ram. We'll go up to 16 GB, as soon as 2-GB RIMMs are more widely available to take advantage of that 64-bit memory.

Server Pipeline: What's the advantage of using this gear?
Brooks: The software is one of our big advantages. Our server configurations ship with an unlimited client license of our Mac OS X server software, so we've given it kind of a Unix-based foundation, phenomenal services from file and print for Mac, Windows and Unix clients, Apache, JBOSS application serving, our streaming server engine, great networking services, desktop management, and on and on. We see Xserve out of the box ready to jump into a wide variety of server tasks without any additional software because so much is built into Mac OS X.

Server Pipeline: What market are you targeting?
Brooks: Xserve was born out of our customers beating down our door for years saying, "Apple, you've got this amazing OS X operating system, it seems like the perfect environment for a server. Why don't you build hardware that really delivers on the power of Mac OS X?" And so, we delivered the Xserve platform and that was in response to our key customer base: education, small and medium business, creative markets and video markets. What's been real impressive is the response we've gotten outside the traditional Apple market, as in larger businesses and enterprises, typical IT shops, teleco and ISP environments. We've even gotten some customers in areas you'd never think of Apple in, like financial services, because of the price performance value and the capabilities we deliver.

Server Pipeline: I imagine part of that success is the Xserve's cross platform capability. Is that correct?
Brooks: Absolutely! We are at an interesting time in the server market right now. We are starting to see this transition of more commodity based, 64-bit platforms challenge the Intel de facto standard. We're having a big OS transition now . There's the growth of Linux against this transition in the NT market. We have a lot of customers on NT who are unwilling to go to 2003 and the forced upgrade of Active Directory. We have a lot of people now looking for alternatives and our value really stands out. [For example,] We have an unlimited client-license model, we have a fantastic implementation of SAMBA [a open source software suite that provides file and print services to SMB/CIFS clients] for Windows clients; we can be a replacement for an NT server and take advantage of existing PDC services with SAMBA, so customers don't have to go, say, to an active directory architecture. We are based on industry standards for interoperability so we can leverage LDAP infrastructures to provide interoperability with industry standard directory services. So it's a platform message that's played really well. That plus the great value: The price performance of our hardware, the great price per capacity of our Xserve RAID storage products and its interoperability on multiple platforms has just played really well.Server Pipeline: Everywhere I go I hear that this it the year for Linux. How does Linux fit into Apple's strategy this year?
Brooks: It's interesting. Against Linux we offer really the same open source platform that a Linux does. We're based on an open source technology platform, we run many of the same server services (Apache, SAMBA) that they do. Our value, from a software perspective, is that Apple does the integration for you. We call it open-source made easy. One click install gives you the same open source services; for the command line intensive people, you can get in and modify the configuration files the same way you would on Linux, but what people don't want to do is integrate all the latest pieces and parts. So Apple does that work for you. We have world-class management tools that layer on top of it to make it reall easy to manage one or hundreds of servers. We integrate it for security and performance and reliability.

Server Pipeline: It's as though it's open-source for the non-technical person.
Brooks: True, although it's interesting because even the technical people who have the capabilities to deal with a Linux platform really respond to what we deliver, because it lets them focus on the value add that they can bring and not the latest kernel patch this week.

Server Pipeline: Typically, Apple gear has been a bit more expensive than Windows based machinery. Talk about the total cost of ownership benefits to running on Apple.
Brooks: I will challenge that statement from the standpoint of our server products. If you do a price comparison for feature-by-feature equivalence [you'll see Apple stacks up on top]. Other vendors will tout a $499 1U server; well, that's great, but as soon as you configure it with anything meaningful, the price goes right up to where we are. And pound per pound, feature for feature (and I've never talked to a customer who's said they have enough storage), we are equal or less expensive than competitors. And that's not even figuring in the client licensing fees you would need, say, for a Windows operating system. Even Linux these days is not free. We continue to have tremendously leading price per gigabyte advantage. We're $3 per GB, for Xserve RAID, for a capacity up to 3.5 terabytes. We're roughly 1/2 to 1/3 the cost there of our competitors.

Server Pipeline: So you're saying your value proposition is better than the competitors'?

Brooks: Mac OS X's value proposition from a management standpoint is very significant. Our management tools are world-class, it's what Apple's known for, the hardware software integration. Even savvy users who are used to the command line really love the value we bring. We offer ease of management to clusters as well: In 20 minutes a cluster can be fully configured.

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