Xserve strikes the perfect chord with everyone from the server neophytes and Windows refugees who want plug and play to the UNIX graybeards allergic to proprietary system software, equipment or development tools. Freed from the never-ending spending of Windows and the do-it-yourself shipbuilding of Linux, every single buyer of Xserve will end up doing more with Apple's server than they had in mind when they bought it. Apple makes it safe and simple to reach beyond the narrow purposes for which individual Windows and Linux servers are typically deployed. Xserve can run its full range of services--which include Web, database, J2EE, e-mail, anti-virus, IM, Windows and UNIX file/'print sharing, VPN, gateway, proxy, and firewall.
Xserve is uniquely easy to deploy and manage on its own or as part of an established heterogeneous network of systems, and yet it is not dumbed-down in the least. It carries the traditional benefits of Apple's "invented here" design, particularly the rock solid stability that OS X derives from being targeted to a limited number of controlled configurations (note that OS X Server runs on client Macs as well). And yet Xserve is an entirely standards-based, open design, but with none of the prefab, seen one seen 'em all engineering that typifies Intel x86 servers.
An appliance for some, a wide-open UNIX platform for others
Unlike other Intel OEMs' boxes, Xserve ships from Apple as a complete server platform, not as a computer. The difference? A server platform is a whole--hardware, OS, standardized services, GUI management, dev tools, server application frameworks, documentation and much more--that emerges from its shipping carton with functionality that fully satisfies the needs of the majority of buyers. When I plugged Xserve in for the first time, it did what I expected: It gave me my choice of services including, but not limited to, Web, database, J2EE, e-mail, blog, IM, Windows and UNIX file/'print sharing, gateway, proxy and firewall. It took about three minutes, with no reboot, to put my services on the air, and they were all immediately configured, reconfigurable and reporting to Apple's Server Manager and Server Monitor GUI consoles.
Linux users are accustomed to wading through several pages of checkboxes to select from among the bulging sack of software--some maintained, some not--burned onto the install DVDs. OS X Server doesn't subject users to that. If you ask for e-mail services, OS X Server sets up the open-source SMTP, Web mail, spam filter, virus checking and list management that Apple selected, validated and, in some cases fixed and enhanced (always giving its changes back to the projects). Apple isn't reticent to count and credit the projects are part of OS X Server. However, by default, projects and versions are abstracted by the install and management interfaces. That abstraction allows administrators to treat each major network service category as an integrated solution rather than a stack of pieces. Server Manager, the multi-server administrative console bundled with OS X Server and available as a free download for running on client systems, presents a unified interface that eliminates the need to configure each mail service component individually and deal with instabilities that arise from conflicting configurations. Apple brings this consistent, centralized approach to the Server Monitor console that handles Xserve hardware monitoring, reporting and notification.