Apple's Mac Pro beautiful swan song is no match for Extreme SaaS

Apple's Mac Pro beautiful swan song is no match for Extreme SaaS

Summary: While the new Mac Pro may be the butt of jokes for its odd visual appearance, it's packed with state of the art desktop technology. But is it too late to make much of a difference in today's mobile world and the future of cloud computing and SaaS?


Yesterday, prior to the keynote event of Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), there was great anticipation of new products that would be announced.

Mac OS X "Mavericks" dominated much of the presentation, along with iOS 7, which features a new Jony Ive-style aesthetic overhaul that was completely expected (and for many of us iPhone and iPad users, long overdue).

New Haswell-based MacBook Airs, which were more of component rev types of improvements, also made an appearance, and were also entirely expected.

What we didn't expect, however, was a new Mac Pro, a product line that was thought to have reached its evolutionary dead end.

(Image: CBS Interactive)

The new Mac Pro, which will be manufactured in the United States, has not even gone on sale yet, and no price has been announced. However, I think it is safe to assume that based on the components and capabilities that have been detailed by Apple in its presentation, this is an extremely high-end machine, and will have a high-end price to go along with it.

There have been many jokes made about the machine's physical appearance. That it resembles a trash can, or the progeny of a tryst between R2-D2 and jet turbine. I could go on with the zingers. But beauty is only skin deep.

That the machine is going to be made in the United States makes it more and more evident that this is going to be a very limited production computer. More than anything else, it's a statement by Apple that you really can produce top-notch technology in the United States, but at a price.

I genuinely applaud Apple for doing this, even if this is more of a PR stunt to recover from years of being dinged for its FoxConn escapades in China than overall profit motive. Anywhere that we can employ Americans doing high-end manufacturing work, even in limited capabilities, is still something to be proud of.

So, in a sense, what Apple is creating is the Ferrari or the Tesla Motors of the computer industry. It will be inaccessible to all but the most spendy creative content people (or would-be creative content people that have more money than actual creative talent) who want nothing but the most state-of-the-art, no-compromise performance workstation for the money.

But the new Mac Pro will be envied by practically everyone, so it will have served its purpose.

Just one year ago, I would have been a likely customer for a new Mac Pro. Indeed, I was longing for a new high-performance workstation to do photo editing with Aperture and Photoshop for my food blog, and to do more ambitious videos. Frankly, the Mac Pro would have been overkill for what I was doing.

But things change. First, I've been doing far more social-type photography using my smartphones due to the sheer speed in which I can get out pictures of food, compared to the editing tasks required if I use my DSLR.

In fact, I haven't picked up my DSLR in about a year, because using my iPhone 5 and now my Nokia 920 has been so convenient for taking opportunity shots, and the quality of photos I have been taking with them has been more than good enough.

I could certainly edit on my Mac Mini using aperture and do some post-processing, but to go directly from smartphone to social sharing service and cloud storage (Twitter/Instagram/Flickr) is a pretty powerful thing, indeed.

Post-processing in Aperture or in Photoshop kills a whole afternoon if I've shot 100+ restaurant photos and need to narrow them down to 20, whereas I can do some simple tweaks and make a smartphone photo look really presentable in a matter of seconds.

The Mac Pro without a doubt will have very specific uses, and the people who can really take advantage of it will be a very small userbase compared to the kinds of creative content folks that buy Macbooks, iMacs, Mac Minis, or even PCs.

The people who truly need this machine are on the "Extreme Desktop Computing" end of the scale — people who need to produce 4K video content or work on the most sophisticated CGI and visualization projects, and do advanced engineering and CAD work.

So if 10,000 to 50,000 of these new Mac Pros are produced, they will have served their purpose. But, going forward, do we really need these monster desktops?

I've already stated that the desktop PC, let alone the desktop Mac, is in danger of becoming extinct. This immediately affects the "Homebrew" PCs, as well as those in the "Extreme" category, because, as I said, few people actually need these kinds of systems, and at the end of the day, mobility trumps raw CPU power. Most people cannot take advantage of the CPU in an average PC system, let alone an extreme one.

So this gets us back to the users or the companies that need systems like Mac Pros or powerful Windows-based workstations to use high-end applications, many of which exist in the vertical space and actually tend to cost more money than the equipment than they run on.

Now, many people who need to use these sorts of high-end apps don't need to use them all the time. This is a problem for both small production shops that work on a contractual basis, as well as large design firms, which have to make capital investments in both software and hardware regardless of how often those assets are used.

