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Apple announces XServe designed for clusters

Mar 18, 20033 mins

Apple Computer in late April will ship a dual-processor version of its XServe server optimized for clustering, the company announced Tuesday.

Apple Computer in late April will ship a dual-processor version of its XServe server optimized for clustering, the company announced Tuesday.

The new XServe is a stripped-down version of the regular XServe, designed for applications that don’t require as much file-server capability, such as Web serving, said Doug Brooks, product manager for the XServe. A configuration with dual 1.33-GHz PowerPC G4 processors, 256M bytes of DDR333 (Double Data Rate 333 MHz) SDRAM, a 60G-byte hard drive, Gigabit Ethernet, and a 10-client license for Mac OS X costs $2,799.

The clustered XServes are usually connected to a fully configured server that allows an unlimited number of file transfers, Brooks said. Clustered servers need only limited file-transfer capability between neighboring servers. Dual Gigabit Ethernet support allows the XServe to quickly exchange data with the head server and the other clustered nodes, he said.

The 10-client license also prohibits users from using the clustered XServe as a general purpose server, said Gordon Haff, an analyst with Illuminata in Nashua, N.H. This protects sales of the unlimited Mac OS X license available with the regular XServe, he said.

Users can add memory to the XServe when ordering and replace the removable hard drive after they receive the server, Brooks said.

The XServe has done well among life sciences businesses, and the clustered version will also probably wind up in many of those companies, Haff said.

Life sciences companies require high-performance computing for drug discovery and gene research, and a number of companies have realized they can get supercomputing performance out of linking numerous smaller servers, said Jean Bozman, research vice president for market research company IDC.

Scientific companies are showing a great deal of interest in alternative hardware based on Linux and other open-source software, and Apple is just starting to capitalize on that, Bozman said. Mac OS X has roots in the Unix operating system, but Apple has done a good job working with the open-source community for the XServe, she said.

Apple will not bundle any specific load-balancing software with the XServe, but is pointing customers toward a number of commercial and open-source software programs such as Sun Microsystems Inc.’s Grid Engine, Brooks said.

The entertainment industry also uses clustered systems for image rendering for special effects in movies, Bozman said. Apple has enjoyed traditional strength within entertainment companies, but the XServe has been slow to catch on with that industry, Haff said.

Other companies without an existing affinity for Apple hardware probably won’t consider the new XServe, but Apple can look to companies deploying new applications and infrastructures, he said.

“Nobody’s throwing out a room full of good working hardware for existing clustering applications (in favor of the XServe),” he said. Mac OS X does work fairly well with Unix and Linux, and could interoperate with those systems, but will probably be considered only if the IT department currently uses Apple hardware, he said.

Apple, based in Cupertino, Calif., is taking orders for the clustered XServe as of Tuesday, but won’t ship until late April, Brooks said. Customers in Japan will have to wait to place their orders, but will still be able to have the server shipped to them in April, he said.