Apple Tweaks Xserve for Clustering

In its quest to take up more space on server racks around the globe, Apple Computer Tuesday said it will offer a new version of its rack-mountable Xserve starting next month.

The Cupertino, Calif.-based computer maker said it would market the single or dual-processor boxes (1.33GHz PowerPC G4) to companies working with computational clusters and distributed applications. Apple said the new Xserve units would be available in late April and reflect the recent price cuts of $2,799 for the single CPU . The dual processor version will go for $3,799.

The new Xserve comes with up to 2GB of 333MHz DDR SDRAM, two 64-bit 66MHz PCI slots (plus a third combination PCI/AGP slot), dual Gigabit Ethernet, FireWire 800, USB and four independent ATA/133 drive bays that hold up to 720GB of data.

But unlike the original Xserve, which first shipped in July, 2002, the new server has only one hot-swappable 60GB hard drive, no graphics card, and no CD ROM.

“Some of the feedback we got was that the Xserve has some extra things in it that customers didn’t necessarily need,” Apple Serer Hardware Product Manager Doug Brooks told “A lot of customers use their first Xserve as a head node and then adding additional worker nodes. Because of that, many were telling us that they didn’t need a CD ROM in the additional nodes. The great thing here is that the file services in the software as well as net boot and net install allow you to install without CD ROMs.”

In addition to its regular education and entertainment customers, Brooks said Apple was seeing financial companies picking up its Xserve boxes. Case in point is St. Cloud, Minnesota-based Risk Wise, which picked up a cache of Apple’s RAID storage devices to compliment its 120 Xserve units.

More importantly, the new configuration lets Apple tap into the lucrative high performance computing (HPC) clustering marketplace populated by Linux servers by IBM , Dell Computer , Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems .

“The bright spot in the server market is the HPC Linux server area and what it seems like Apple is saying that is has UNIX RISC server that can operate as a Linux cluster with a minimum amount of change,” said IDC Research Vice President Jean Bozman. “Some people in their install base are already doing this.”

The new CD ROM-less Xserve will come with the server version of Macintosh OS 10.2.4 (aka Jaguar) pre-installed as well as other open source cluster management software such as Open PPS.

On Friday, Apple made a pre-release seed of Mac OS X v10.2.5 to developers available to both the client and server versions. The update will attempt to fix, update and enhance current versions of QuickDraw, IPSec, TCP performance, Web services, Sound Manager, and Windows 2000 compatibility.

Apple said it would be demonstrating the revised Xserve units for the first time at Bio-IT World in Boston, Mass. next week.

The computer maker also confirmed that it will no longer sell its colorful CRT iMac, which it debuted in 1998. The 15-inch computer originally sold for $1,299. Apple said it is focusing on its flat-pannel iMac.

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