Xserve's lights-out management is powered by Intel, and it implements version 2.0 of the IPMI (intelligent platform management interface) specification. That doesn't mean much right now, because even though IPMI is a published specification, that spec is so impossibly convoluted that the only effective IPMI consoles are those created by OEMs, and these are closely guarded intellectual property. An open source project, openipmi, aims to change that, and remote management hardware maker Cyclades (now part of Avocent) has announced its plan to open its IPMI software development kit. In the meantime, Apple's only IPMI-equipped software is the Server Monitor GUI. I was not able to use Server Monitor to target Xserve remotely, and pointing Server Monitor at Xserve's lights-out IP address returned nothing (although that address did respond to pings). I have no doubt that this will evolve quickly, but Xserve users may want to keep polite pressure on Apple to make sure that on-board monitoring and logging facilities are accessible from local and remote text connections as well as the command line.
An objective reviewer's job is to find fault, and I've done my job. But the sum of Xserve's flaws is overwhelmed by the system's unique leading-edge, user and administrator-centric engineering. Xserve is far better than the commodity server that the Intel x86 market expects. But what really blasts Apple's competition is OS X Server. The present Tiger (10.4) release is more than a match for much more expensive commercial Linux, and far more capable out of the box than Windows 2003 Server. Early next year, OS X Server Leopard (10.5) will transform Apple's already industry-leading Xserve, including the model reviewed here, into an unimaginably feature-rich native 64-bit server platform. And guess what? When you buy it, you're done paying for it, and all of the services you have to buy, build or rent with Windows, Linux or pay-as-you-go service outsourcing, are installed on every Xserve's boot drive. Call me old fashioned, but I prefer Xserve's buy once, run forever approach.