Apple bites enterprise space

Apple Computer Corp. says it is breaking the mould when it comes to its enterprise server offerings – but one analyst doesn’t see the vendor becoming a major force in the Canadian server market any time soon.

Executives from the Cupertino, Calif.-based Mac platform provider were in Toronto recently for a media briefing on Apple’s role in the enterprise. The firm’s server product marketing manager, Eric Zelenka, said the secret to success for Apple’s Xserve offering so far has been its “standards-based Unix architecture, which allows us to integrate with the enterprise infrastructure that’s already there.”

Last upgraded in February, the Xserve 1U rack server comes with Mac OS X Server, a server operating system based on Berkeley Standard Distribution (BSD) – a “tried and true” flavour of Unix, according to Zelenka. The OS offers a suite of standards-based network services and supports the latest security and networking protocols, according to Apple. The firm says Mac OS X Server provides cross-platform support for native file sharing, as well as Apache Web server, POP and IMAP mail and QuickTime Streaming Server.

High availability is important to larger enterprises that just cannot afford down-time, Zelenka said. OS X Server also features file system journaling that boosts availability, providing “rapid [file system] recovery after an unplanned shutdown or power failure.” With IP failover, “if one machine goes down, another takes over the IP address and the server keeps running,” he said.

Security features of the Xserve are also top of the list, Zelenka said. “For the server, security is very important, because in most cases, servers don’t get taken out of their environment – they stay there for years.” Xserve with Mac OS X Server features a number of remote management monitoring tools that allow administrators to set up and manage key server network services remotely – including security.

The server offers 1.33GHz PowerPC G4 processors, up to 2GB of 333MHz double data rate (DDR) memory and up to 720GB of hot-plug storage.

Zelenka said Apple’s pricing is also competitive: 2.5TB of protected storage, fully loaded, is going for US$17,000, which is about US$6.75/GB – in stark contrast to the 2.2TB Dell EMC CX200, which is priced at US$48,000, or $21.82/GB.

But even with competitive pricing and performance upgrades, Apple’s presence in the Canadian market will probably continue to be “very small” in the next while, said Toronto-based IDC Canada analyst Alan Freedman.

Although Apple’s marketshare could increase “possibly, slightly,” the firm won’t be muscling out the server and storage big boys – Dell, IBM and HP – anytime soon. “(Apple) definitely has a niche they play in, and a loyal install base,” said Freedman. “The target market to go after are the Mac users and Mac shops.”

Workgroup management technologies have enabled some of Apple’s larger customers to deal with pressing network management issues, Zelenka said. Virginia Tech University, for instance, had 526 Mac systems and only one systems administrator. The challenge was to find a way to quickly image, reinstall software and reconfigure systems in an environment where “downtime was not an option” – all while reducing support costs.

Software installation would typically take three to four days, and was “labour intensive,” but thanks to NetBoot, a tool which “allows you to boot the system off the network by defining the image of the OS and placing it on the server,” and Network Install, which takes a predefined image and installs it on each hard drive, the upgrade time dropped to six hours.

The Xserve RAID storage system, a 3U rack with 2.5TB storage capacity, has also gathered some steam in the enterprise, Zelenka said. “We are seeing an explosion in content,” including videos and movies, and “databases are taking off. Storage needs are going to continue to grow as time goes on.”

The RAID offers data protection features – in the event of a drive failure, access to data remains unaffected while data is rebuilt on a spare drive which helps avoid downtime, Zelenka said. The RAID also features an accessible enclosure, modular component design and continual visual feedback for local monitoring.