Apple's new Mac Pro as a server platform?

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.
Written by David Morgenstern, Contributor

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.  

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