• United States
Neal Weinberg
Contributing writer, Foundry

Apple Xserve

May 27, 20033 mins

* A skeptical Reviewmeister takes a look at Apple's Xserve server

Apple in the enterprise? The Reviewmeister was skeptical so we ran Apple’s new Xserve server through its paces.

This server is based on open source practices; provides comparatively fast services for Windows, Mac, Linux and BSD clients; holds up to 720G bytes of stored disk data; and is just 1.75 inches tall.

Xserve is based on the PowerPC CPU running at a minimum of 1.3 GHz with up to two of these CPUs fitting into the 1U form factor. Instead of one disk channel, there are three ATA-133 channels and up to 720G bytes of disk in the server.

Apple’s operating system on this platform – OS X Server 10.2.5 – is built on the Darwin Branch of BSD, and is covered under the Apple Public Source License, which varies from the Open Source license that underlies Linux. The BSD heritage of Darwin means that users familiar with Unix, Linux and especially xBSD will feel at home, although there are many Darwin-specific GUI-driven applications that control traditional command-line administration applications.

Xserve is not a plain vanilla server that tries to compete on price/performance. Its extra features (such as independent disk channels, FireWire 800 and high-tech-touch hard drive bays) carry a high price tag. To its benefit, it has no user-license fee, connects a variety of operating-system client types, and delivers strong Web performance.

We subjected Xserve’s Apache Web server to the same suite of tests using Spirent Communications’ WebAvalanche software, that we used to stress Windows 2003 Enter-prise Edition with Microsoft’s Internet Information Server.

The ATA-133 disk interfaces and drives in Xserve were comparatively fast in our testing, although internal RAID configurations seemed to take up excessive CPU time. A RAID Level 1 configuration slowed disk writes by as much as 5%, with 3% being typical.

There are two methods of initially activating Xserve’s software – via an Apple client networked to it (“headless”) or by outfitting the Xserve with monitor, keyboard and mouse. There is no HTTP interface for installation, so an Apple running OS X Server 10.2 or a USB keyboard/mouse and monitor is required. Secure Shell can be used for command-line-based applications but not for installation purposes.

Xserve uses the Hierarchical File System (HFS), which provides backward compatibility with Mac OS/9 and earlier clients. With the introduction of OS X Server 10.2.2, Apple offers the option of a journaled file system. I/O transactions in such systems are highly detailed, so it is easy to recover from a system halt.

A graphical System Monitor application tracks internal configuration of one or many Xserves in a network. Alarm conditions are noted, and even things such as fan speed and system temperature are recorded. 

Apple supports an IP firewall. The firewall lets you select which part of the NetInfo directory service domain is visible, and lets you block User Datagram Protocol in port ranges. Apple offers stateful packet inspection but not advanced firewall features.

Apple bundles three applications: Net-Minder Ethernet, which captures, decodes, and provides rudimentary analysis on network I/O; LAN Surveyor, which is a network mapping/GUI-based asset management package; and CyberGauge, an SNMP monitoring package that’s limited to Xserve in the limited bundled edition. For the full report, go to