You may think of Cupertino, Calif., as the place from which Macintoshes and iPods make their assaults on the consumer world, and you'd be right. However, Apple is also getting serious about server technology and enterprise networking, and a few people are starting to listen.
Apple made some time at this month's Macworld Expo to roll out a new line of G5-based Xserve blade servers to augment its existing server offerings. It also announced a G5 version of its RAID storage system. While the server line is typically Apple-price, the company is touting its claims of major performance gains, the robustness of the native OS X operating system, and easy clustering ability as selling points for network administrators. Apple also argues that when the cost of add-ons, deployment, and configuration are added in, the Xserve line competes favorably with commodity-based server installations.
Apple's clustering technology has already scored one notable success: A recent Virginia Tech supercomputer installation consisting of 1,100 G5s is the talk of the supercomputing world. In that situation, Apple scored an unusual (for it) cost victory; the $7 million price tag is way below the price of a typical supercomputer, increasing the likelihood that new supercomputing initiatives will take a good, long look at Apple products. A few more of those, and Apple could be seeing some significant revenue.
Strangely, it's probably the iPod that's giving Apple breathing room to concentrate on enterprise products. The cool, personal MP3 player has been such a smash success that it's beefed up the company's bottom line to levels not seen for nearly half a decade. Don't necessarily look for the iPod, itself, to turn up in many IT installations (although VAR Business columnist David Strom argues that the device could serve nicely as an offline, easily synced backup storage unit). Nonetheless, it's interesting to note that the digital-music revolution is causing butterfly-effect ripples in the enterprise server pool.