Apple, Xserves, and OS X Server

Apple will not be developing a future version of Xserve. Xserve will be available for order through January 31, 2011. Apple will honor and support all Xserve system warranties and extended support programs. Apple intends to offer the current shipping 160GB, 1TB, and 2TB Apple Drive Modules for Xserve through the end of 2011 or while supplies last. Apple will continue to support Xserve customers with service parts for warranty and out-of-warranty service.

As of January 31, 2011 Apple will no longer have enterprise-class hardware for sale. This has sparked a massive discussion, because there are a number of pretty vocal people using Xserves to run Mac OS X Server, supporting Mac OS X clients, or as clusters running Xgrid. The two big questions now are:

  • Is Apple abandoning their enterprise customers, again, or is this part of a larger move?
  • What do we do if we are Apple Xserve or Mac OS X Server customers?

To me, the larger move would be announcing virtualization for Mac OS X Server. Imagine Mac OS X Server running in a virtual machine under VMware vSphere or in a VMware-based cloud like Terremark’s! That would be wonderful. Imagine taking it one step further, too, and being able to supply Mac OS X virtual desktops! Desktop virtualization is dominated right now by Microsoft Windows, mainly because the only other viable desktop OS vendor, Apple, couldn’t care less. If they started caring imagine what they could do in the enterprise desktop space.

However, I doubt there’s any larger plan. My bet is that Apple is abandoning their customers, for a couple of reasons:

  • Apple has had a long history of waffling when it comes to enterprise hardware and software, and with their North Carolina data center buildout they’re betting on cloud services, big time, and finally going to stop pretending they care about enterprise hardware. I’m fine with that, really. It’s probably true that small and medium-sized businesses are better served, will derive more value, and will have a better experience using cloud services than local infrastructure, especially as network connectivity options get better.
  • Apple is a consumer device company now. Their “Back To The Mac” presentations showed that 66% of their revenue is generated from the iPod/iPhone/iPad/iTunes ecosystem. Only 33% is from all the rest of their product lines, with increasingly small shares for Xserves & Mac OS X Server. They’re killing it on the consumer/client side of things, and they’re going to stay focused on that. We’ve already seen a big slowdown in Mac OS X release cycles as a symptom of this shifted focus.
  • Apple basically announced that they are making Mac OS X 10.7 more iOS-like, and my prediction is that if there is a 10.8 it’ll either be fundamentally all iOS or very close. Unfortunately, that also means that 10.7 will be the last time we see a server variant of Mac OS X. Apple is going to wonder why they are putting effort into server software when people should be using the cloud, and when they don’t even sell server hardware, and discontinue Mac OS X Server when support for Xserves ends in three years.
  • Apple has never been big in the enterprise because they’re Apple and it’s their way or the highway. Which is also how enterprises think, and those two views aren’t compatible. Besides, Apple’s enterprise server and storage offerings have always been less than they could have been, with SATA disks, single power supplies, and limited interest in working with other vendors — try connecting Mac OS X to any sort of enterprise disk array, for example. It’s a game they don’t want to play because they can’t control it, and beyond that, they’d have to play nice with others. Problem is, Apple isn’t a team player, they don’t know how to play nice with anybody, and have no interest in doing so. As such, I really doubt we’ll see any decent virtualization options for Mac OS X, ever.

So what to do now? If you’re looking at a new Xserve investment in the next year I’d either do it quickly, or decide to do something completely different on a real enterprise-class server platform (Linux or Windows). If you do buy new Xserves you are buying yourself three years to figure out your next move, which might be attractive, but it’s also a big technical debt you’ll have to repay if Apple doesn’t actually announce a new path later.

And I don’t think they will.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Or maybe it’s way simpler. Their sales sucked because they were more expensive than the HP DL380. The remote management capabilities/support weren’t as good either.

    I managed a 90 node XServe cluster at nasa circa 2002 and it cost us half a million dollars and it didn’t even get on the top 500.

  • Nice article, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. I’m a fan of Apple products and I think it’s unfortunate that Apple doesn’t do more in the SMB market. Not enterprise, I don’t think they ever meant to make a big push there. I’m not a fan of their greedy and controlling business practices though. Maybe you can’t have one without the other, I don’t know. Anyway, I hope the cloud is their focus in the future for SMB because that makes since for SMB. Hopefully they can innovate there as well and make the move easy for SMB.

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