Not to mention there are also serious workflow issues when you are dealing with transferring large video and file assets between remote offices if you have a decentralized operation, which is becoming more of the norm these days.

But what if you didn't actually need $5,000+ workstations and $10,000 per user license copies of high-end vertical market engineering and content creation software to produce results?

At the most recent Citrix Synergy event at the end of last month, there was a fascinating demo on "Extreme Saasification", which featured the use of Nvidia virtualized graphics processors in the cloud in a grid computing type of scenario, running remote high-end graphical applications with no sacrifice on display and response time. The entire video is fascinating, but the most interesting stuff starts at around 13 minutes in.

All of these high-end applications could theoretically run on a Citrix ICA smart terminal that could drive multiple 4K screens. Or a $999 MacBook Air. Or a $500 iPad. Or an even cheaper device, theoretically. All of that processing and the running of the app is occurring remotely, and only a fraction of discrete video processing is required on the local device to use the app to locally display and render the video.

There's a bunch of implications for technology like this. First, is that high-end vertical market apps could be sold on a subscription and a pay-as-you go basis, which not only reduces cost, but also simplifies deployment and maintenance of such complex apps.

For small production shops, this changes the game entirely. The second outcome of this type of SaaS scenario is that monster workstations like the Mac Pro are likely to be relegated to the e-waste pile of history because the cloud offers far more computational, network, and storage resiliency with the added advantage of mobility, in addition to being able to centralize workflow even between remote contributors.

The "Extreme SaaSification" that Nvidia and Citrix demonstrates using OpenGL and OpenCL on cloud grids in this video is clearly very bleeding-edge stuff. But it is a technology that is rapidly evolving, and it would not surprise me to see delivery of these types of apps in this fashion within the next few years to be the norm rather than the exception.

So indeed, the Mac Pro is a beautiful and powerful machine. But it may be the last of its kind.

Will "Extreme SaaSification" make ultra-workstations like the new Mac Pro obsolete? Talk back and let me know.

Topics: Cloud, Apple, Mobility, Processors, PCs


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • You have GOT to BE KIDDING, RIGHT??

    Jason, you may be a "technologist", but you sure as heck are not an actual video editor with professional clients.

    I cannot even get Google documents and Google spreadsheets to work well and consistently on my 6 core Mac Pro.


    That "internet connection". Small matter, I know. "Almost" inconsequential, right, Jason?

    Surely you have gone to enough of these tech conferences by now to know that the first thing you can dismiss is the actual performance of some technology company's demo.

    No way were you observing just the run-of-the-mill "cloud"!

    NO WAY! What kind of Kool-Aide are you stirring up in Microsoft Technology Solutions?

    How can you even so poorly grasp what is needed for 4k video editing, or even HD?

    I could no more dive into a video editing, effects and rendering project with the connection I have to my office than fly to Dubai for a quick lunch.

    In the real world there are not many places where a professional video company could simply kick out their Mac Pros and other heavy duty servers and Linux or Windows workstations to base their business on the up-and-down slow as hell internet connection they currently have.

    Sure, you may be able to download videos and play games, but, 4k and HD video with multi-channel (8, 16, 32.... channels) of audio

    Unless we could somehow and routinely hook up a hundred simultaneous internet connections that aggregate into one seriously fast and reliable pipe to your Extreme SAAS "cloud".

    Ask Citrix to go set up the same "demo" in your home. Invite a professional video editor with real world projects for high end clients to bring in their project files.

    And then write us back to boast of your wickedly fast and reliable video editing session.
    • I rest my case on Citrix

      Real world users, or the real-world Citrix SAAS ABUSED have their own website to take out their frustrations with this wonderful "solution" that is going to replace high power local workstations, according to Jason.

      Apparently, according to actual Citrix SAAS clients who can't simply conduct a day's business without repeated failures, SAAS stands for

      Simply Appallingly Awful S***

      Meanwhile, I have real work and need real reliability. Back to my MacPro.

      If I ever have problems they are happening LOCALLY, right in front of me.

      I am not sitting in an editing session for a client and explaining that I have to CALL CUSTOMER SERVICE TO GET THEIR PROJECT OUT OF THE "CLOUD" AND SEE HOW MANY EDITS WERE SAVED.

      And then no one answers and no one answers and no one answers and .....

