Apple in the enterprise: Living without Xserve

Apple officially called an end to its server line on Tuesday and it's a bitter pill for some Mac stalwarts in the data center. Part of the problem is that enterprise customers have a comfort-level problem when it comes to living with questions about Apple's product and strategic plans like the rest of us.

Apple officially called an end to its server line on Tuesday and it's a bitter pill for some Mac stalwarts in the data center. Part of the problem is that enterprise customers have a comfort-level problem when it comes to living with questions about Apple's product and strategic plans like the rest of us. Cupertino's cone of silence is absolute, whether it's the details of the next iPad or the continuing support for Mac OS X Server.

The pot was boiling over on Apple's Mac OS X mailing list. Some said just run Mac OS X Server on a Mac mini or Mac Pro, while others, such as systems engineer Dave Schroeder, said this wasn't an acceptable option.

The "truth" is that Apple is, and has been, de-emphasizing server, professional, and enterprise products. As Apple executive leadership, including Steve Jobs, has either implied or directly said, verbatim, that "Apple is not an enterprise company", what conclusions shall we draw from that? For the first time, there is no companion Server splash pages for a future version of Mac OS X Server. Sure, there may be a Lion Server, but then ... ?

Like many large Apple sites, we have had, and continue to have, a significant investment in Apple server products. The discontinuation of Xserve RAID and then Xserve were complete surprises, not only to us, but to other major enterprise vendors with whom Apple has a relationship. Yeah, we know Apple doesn't do roadmaps. That's fine. We deal. Always have. But even without a "roadmap", we can see the direction things are headed.

Of course, Apple doesn't really talk about any forthcoming strategy, or product feature or even future. What you see at the moment is what you get, until the cover is pulled off the new product or model. This isn't what enterprise technology managers want from a relationship with a major supplier.

This behavior can be maddening, no doubt. "Savvy" suppliers such as Microsoft and open source projects let customers know their plans long in advance. However, I would point out that Redmond doesn't have a stellar record of making its deadlines or following through on the detailed projections of technologies shown to the analysts and IT directors year after year.

Apple has mostly followed through on its promises to developers and actually shipped the features that it has shown in advance and mostly on time. Yes, the company's focus is on its consumer platforms, and it appears that its message to business users is to stuff it.

Yet, it's hard to fault Cupertino for finally admitting that there wasn't much of a market for its server hardware.

At the same time as Apple's focus is on the main-stream consumer customer, it is making headway in the enterprise. Maybe not in the data center, but Macs are making their way out of the marketing department and are being found in all departments. And the iPad is being deployed in the thousands.

Last week at the Macworld Expo in San Francisco, I spoke with Wally Tonra, vice president of sales at business management software vendor xTuple, about Macs in the enterprise. (And yes, there were some enterprise products on the show floor amid the iPad mania.) He said the Mac is making headway into the enterprise.

"People come and knock on [Apple's] door, and [Apple] says they're not interested. But this 'strategy' is working! The Mac is being accepted in the enterprise in spite of Apple's strategy of neglect."

For those interested in Mac minis as a server platform, hardware-mounting vendor H-Squared showed the Mini Rack, a forthcoming rack mount for Mac minis at the Expo. Due to ship in March or April, each unit can hold up to 6 minis in vertical aspect. Here are some shots I took of it.

From the company blog:

When used with a 29" rack, you can pack up to 18 Mac minis in 5U of space. That's 36 cores!

Each rail holds 6 Mac minis, secured by our very own Mini mount. At the head of each rail is a power status panel that indicates which Macs are or (or off). Down the center of the rail is a cable management channel that keeps all of your cabling organized on the rack. The end result is a clean, organized, yet easily accessible rack mount for your Mac minis.