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Apple recently announced that their Xserve rack-mounted server product was being discontinued. OK, I know what many of you are saying – "Apple sells rack-mounted servers?" Well, for a little while longer, yes. And now some of you are asking, "Why?"

I believe that the Xserve was Apple's attempt to get into the enterprise. An Xserve running OS X Server was a lot cheaper than a Windows server if you were willing to use the mail/web/file and print services from Apple rather than from Microsoft, thanks mostly to the licensing. But in recent years, the Intel-based offerings from Apple have seemed somewhat underpowered to me compared to similar servers offered by HP and Dell. If you have mostly Windows-based desktops, it's just a lot easier to use Windows servers to control them.

XServe doesn't seem to have sold very well. I saw one estimate they've sold less XServes in eight years than they do iPads in a month. I'm sure there are some places that have a lot of them and swear by them, but overall, as a way into the enterprise, they're not cutting it. 

Besides, Apple has gotten into the enterprise through another means – first the iPhone and now the iPad (especially the iPad it seems). iPads seem to be hurting netbook sales (even though there are some things you just can't do as well on an iPad – like mouse movements on a remote system – they can be difficult when trying to drag or select text, for example, via a remote desktop program when there's no real mouse in use). They're even becoming part of political promises in Australia!  

So with weak sales, and an easier inroad to the enterprise, Xserve no longer fits into Apple's plans. That's a bit of a shame – if they would update them to be more on a par with other offerings, and hold out a bit longer while Macs continue to make enterprise inroads, I think Xserve's fortunes might change. 

Sure, you can use a Mac Mini or a Mac Pro (or, for that matter, any Mac) as a server, but most enterprises use the easily rack-mountable form factor like the Xserve.  

Of course, nothing says Apple can't bring out a different rack mount in the future, but after discontinuing Xserve (especially after letting it fall behind somewhat in power) I think you'd find fewer companies willing to take a chance on it.

An open letter posted on the web by Dave Schroeder of the University of Wisconsin-Madison asks Apple to reconsider or allow OS X Server to be run as a virtual machine on non-Apple hardware. Right now, the license agreement lets you virtualize the OS, but only if it runs on a Mac. Seeing as Apple makes most of its money from hardware sales, I don't see them letting OS X Server run on non-Apple hardware as a likely outcome, but it would give Apple an easier path for Server to get into the data center – if that's one of their goals. It could be they're only interested in smaller shops, or small deployments (on Macs) inside the data center.

Any of you using Xserves? If so, what do you plan to do in the future?


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2 Responses to Knockin’ at Your Back Door

  1. Steven Klein says:

    Enterprises do like rack-mountable hardware, but the Xserve simply wouldn’t fit in 90% of the racks out there. It was too deep from front to back. Even if some corporate IT department wanted to try it, they’d have to spend an extra $1K just to buy a new rack.

    Yes, it’s nice that they made it just 1U tall. But I think they’d have sold a lot more if it was twice as tall and half as deep. I would have bought one at my last office, if not for its strange size.

  2. Jack Beckman says:

    Actually, the last few racks we bought were all very deep – it’s getting harder to find the other ones, so I think the deeper racks are becoming the standard now.