Apple's new Mac Pro as a server platform?

Apple's new Mac Pro as a server platform?

Summary: The small, cylindrical footprint of the new Mac Pro would appear to make it questionable as a server system. However, a Mac hosting company and Apple say otherwise.

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A recent post at the MacWindows blog by editor John Rizzo asked whether the new Mac Pro — a machine that by all measures is designed as a desktop machine — could be effectively used as a rackmounted server, the successor to the long-gone Apple Xserve.

Apple's new Mac Pro as a server platform?

 

Since the discontinuation of the Xserve in 2011, Mac-friendly IT administrators have not had server hardware from Apple that would fill the Xserve's enterprise niche. Mac minis have a place (and Apple sells a version with Server preconfigured), but are not very powerful, particularly if you are running all of the services available in OS X Server. The previous Mac Pro was powerful, but its bulky tower configuration and awkward size made it impractical to mount in a rack.

The new Mac Pro offers a processor used in servers by Dell and other server makers, doesn't generate a lot of heat, and sits in a diminutive 10-inch by 6-inch cylinder. You could fit 9 new Mac Pros in the space taken up by 3 Xserves, roughly one-third of the space. But how would you store them in a rack?

Rizzo points to an announcement by hosting provider MacStadium for Mac Pro hosting and colocation. Its Mac Pro POD will hold 270 servers in a 12 square-feet rack.

The cylinders are placed on their sides (a k a horizontal orientation), which brings its own share of questions. However, an Apple Technical Note says that sideways is okay as long as the exhaust of one unit doesn't blow into another.

When on its side, secure the Mac Pro (Late 2013) to be sure that it doesn't roll. Place the computer on a protective surface that will not scratch or damage the enclosure. Note: The Apple Limited Warranty does not cover cosmetic damage to the enclosure.

Perhaps I have too much imagination to worry what this sideways orientation means for servers in earthquake country. Certainly, they should to be securely mounted in the rack.

Rizzo says that "it seems that Apple wants people to use the Mac Pro as a server but doesn't want to say it out loud." I agree with that, this has been Apple's wink-wink strategy since the company abandoned its server-specific products, primarily the Xserve in 2011. Apple keeps updating its OS X Server package, now $19.99, a bargain. 

Still, the most-commonly used Mac as a server has been the Mac mini. Do server customers want to be paying for the Mac Pro's base configuration of dual AMD FirePro D300 GPUs? It may make sense for some workflows, but not many.

And there are a number of rackmount enclosures for Mac minis, such as the 1U RackMac mini from Sonnet.

Still, I expect to see new standard rackmount enclosures for the Mac Pro that will be aimed at professional audio and video studio workflows. These noise-sensitive applications will let sites relocate CPUs, storage and PCIe coprocessors into a closet using the 60 meter Thunderbolt 2 cables announced by Corning and 30-meter cables currently shipping from Other World Computing.  

Topics: Apple, Operating Systems, Storage

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34 comments
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  • Does not make much sense to me

    A Mac Pro has got a lot of high end workstation specs that really aren't needed on a server (unless it is a graphics server.) Seems to me a waste, when all you are serving is file, print, web, and database services, and now that xserve is gone, Mac really doesn't offer very good technology in the server arena anyway.

    You'd be far better off running a Linux or Windows Server, running a bunch of virtual servers on a hypervisor. I know from my own perspective, serving to Macs, Windows Server with Services for Macintosh is probably the best Mac-oriented server you can get, as it even supports HFS style files (resource fork and everything.)

    Like I said, you'd be better off serving a Mac network from a rack of Dells and Windows Server.
    Mac_PC_FenceSitter
    • Makes perfect sense

      You don't use a Mac server as a database/file/print/directory server. These are used for fairly specialised functions. Apple specific video encoding and decoding, which is much better offloaded and batch through a server (farm), comes to mind. Unfortunately you can't always get PC replacement software in this area. A lot of applications are stuck in Mac only land. That's why you see racks of Mac Pros with high end graphics cards in them.
      m00nh34d
  • 100% agree.

    Apple simple has no serious server HW. The Mac mini is good for a small business but falls down for a mid sized operation and the Mac Pro's GPU's would go mostly waisted for most sever applications.
    Bruizer
    • New Mac Pro could quite good APPLICATIONS server, though

      The subject.
      DDERSSS
    • you need to open your eyes

      Check out http://www.macminicolo.net/facility.html. They are a Mac mini data center, currently with 1200 minis. Just because Apple doesn't want to get into the commodity server business (absolutely no profit in the hardware) doesn't mean their HW/SW products don't make good servers.
      prl99
      • They can be shoehorned into a server rack with a graphics dongle...

        ..doesn't make them a good server. MacMiniColo is a very niche data centre and has had to create quite a number of workarounds to make that work. Even they admit that it is a niche market (people who want a Mac server).

        This also is talking about the Mac Pro, not the mini, and there are actually a few good reasons why the Pro is an even poorer choice than the mini for this (larger footprint, greater cooling requirements, and form-factor not really that adept to server racks to name three).
        daftkey
        • There are a lot of things going for the Mac Pro

          if you're using it to offload rendering and Mac-specific software loads. It would also make for a great virtualized storage platform with it's 6 TB2 ports - that's 36 individual TB/TB2 devices - and the 12-core processor.
          Champ_Kind
  • What if Apple made the MacPro graphics card

    a delete option, subtracting from the price, leaving the processor tube?
    Tony Burzio
  • Nobody cares.....

