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Steve Jobs chucks Apple server biz from pram

XServe bites the dust. And so much more

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OK, boys. Back to the mid-90s

And so server customers are being told to roll back to the mid-1990s and use desktop and tower PCs equipped with Mac OS X Snow Leopard Server. In the planning document, Apple says that customers who want to have a server can use a Mac Pro or a Mac Mini. But neither machine has redundant power supplies, lights-out management service processors, or standard rack-mounting — which are tick marks for a lot of data centers these days.

The Mac Pro, a two-socket tower workstation, was updated with the Xeon 5600s this summer. The behemoth is 12U high, and you can only get two of them side-by-side on a rack shelf. That means you can get only six Mac Pro machines in the same rack space as you could put 36 Xserves.

Granted, if you want to pay the premium, you can have 50 per cent more cores and about that much extra computing oomph in each Mac Pro because it uses the six-core Xeons 5600s instead of the quad-core Xeon 5500s where the Xserves are stuck, but that still works out with four times the compute density per rack for the Xserves. (And again, this is a completely artificial situation since Apple could have and should have upgraded the Xserves to the Xeon 5600s earlier this year).

The Mac Pro sports faster and more processors as well as three empty PCI-Express slots (one of the four is used for the graphics card), compared to two for the Xserve (which has on-board graphics). The Mac Pro also has a fatter 950 watt power supply compared to the 750 watter used in the Xserve, but it needs it to support the larger number of disk drives and the graphics card in the workstation.

Depending on the configuration, the Mac Pro can meet or beat the performance of an Xserve, according to Apple's transition document. An Xserve with two quad-core Xeon 5600s running at 2.26GHz, 24GB of memory, a RAID 5 card, three 1TB disks, and a Fibre Channel adapter linking out to external storage costs $9,349.

The most-similar Mac Pro configuration comes with two quad-core 2.4GHz Xeon 5600 chips (these processors come in two, four, and six-core variants) and with the same processor, memory, and disk options (plus a graphics card that is worth $250), the Mac Pro costs $7,649. That's about 6 per cent more performance for the Mac Pro at an 18 per cent lower price. (Snow Leopard Server runs $499 for an unlimited license, and the Xsan2 cluster file system costs $999, for these machines.)

You can see now why Apple wants to have customers use high-volume workstations as servers. Look at the premium it has to charge for the Xserves, and at the low volumes Apple still has in the server racket, it is quite possible the company is losing money on each and every one. (If Apple was making money in servers, the Xserves would still be in the catalog and would have been properly upgraded earlier this year.)

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Next page: Rack up the Minis?

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