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Apple's server and storage offerings are helping the company overcome its reputation as the high-priced computing option

But Apple's success in the high-performance-computing market is indicative of a more significant change in the company's overall product engineering and marketing, especially for business users. The company is fielding competitive offerings in the server and storage markets, both in terms of price and performance. That's helping it chip away at its old reputation for costliness.

It's probably fair to say that the views of Bob Neuberger, IS manager at National Semiconductor Corp., are shared by more IT pros than Apple would like. "About four or five years ago, we had a lot of Apples," he says. But the realities of the Windows-dominant enterprise market demanded a purge. "We ended up having to standardize just for operational efficiencies. Maybe if the [Apple] hardware could've been better at doing Windows stuff. ... We're not a Windows advocate, we just know we need to use that stuff to do business, and that's the way it is."

Peter Kastner, co-founder of research firm Aberdeen Group, says that Apple's high-performance computing wins--and there have been others, like the System X cluster at Virginia Tech University, recently upgraded to 1,100 Xserve G5s and currently being rebenchmarked--represent "glamour accounts." But the real bread-and-butter customers involve basic server and storage technology. "The bills are going to be paid with the one, two, three, four Xserves and a few terabytes of RAID storage," he says.

Apple knows that and has been tweaking its enterprise strategy around it, Kastner says. "Apple doesn't have the support and selling resources any longer to take on the entire global enterprise market," he explains. "But since the introduction of the Xserve and Xserve RAID, they now have a very good story that they can take to selected markets or to the small and medium-size businesses."

This cluster of high-performance Apple Xserve G5 servers runs fast and cool, without excessive power consumption.

This cluster of high-performance Apple Xserve G5 servers runs fast and cool, without excessive power consumption.
Frank De La Renta, director of infrastructure at Applica Inc., a manufacturer and marketer of home appliances, tells a similar tale. His company was looking for a backup system and issued a request for proposals that specified 4 terabytes of storage. The bids he received from Hewlett-Packard and Dell/EMC ran $60,000 to $70,000. Because the company's designers used Macs, Apple was thrown into the RFP process as well. Apple offered its Xserve RAID, with 8 terabytes of storage, along with two Xserve G5s, for $56,000.

"We got double the amount for half the price," says De La Renta, who notes that the Xserve RAID operates at a data rate of 400 Mbps, compared with the 200 Mbps he saw with the HP system. Compared with the company's previous tape backup system, the total backup-and-restore time dropped from 10 hours to 45 minutes, he says.

The system changed how the CIO and other IT people in the company thought about Apple, De La Renta says. "They were looking at it as the ugly ducking in the pond, because it wasn't black or beige and didn't say HP or IBM," he says. "Now it's the centerpiece of the data center." The company has since purchased additional Xserves.

Apple remains relevant because it continues to innovate, says Roger Kay, VP of client computing at market-research firm IDC. "Since Apple has long since shaken off any conservative enterprise type of market, they don't have to be as delicate in their technology transitions as the Windows community does," he says. "They don't have to keep all this legacy stuff around to keep certain customers satisfied. That ends up being an advantage for Apple in one sense--it's able to innovate more quickly because its market will tolerate more innovation."

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