      Just a quick sampling from people so frustrated with Jason's groovy giddiness over SAAS by Citrix

      >>>Citrix is just absolute shit. Nothing but pain and frustration. Every single day there is something wrong with our system - all of which is being caused by either XenApp or XenCenter. Considering ditching this terminal crap for Hyper-V and giving everyone a local desktop. You get what you pay for I suppose. Thanks for nothing, $hitrix.

      >>>Citrix stinks....
      +2 by User-71585m

      >>> Citrix Presentation server and now Xenapp is the most inconsistent software platform on the market today. It is extremely temperamental. One minute something is working and another minute it's not without even modifying anything. Errors galore everywhere, horrible technical support and consultants installing it out in the field who have to fend for themselves since Citrix is nowhere to be found when things don't work. I can't wait until they totally disappear from the landscape.

      >>> Doesn't work well with multi monitor setups (can't
      -1 by User-mhw38

      Doesn't work well with multi monitor setups (can't move apps from one monitor to another - or won't even display running apps). Linux version makes apps dissappear when minimised.

      >>>>Do these people ever answer the phone??? I have been calling for three days and nobody picks up. How do they ever expect to sell anything. This is almost as bad as thier constant product renaming.....God, what a bunch of morons.....
    • Cloud enthusiasts; they wont quit.

      For companies like Microsoft, and clearly Apple (iPads is the clue) they need the cloud to succeed for them to be able to fully roll out what they see as the future of computing; the cloud owns and keeps everything, and you pay it to do that. Just follow this line by Jason:

      "as I said, few people actually need these kinds of systems and at the end of the day, mobility trumps raw CPU power"

      Its a vacuous statement because firstly, its not qualified in any way as to when the situation its referring to might be true. We know its not true all the time, and very many people who understand something about the computing power of mobile devices as compared to a decent desktop would probably argue that mobility and raw CPU power are qualities from such different camps that in most cases comparing the need for one over the other is often going to be rather pointless. For example, you either really need a mobile device or not at many points. When you need a mobile device…well, the understanding about the mobile device is automatic that its not going to provide a whole lot of computing torque, so your not going to even be thinking to yourself you need a mobile computing device at a point where you know one wouldn’t do the job, even if it would be nice if there was already such a high powered device available. On the other hand, if you’re doing something at your desk without a need for mobility at the moment, you’re never going to think to yourself, “boy, I sure could use a little more mobility in a trade off for less power right now” when you don’t need any mobility right now.

      The point is, there are still plenty of times you need some decent reliable computing CPU/GPU power to do some work. You don’t necessarily need the power of a custom built gaming rig, and certainly not a Mac Pro most of the time, just a good solid decently no lag computer to get things going. If you’re out and about and you need to check something online or find out what ingredients are used in what you’re planning to make for dinner, ya, a mobile device with a lightweight CPU and GPU will do the job on the run quite nicely. But its two typically different situations. Its not nearly so much ‘I need more mobility and less CPU!!”

      That’s real dreamland, and it’s the world of foolishness that people who think desktops and laptops are somehow slipping away. We know they are not. We KNOW they are not. There is no point in saying they are just because people are buying mobile devices, they are buying them because they are available, they can buy them and because they don’t need a brand new desktop or laptop, they have the money to do it. Maybe there are some who are able to do a little, or even some of their real work on an iPad. I know so many people who work on a computer daily I couldn’t hope to count them and not one could get by anything close to all day on an iPad without scratching their eyes out.

      These companies want the cloud, not because its what the citizens of the world are demanding at all. Nobody is out there except the “cloud heads” saying “I need the cloud, free me from my desktop or laptop!” The cloud companies are trying to push us to the cloud so they can get us started ASAP on getting used to making monthly payments to them to rent their goods, because they can’t rely on selling us copies of their latest OS, Office suite, Photo editing or any other software on a regular basis anymore.

      No other reason. Personally, given the price of really good hardware and an operating system these days, just let me purchase that once every 8-10 years and skip the whole monthly fee thing. I have no need to “occasionally rent” a particular software. I have no desire to put any of my documents or data in the cloud and pay to do it when storage is so cheap, and most particularly given what we know about the online government spying now. If they want to spy on me, let them at least decide to come personally hack into my own home or work network and steal the info as opposed to me just letting it glide through their hands as they casually make copies for future reference.

