Parallels releases server virtualization for Apple's Mac Mini

Will server virtualization on the Mac Mini be a viable replacement for the Apple Xserve?

Parallels recently launched a new version of its popular Parallels server virtualization software for Apple hardware, but this latest update is designed to work with Mac Mini servers. With this release, Parallels still claims the title of having the only server virtualization solution optimized for Apple server hardware.

Parallels Server for Mac 4.0 Mac Mini Edition is a Type-2 hypervisor, meaning it installs directly onto existing Mac hardware and its host operating system -- in this case, OS X Server. And like Parallels' other popular Mac virtualization product lines, this latest release keeps with the claim to fame of allowing for the installation and operation of Microsoft Windows and Linux server operating systems on top of Apple's hardware.

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These guest OSes can run concurrently with Mac OS X, providing users with additional flexibility and performance, and expanding the software library made available to small businesses by being able to consolidate and run Windows applications like Microsoft Exchange, SharePoint, and SQL Server or Linux applications like Moodle, WordPress, and MySQL on their Apple hardware.

Kim Johnston, vice president of marketing at Parallels said, "Businesses can reduce their need for different hardware platforms, saving space, power and administration time, while easily adding new services without the need to increase the budget for additional hardware purchases."

Apple discontinued its Xserve server product line as of Jan. 31, 2011 because it decided to move away from the dedicated server business in favor of pushing their nonportable Macs units as servers. Apple claims the Mini is a perfect alternative solution for small to midsized organizations. The company also claims that the Mac Mini with Snow Leopard Server is quickly becoming Apple's most popular server system.

Unfortunately, as servers go, the Mac Mini probably won't be considered by most as a powerful workhorse machine. The unit is currently limited to a single Intel Core 2 Duo processor and a maximum of 8GB of memory. In the world of server virtualization, that doesn't really add up to a whole lot of horsepower, not even for an SMB shop. By comparison, the previous version of Parallels Server for Mac 4.0 (which can still be purchased online) supports up to 12 virtual CPUs, 64GB of virtual memory, 16 virtual NICs, and 2TB virtual hard drives for each virtual machine on an Apple Xserve. Now that's a server virtualization hardware platform!

But even working within the current hardware limitations of the Mac Mini, Parallels does a really good job of trying to pack in enough features to make it a viable option for SMB server virtualization. The latest Parallels version includes support for both 32- and 64-bit guest operating systems; offers virtual machine provisioning for up to two VMs per server and up to two virtual CPUs and 4GB of memory for each virtual machine; offers shared folders for Windows, Linux, and Mac OS guest OSes; supports snapshots and backups of virtual machines without the need for third-party software; and provides valuable USB sharing capabilities.

Parallels' Mac Mini virtualization platform has also been designed with small to medium-sized businesses in mind as these organizations don't typically have a lot of in-house Mac server expertise on hand. To address that challenge, Parallels offers an express installation option that essentially allows the software to be easily setup and configured; the server software comes integrated with Parallels Updater so that it can be automatically updated; and Parallels provides what it calls "one-click" tools to optimize Windows and Linux guest OSes.

Parallels Server for Mac 4.0 Mac Mini Edition is priced for the low-end SMB side of the market at $299, compared to $1,999 for the previous Xserve and Mac Pro edition. With Xserve gone, are you considering the Mac Mini as an alternative platform? And if so, will this lower-priced Parallels version appeal to you? Or do you think the Mac Mini should at least incorporate a quad-core chip and support more memory before it should even be considered a viable server virtualization platform?

This article, "Parallels releases server virtualization for Apple's Mac Mini," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in virtualization at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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