Server technologies: are you being served?

Martin Levins
5 March, 2011
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Let me take you back – waaay back to an earlier Mac where the System numbers were in single figures. Those Macs could act as servers and we had a quaint application called Chooser to pick from available servers and printers on our networks.

Such was the importance of server technologies that they were included from the get-go. Yet Apple is to discontinue the production of its Xserve servers this month.

The Xserve has been in production since 2002 and provided an inexpensive, reasonably grunty server for organisations such as schools and small-to-medium enterprises.

Its small size, redundant power supplies, hot swappable discs and ability to be managed even if the power was disconnected (Lights Out Management) made it a logical choice for a server, and way better than the desktop-as-a-server approach that Apple tried beforehand

The combination of OSX Server and its Xserve hardware were difficult to beat for low maintenance, easy management and the plethora of features that it brought to the table – such as file storage (natch), plus mail, web, chat, calendar, wiki, blog and podcast servers with their attendant services such as Directory, Domain Name Services and other geeky things that made the whole thing hum.
So why is this company dumping these devices? They claim that “no one was buying them”, which no doubt means that the sales were well below the dizzying numbers attributed to iOS devices, but I don’t think this is the real reason.

Historically, Apple has championed a variety of technologies only to either pass the ball to others who could specialise on that technology – the LaserWriter and RAID storage solutions (for Xserves, oddly enough) spring to mind – or abandon them altogether as obsolete – in the case of the eWorld online service, for example.

It’s this last that may show us the way: are traditional servers obsolete? Should we be using the cloud? Is Apple’s huge investment in a data farm in the Carolinas another clue? Or the fact that the Find My iPhone service is now free?

I wouldn’t put this past Apple CEO Steve Jobs: his rejection of the floppy because “you just get your files from the net” proved prescient.

Curiously, Apple claims it will still develop and market its server software, encouraging users to install the software on a Mac Pro – an expensive, large machine with little in the way of redundancy or Lights Out Management.

Its other suggestion is a Mac mini.

I don’t think so.

I think there’s something in the wind here and I suspect we’ll be crying ‘Bring on the NBN’ sooner than later. Let’s hope it’s sooner so that our schools are not left unserved. C

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