      For me, and ALL those just like me, the cloud is a lousy concept.
      • The problem is that almost nobody knows how to use the Cloud

        Certainly a vast majority of companies trying to push SaaS over the Cloud don't. They all seem to ignore the fact that most users want to keep their private files private, no matter if they're economic, creative or simply personal. We have a long ways to go before the Cloud can really supplant the personal PC for all purposes and too many people can't seem to understand this.

        Tablets have not and will not totally replace the PC on the desktop. What they can do and what Apple originally designed the iPad for was to act as an extension of the PC; a supplemental device that gives you basic capabilities until you could return to your desktop for the detail work. It serves as a remote media center for presentations; it serves as a remote document generator for legal and contract work; it serves as a remote point-of-sale device; there are many, many real productive uses but they all still rely on a PC for the fine-tuning and ultimate production of the product. That PC may be a company-owned file server or a bank of them, but there's still a PC at the core of the system.
    • Wow...

      Are we immature or what??
    • I agree with your response

      Also, what happens when the internet fails? Or what happens when the service goes down? Now you can get NO work done at all, if everything is in the cloud.

      I also don't doubt that the Mac Pros will have a higher price tag, but I think they will be more reasonable that you might expect.

      That being said, for many people, MacBook Pros will be able to do everything that they need them to and more, so in the long run, I think the Mac Pros will have a place, but for most a MacBook Pro will be what they will look at.
  • Have you looked at Google's fiber?

    Mchendrix, thanks for reforming my character!

    As for Google -- I am in Germany right now.

    Germany is a hopeless case.... horrible infrastructure, and especially for such an otherwise high tech country.

    From the stories I read Google cannot supply their services into every town and hamlet.

    Just as when the internet started and began to become "popular" in the USA the marketing hype for "high speed" internet was way, way exaggerated when it came to the actual technical ability to provide even the modest speeds attainable in the late 1990's.

    If you were "too far" from a telephone or cable company distribution "box" you were out of luck no matter what your local ISP promised to one and all.

    Truly reliable ultra high speed that is not rigorously slowed down and throttled by your local ISP is still so hit and miss, even in the USA.
    • Not available in many places

      Google's Fiber is only available in a few locations, so this is not a viable option at this time.
  • Some people buy these things to crunch Avid movies, others because

    they like tail fins on their Cadillacs. I think the cloud will displace some "heavy server at home" scenarios, but not all of them. Anything with intense and rapid I/O.... music and video production (and Youtube and Vimeo are as popular as ever.)
    • You understood the article better than most

      The point is that not -all- high end workstations are going to disappear. But this technology will provide high performance computing access to many creative content and engineering/scientific end-users that would otherwise be prohibitive. It also reduces the IT spend of organizations that would normally require a 1:1 high end workstation per creative content author.
      • You Misunderstood your Article

        Jason, maybe your editor did it to you, but the title of your article is:

        "Apple's Mac Pro beautiful swan song is no match for Extreme SaaS"

        If your now walking away from the meaning of this title, just let us know, but, for now, it seems there's a lot of reports out there about SaaS (Sh&t as a Service).

        It seems SaaS, today, is no match for a powerful desktop; the beautiful Apple Mac Pro for instance.
        pk de cville
      • Not what your article states

        Also, the issue is that IT ends up spending more time, because when (and this is a when, not an if) the service is interrupted, we end up having to find ways to keep people working. Then factor in that we then get no control over when and if the service comes back up.

        Imagine this scenario:
        You are using Adobe online, their servers go down (say because they decided to try out the same cooling system as Facebook tried and it ended up raining inside their server room). Adobe investigates, finds out that it would be too cost prohibitive to replace the servers and get the service back up and running, so they decide to backtrack and make software available offline again.

        Well, now the data is gone, so you have to recreate everything from scratch and the service you have been using is gone. Yes, you can get the software offline, but you designed your system to have specifications based on the fact that the software is running online, so it won't be able to run the software you need.

        Do you see the problems here? There is no way to make SaaS work as a primary system. Where it has a place is as part of your redundant systems or to use for collaboration, but the primary work still needs to be done locally.
      • You lost me at virtual GPU

        The whole idea of using a GPU is parallelism (>64 bit) and raw bandwidth (=>1067MHz). I have never, ever seen any serial, packet based, and physical layer shared transfer protocol achieve that. Unless maybe it was on Star Trek NG. None of my ISPs (home and office) could possibly keep up with the data bus in my computer.

        I doubt that I will be lining up to buy a new Mac Pro as my i7 Quad core MacBook Pro and office NAS offer all the power that I need.
      • Until your cloud service provider loses your data.

