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Apple tight-leashes 'Snow Leopard' Server

Only Intelified Xserves need apply

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WWDC You were hoping that Apple would spend a little less time at its Worldwide Developer Conference on the iPhone, the health of Steve Jobs, and the desktop and laptop variant of the "Snow Leopard" Mac OS X and maybe launch the server variant of Snow Leopard? You were hoping it would flesh out a real server product line? Well, you can forget it.

As it turns out, the next release of Mac OS X Server 10.6 won't ship until September, just like the regular Snow Leopard for desktop and laptop machines, and it seems unlikely that Apple will do anything more than support the current crop of Xserve 'Nehalem EP' Xeon 5500 rack servers that came out in early April.

The Snow Leopard Server is important because it sports the first 64-bit operating system kernel from Apple, which means applications can break through the 4 GB memory barrier. Bits of Mac OS X have been getting 64-bit extensions for many years, including memory addressing. The extra memory that Snow Leopard can address means Apple machines can take better advantage of cores and threads in Intel's x64 processors and can be better virtualized to support server consolidation, if customers need to do this and if server virtualization hypervisor providers like Parallels support the future Mac OS X release.

Snow Leopard Server is being positioned as being Apple's "best and fastest server operating system ever," but the company did not provide a lot of benchmark information in conjunction with the preview of the software to back up those claims. But Apple did provide some comparisons.

The big performance improvements with Snow Leopard seem to be coming from the tweaks in the file system, where Apple is showing a factor of 2.3 improvement on Windows file serving using a CIFS/SMB server with Snow Leopard running on an Xserve compared to the same machine using Leopard (Mac OS X Server 10.5, the prior release). On a SPEC NFS performance, Snow Leopard bested Leopard on file serving throughput by a factor of 2, and on Apple's own AFPBench file serving test, Snow Leopard showed only a 30 percent improvement.

Similarly, on the SPECjbb2005 Java benchmark test, Snow Leopard showed a 30 percent performance advantage compared to Leopard on the same iron. As operating system changes and performance enhancements go, release to release, these are pretty big numbers. But no more than prior Apple releases have shown in the past as 64-bit elements were added to the stack, starting with "Tiger" Mac OS X Server 10.4 in 2005.

Snow Leopard Server will include Podcast Producer 2, which creates podcasts as the name suggests, as well as Mobile Access Server, which provides network services to iPhone and Mac clients through a built-in firewall. The Snow Leopard release also includes an updated Wiki Server and iCal Server (both at the 2 release level now) and a new Mail Server that can do push email.

As was the case with the desktop and laptop variant of Snow Leopard, the server variant will only run on Mac iron with Intel processors. So, if you have Xserves with PowerPC chips, you are dead ended with Leopard Server. Snow Leopard requires 2GB of main memory and 10GB of disk space as a minimum. Intel-based machines running Mac OS X Server 10.4 or 10.5 can upgrade to 10.6, and Apple says that any customer that buys an Xserve between June 8 and December 26 that has Leopard Server on it can upgrade to Snow Leopard Server by paying a mere $9.95.

Customers who are on Apple's maintenance will get the software shipped to them automatically and without an additional charge as part of their support contract. A license to Snow Leopard Server with an unlimited number of client licenses for an Xserve machine will cost $499, the price Apple has been charging for years for a 10-user license; an unlimited license used to cost $999. ®

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