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Review: Apple's Xserve Gives Enterprises An Alternative

The Xserve rackmount server offers solid performance and broad standards support at an excellent price.

Apple's new Xserve rackmount server is an outstanding example of thoughtful design, attention to detail, and excellent performance at a reasonable price. It offers redundant power supplies, lights-out management, and the ability to run Windows and other operating systems as well as OS X, making the Xserve an appealing, capable, and flexible option.



Apple's new Xserve rackmount server is well-designed -- and doesn't look bad, either.
Click image to enlarge.


I tested a system that came loaded with two dual-core, 64-bit 3.0-GHz Intel Xeon 5100 Woodcrest CPUs, 4 Gbytes of DDR2 FB-DIMM memory (the maximum is 32 Gbytes), 2.2 terabytes of storage split across three front-swappable 750-Gbyte 7,200 RPM SATA drive modules, a double-layer CD/DVD SuperDrive, and an ATI Radeon X1300 graphics card. This configuration came in at an impressive $8,500, which compares favorably against similar server products. For those who need the fastest possible drives (at a higher cost per megabyte), the Xserve also can be ordered with one or more 15,000 RPM SAS drives.

The base Xserve configuration, with two 2.0 GHz CPUs, 1 Gbyte of RAM, a single 80-Gbyte SATA drive, and an X1300 graphics card (the graphics card can be removed with a small price credit) costs $2,999. Again, not the cheapest 1U server you can possibly buy, but a solid value for the feature set, particularly noting one huge advantage of Apple servers over Windows — the standard inclusion of an unlimited-client version of OS X Server. This means no client license hassles, and no extra cost.


Apple Remote Desktop 3


While testing the Xserve, I also tried out Apple Remote Desktop 3, a remote system management tool, and ran it through its paces.

The experience is crisp and quick — you don't feel like you're wading in molasses. The administrator can select a range of video quality options while monitoring remote systems, dropping to gray scale, for instance, to save bandwidth, — but in my tests, this was never necessary, even when monitoring systems over slow 802.11b connections.

Software updates, asset management and reporting, system configuration, remote monitoring and control, live two-way help-desk support, and application usage reports were simple and quick. There's even the capability to use Apple's powerful Spotlight search feature across managed systems, giving enterprise managers the ability to remotely search for particular pieces of critical information across the entire network of client systems. I can easily imagine that feature alone being worth more than the cost of ARD3.

One of the few major shortcomings with Remote Desktop 3 is the simple fact that, by design, it only works with Macs. As a company trying to sell Macs, Apple certainly isn't in the business of writing software for PCs (other than iTunes), for much the same reason that Microsoft's Systems Management Server doesn't manage Mac and Linux workstations. The problem here crops up when Apple starts to sell Macs which can run Windows, using Apple's own Boot Camp utility. When an Apple system is booted into Windows, it drops off the map as far as Remote Desktop 3 is concerned, and that's a problem. Perhaps a future version will at least be able to see and grab inventory information from Macs which are running Windows.

Apple Remote Desktop3 costs $299 for a version that handles up to 10 managed systems, and $499 for a version that handles unlimited managed systems.

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