        There are a lot of ex T-Mobile/Microsoft cloud customers who remember being told that their data was permanently lost who are never likely to trust a cloud again.

        Particularly not one with the name Microsoft on it.
        Henry 3 Dogg
  • SaaS flunks security 101

    The comment by: MacReview was right-on but one point he missed was that SaaS also suffers from security issues.

    With the recent news that the Chinese have been copying every thing we design and building them faster than we can I hope and pray that companies begin to re-think their insanely short-sighted habit of connecting their internal networks to the internet and allowing browsing from the same machines that hold design information and documentation!

    To assume that ANY communication over public networks will not be hacked is so short-sighted as to be laughable. Quite apparently this seems to hold for even the encrypted communication. This is true because apparently the virus's being used to gain information are grabbing content from either the pre-encryption, pre-send or post-send, post-decrypt. simply using the network is the problem!

    Now to think that you could not just have files on a machine connected to the net and not get hacked is one thing. To think you can e-mail these around with some assumption of security is another. But to assume that you could use a publicly accessible server to perform massively intensive editing with the required send and receive activity and still be secure is just plain ludicrous!

    IS this a problem for fashion designers? Perhaps, it depends whether or not the generals that run the "e-spy" system have any paid clients who want these designs bad enough to pay "bribe" the generals for them.
    Is this a problem for technology companies? Well if you think not, then you have not been paying attention to the news!
    Is this a problem for a food blogger? Probably not!

    Bottom line....
    The sooner we forget about a HEAVY reliance on SaaS for all but the most mundane of industry the better!
    Mark Thompto
    • Well aware of Security Issues

      You are right, Mark. We have just seen an example of an independent NSA analyst in Hawaii, one of thousands employed with IT credentials, expose the NSA from the inside. He could have, presumably, siphoned off anything he wanted over the past few years. And he is just one of many IT techs in the world's most secretive data gathering and storing agency.

      The "Cloud" is ripe for havoc. There are NO STANDARDS ... that is one of the dirty secrets.

      That's because there are so MANY "standards" that people are free to use in connectivity between "cloud" servers. And the way farms of cloud servers talk to each other and parse information around the world is supervised by thousands of people that we don't know from every ideology and mindset spanning the globe.

      I can absolutely bet with all confidence that both the USA and China already freely come and go through the "secure cloud".

      Those are government agencies. The individual hackers and "security analysts" will not find the "cloud" security measures any great challenge to corrupt, delete, download, re-direct.

      And the very nature of "worldwide access" means your company data, for one example, is distributed on many servers, duplicated many times, all over the world.

      I will also guarantee that international criminals have already set themselves up as "cloud providers". I just bet that some clouds are now distributing your business and personal data to the "third party services" that have jumped in to the cloud. For "accessibility" nodes as close as possible to the requests.

      As a user we have no way to detect WHO owns the servers where the Rumanian "cloud" connects to the Russian cloud or the Iranian cloud. But the cloud concept is BASED on worldwide distribution and duplication of your data.

      Which means thousands and thousands and thousands of new people in the IT field are a keyboard away from your data. And the encryption security promises don't mean much when you must have the power at some point to decrypt the stream.

      Unscrupulous, unethical criminally minded people are getting into the very thick of the "cloud game". Every country has different rules and regulations but very little ethical oversight as to who is granted business licenses.

      The HUGE data theft or corruption catastrophes are going to be big news "in the cloud" over the next few years.
  • Reader "I have a question for Jason."

    Jason "You need a cloud facility."
    Reader "Can I ask my question now?"
    • Another question

      Q. "How many quantum physicists does it take to change a light bulb?"
      A. "Two: one to hold the bulb and the other to rotate the universe."
    • Just learning from the master of convincing people what they don't need

      It's called "marketing".
  • Can we have multiple worlds, or will everyone be forced into

    SaaS, which makes an aaSS out of its users since you keep spending money per month for a license that can be switched off, with all your intellectual property you're trying to sell for your own profit vanish?

    And broadband costs aren't going to get any cheaper, and they will know that once SaaS is the only venue the costs will skyrocket. This is a free market; the same free market that has companies demanding larger college degrees for even more menial jobs. No degree = no job. Colleges know this so they ramp up their rates and (arguably) whittle down content, which creates the - as the trite people call it - "perfect storm". SaaS is going to end up the same exact way, because of lack of choice.