    .......about Macs being used as servers except feverish, delusional Apple die-hards. Hell...even APPLE didn't believe in their own server technology, which is why they barely ever upgraded it, and let it die a slow death, even while their zealous fanboys tried so hard to make it a reality. The new Mac Pro is barely a workstation, let alone a server. The silliness needs to stop.
    Ekwensu214
    • I wil bite

      @Ekwensu214 - you are being satirical right? How is the Mac Pro "barely" a workstation? or are you just bleeding mad?

      Does anyone know what the recommended replacement is for Xgrid?
      iPilya
      • No good news

        I checked and Xgrid was discontinued with Mountain Lion (checked developer website and XgridFoundation files were all removed). I did find someone who said they got it to work on Mountain Lion. Xgrid was for distributed computing. Pooch is for parallel computing (http://daugerresearch.com/pooch/top.shtml). This is a commercial product so it cost money. I've asked Dean Dauger if he's been able to change from an ethernet-based connection to Thunderbolt and last I heard he hasn't. It had to do with allowing ethernet protocols through TB.

        Xsan is still supported in Mavericks but this is for large storage area networks.
        prl99
    • And the grapes were probably sour anyway.

      Aesop had you pegged ages ago.
      Atlant
    • Reality sucks…

      "The new Mac Pro is barely a workstation."

      Sure, Ekwensu214. Time take take your own advice—the silliness needs to stop.
      deasys
    • I was one of those delusional Apple die-hards

      Just because you don't like Apple products doesn't mean others don't. I ran a large in-house publications facility (350+ Macs) and except for those specialized peripherals ($100K high-speed scanners) that only worked with Microsoft XP, I wanted to give my users the best experience they could get so they could produce. They wanted Macs so why would I put a Windows server into the system? Windows-based systems work best when all they support are Windows computers. They don't work well with Macs, never have and never will. Macs are always second-class citizens with old software that only works sometimes. I had several Xserves with Xserve RAIDs that rarely went down. Once I left this department, they replaced the Xserves with old Windows servers that were down all the time. I left because the new management only knew Windows and mistakingly thought it could do everything. If you haven't worked with Macs in a publications environment you don't know what its needs are or how to satisfy them. I spent 28 years supporting computerized publications system but that didn't matter to these upward mobile blowhards who never worked in any kind of creative environment. All they cared about was making the system the same as everyone else's instead of satisfying the needs and requirements of the user.
      prl99
      • You are kidding, right?

        Windows servers work most excellently with Mac - even providing Kerberos directory services that you can't get from xserve!
        Mac_PC_FenceSitter
      • great experience

        I been working in mac land for 20 years. Used a number of different working machines for servers such as Towers, to Xservers, back to Towers, a couple of mac minis, and perhaps now we will look at the new Mac Pro.
        The funniest line I ever heard around here from one or our managers, was "we will replace all these macs with windows machines, because we will save so much money...." Factor in the on going cost for support, at least in our education environment its really difficult to beat the macs. Now with free software updates, and a 20 licence for the server? User satisfaction. That is something you just can't measure in dollars and sense. Please windows fan boys, before you put me down just because I have a different opinion than you do...I want to know, why are you reading mac related articles?
        osXCanada
  • hmm

    Question is the mac pro raid ready. Does it have hot swap disks. Or redundant power supply. If it does, great for server
    ThinkFairer8
    • It's Ready

      RAID Ready? Yes, via it's Thunderbolt Ports (Which is faster than eSata and FC.)
      Hot Swap Disks? Yes, via the external RAID enclosures.
      Redundant Power Supplies? Yes, via an additional system. Buy two Mac Pros. Everything becomes redundant.
      Jack Zahran
      • Most server admins would spit coffee through their nose at that response...

        "RAID Ready? Yes, via it's Thunderbolt Ports (Which is faster than eSata and FC.)"

        Connecting to what exactly? And external enclosure? So now you're shoe-horning a Mac Pro AND a RAID enclosure into service in ways they were never intended? I would love to see that in a server rack.

        You also realize that while the Thunderbolt technology itself is faster than eSata or FibreChannel, Thunderbolt storage devices all use a Thunderbolt to SATA bridge, so at best, you are only getting performance that is *the same* as what eSATA provides (and that assumes that there is no overhead in the TB-SATA bridge - which is pretty unlikely). Nevermind as well that very few (if any) RAID enclosures support hardware RAID or SAS drives (an absolute necessity for heavy I/O intensive RAID applications).

        "Hot Swap Disks? Yes, via the external RAID enclosures."

        Using standard 3.5" SATA drives (as opposed to oh, I don't know, 2.5" Server-grade SAS drives?) and low-end Promise RAID chipsets no doubt. I haven't seen either of those used in a server since... well... since looking at an Apple Xserves (and even back then, proving that Apple don't know a thing about servers).

        "Redundant Power Supplies? Yes, via an additional system. Buy two Mac Pros. Everything becomes redundant."

        You know what? After I'm done wiping away all the coffee that I just spit all over my monitor at that sentence, I will just say a quiet "wow" and let you try to figure out exactly what level of fail is contained in that one statement.
        daftkey
        • Pegasus2 R8.

          'Nuff said.
          Champ_Kind