Apple sent a collective shiver down the spine of Mac shops last month when it announced plans to permanently retire the Xserve line. Organizations still have some time to figure out future plans in a post-Xserve world -- Apple will continue to sell the system through Jan. 31 -- but for the time being, uncertainty abounds, according to a recent survey conducted by the Enterprise Desktop Alliance, an association of Mac-using businesses and vendors.
Shops that run Xserve do have choices: They can adopt one of two recommended hardware alternatives from Apple (the Mac Mini and the Mac Pro) loaded with Snow Leopard Server, or they can migrate to Windows or a flavor of Linux. But neither choice is cut-and-dry, which might explain why nearly 33 percent of the 1,200 survey respondents -- from K-12 schools, higher-education establishments, governmental organizations, and businesses both large and small -- said they were unsure of what they will do next. Most respondents did say they plan to hang on to their Xserve systems for two years or more, though.
At first blush, the most obvious choice for organizations where Macs reign would be to simply move to a different piece of Apple-branded hardware that runs Mac OS X Server. According to EDA's survey, more than one-third of organizations -- primarily K-12 schools and small businesses -- intend to do so. The number might, in fact, be higher were it not for a couple of key differences between the Xserve, the Mac Mini, and the Mac Pro.
First off, the Mac Mini and the Mac Pro are not standard 1U rack-mountable machines, and they don't have lights-out management (LMO) or redundant power supplies. Sure, there are third-party solutions available that allow you to slide a couple of Minis into a server rack, while a pair of Pros (the system has a tower form factor) can fit on a rack-mounted shelf in 12U of space. But between form-factor headache and absence of built-in LMO, neither system is a clean plug-and-play alternative to Xserve.
Second, admins will have to do their homework in choosing between the Mac Mini and the Mac Pro, and they might have to invest more in Apple hardware than they've had to in the past. Apple is pushing a 12-core Mac Pro as the closest alternative to 8-core Xserve (PDF) in terms of overall performance. Comparing price tags, the 12-core Mac Pro starts at $4,999, whereas the 8-core Xserve starts at $3,599.