Apple's Nehalem Xserve serves the need for speed
Sleek, new Mac OS X rack server sets a far higher bar for performance and power efficiencyFollow @infoworld
Xserve's LOM is limited in comparison to other servers' baseboard management controllers. When the system is powered down, it functions primarily as a remote power switch and a means to select the source of the boot image. The LOM lacks the ability to remotely control the console (KVM over IP), although ipmitool provides rudimentary, unofficial "serial over LAN" support. The LOM's field replaceable units (FRU) inventory capability is not used, and motherboard sensor status is unavailable, even in cached form, when the system is powered down.
Deal or no deal?
I came to this review with three questions in mind: Is Nehalem Xserve better than Mac OS X Leopard Server running on Mac Pro? Do existing Xserve owners have a compelling reason to upgrade? And finally, does Nehalem Xserve give users of other brands of rack servers cause to consider a switch?
The first question is one of value. Someone running one to three servers is less likely to be concerned about lights out management, redundant power supplies, the rack form factor, and spare parts kits, key Xserve features with large-scale IT appeal. Next to Nehalem Xserve, Nehalem Mac Pro is the far greener and quieter machine, with more room for storage and a matching hardware RAID option. However, Mac Pro has less RAM capacity, and solid-state storage isn't an option (at least not from Apple). People using Mac Pro as a pedestal server also get the advantage of adding storage with raw SATA drives, an option that Apple precludes on Xserve.
Existing Xserve owners need to upgrade to the Nehalem model, if only because the enormous leap in memory bandwidth makes it possible to do so much more work in the same space. Nehalem and Mac OS X seem positively made for each other; neither is as impressive alone as it is with the other. It's a certainty that Snow Leopard, when it ships this summer, will be at its best on Xserve. Apple built a discrete GPU with dedicated memory into Xserve to take advantage of Snow Leopard's ability to parcel out compute tasks to the 3-D accelerator.
As for whether Nehalem Xserve is strong enough to pull newcomers to the Mac server platform, that's hard to say. It probably should, but Xserve is an odd duck. IT is conditioned to look at x86 rack servers as raw material for handmade solutions. Xserve is a solution in itself, but a review of the hardware fills in only half of the picture. Making an intelligent choice about a Mac server platform requires familiarity with Mac OS X Server, and as Apple kicks off its Worldwide Developer Conference next week, I'll give you a refresh on Mac OS X Server's features, including new capabilities coming to Snow Leopard (10.6). Then you'll have the whole picture.
|Pros||Ready to run with e-mail, DNS, directory, file/print, database, app servers, blog, wiki, Web, Java, Mac client management (including Time Machine automatic backup) and more. True headless booting. Unlimited licenses for Windows, Mac, and NFS file sharing clients. Compatible with 64-bit Mac OS X Snow Leopard Server, due later this year. Twelve 1,066MHz DDR3 DIMM sockets leverage Nehalem’s triple-channel on-chip RAM controller. Independent system management controller (“lights out management”) with GUI, SNMP, and IPMI 2.0 support. Optional integrated hardware RAID controller with battery-backed RAM cache. Optional solid-state boot drive. Two 16-lane PCI-Express slots. Integrated Nvidia 3-D GPU with 256MB of dedicated VRAM. Power, reset, and system management controller reset buttons on motherboard for easy hood-up operation. Exceptionally detailed power monitoring includes at-the-wall current draw. DB9 serial port for UPS or remote management.|
|Cons||Lights-out management controller lacks KVM over IP support; no official serial over LAN support. Proprietary drive trays are not user-upgradeable with raw drives. No power utilization capping, down-coring, or other explicit energy controls.|
|Cost||$2,999 for quad-core base model with one 2.26GHz Intel Nehalem Xeon CPU, 3GB 1,066MHz DDR3 RAM, 160GB SATA hard drive, 8X SuperDrive DVD burner, Nvidia GeForce GT120 GPU with 256MB of GDDR3 memory; $3,599 for eight-core base Xserve with two 2.26GHz CPUs. Price as reviewed: $9,478 with two 2.93GHz quad-core Xeon CPUs, 24GB of DDR3 RAM, three 1TB Serial ATA hard drives, 128GB solid-state boot drive, on-board hardware RAID controller, Apple Mini DisplayPort to VGA adapter, redundant 750W power supply|
|Platforms||Mac OS X 10.5.7 Leopard Server (included)|