The announcement, while being a surprise, was not entirely unexpected with Apple's cancelling the Xserve RAID and transitioning everyone to the Promise VTrak SAN in February 2008. Apple have never been afraid to exit markets they are not the premium product in, or are not making much money in. Their focus is consumer electronics', which is where the Mac Mini and Mac Pro sit. They are the premium brand in these markets for Phones/music players/computers/tablets and command a premium for their products. If I was Steve I would rather have those production lines churning out iPad's then a few xserve's.
On the other hand, the units of xserve's they have been shipping (predictions are in the range of 10K to 20K a quarter) have been dwarfed by their other product lines, but I imagine need just as much R&D, and a far greater commitment to support resources. Apple never really got their head around the requirements of Enterprise support - dropping your server off at a Apple Authorised Repair centre is not an acceptable solution.
The server market is in a race to commoditization and consolidation around standard technology for compute and storage resources to drive per instance virtualization costs down. Steve Jobs said in the D8 interviews that Apple must control the key technologies in the markets it competes in otherwise it gets thumped, and that's not a reality in the server hardware market.
Pound for pound, their existing Xserve offers 5 less drives and 144GB less memory per 1U form factor than comparable solutions from HP and IBM. Ouch, sounds like a thumping to me.
This seems to be Apple's thinking as they have appeared to buy IBM and SUN servers for their billion dollar cloud data centre which will run a mix of IBM/AIX, Linux, SUN/Solaris and OS X. One does wonder if Apple will now use Mac Mini's or Mac Pro towers in their data centre (tongue firmly in cheek), or virtualize OS X.
OS X does not currently perform very well on a virtualized platform, but Apple have spent the last two OS releases optimising the nuts and bolts of the OS with Snow Leopard and Lion (out soon), and I imagine are also retooling OS X during this to take advantage of virtualization. Microsoft went through the same retooling with the last two versions of Windows to make it perform well in a virtualised environment.
The companies building the biggest data centres are the ones with the biggest cloud ambitions, and Apple's 500,000 square foot one is as big as they come with room to plonk another one right beside it. I can see Apple releasing a slew of cloud based subscription services out of this massive data centre for their consumer electronics' products, such as a cloudy iTunes, online file sharing/backup and now with iTV Streaming but the interesting question then becomes of what happens to their stranded enterprise and post-production video solutions like Final Cut Server, as this will not be a feasible cloud based service.
Final Cut Server is a fantastic solution for post production video workflow for TV Stations, video editing (e.g. ad agencies) and anyone with broadcast ambitions. What does Apple have in mind for these clients? What is their future in this non-Xserve world?
Some people believe that Apple will license OS X Server for deployment on specific non-mac hardware in the same way as Apple partnered with Promise for the XSAN solutions, others see Apple offering OS X Server for virtual appliances which enterprises can deploy to their existing private clouds. Both of which removes Apple's enterprise SLA problems, but still allows them to control the key technologies in this market.
What do you think Apple is planning? Love to hear your thoughts in the comments below especially if you have a current or planned Xserve deployment.
Until then, I leave you with this.
Other related posts:
The case of the missing Cache…
First Impressions of the IBM x3650 M2
Comment by Dratsab, on 8-Nov-2010 21:58
A-ha - the iCloud. Apple will probably claim to have created the cloud concept when it launches...
Comment by georgebrownlee, on 10-Nov-2010 12:03
The prospect of Apple licensing OS X server to run as VMs is very interesting. I wouldn't be at all surprised if that is the way things went.
I doubt that they will completely leave the server market in the foreseeable future, but having a whole heap of Mac Pros/Mac minis in a server room along with IBM/HP/etc hardware perfectly capable of running VMs seems a bit silly. So virtualisation would make sense.
However, do they still control the key technologies?
Comment by lotech, on 10-Nov-2010 14:52
Following this up - heres a good article at AppleInsider.
Comment by gopher, on 10-Nov-2010 14:56
To be honest, I think Apple's server future (for major datacentres anyway) is a more Linux/BSD scenario. OS X Server probably retains a place in the smaller commercial space (which is pretty much where it has played up until now) and so can remain on things like a Mac Mini or Mac Pro. Overall I think Apple's move is to more open Internet-standards interfacing to their data centre servers and so any Linux or similar solution would work.
Comment by pogostickconz, on 15-Nov-2010 23:33
im curious what is the blogosphear - is it a speared H? ah well it made me click thru and read ur post so well done i guess