There wasn't exactly weeping and gnashing of teeth (at least that we know of), but a lot of loyal Mac users in IT departments were seriously disappointed a few weeks ago when Apple said that as of January 31 the assembly line churning out the Xserve would be permanently halted. There was talk from some of ditching Macs altogether at work in a fit of bitter disappointment, and in light of some anticipated major technical challenges.
With a few weeks perspective, however, the real impact is a bit clearer now. Despite the postings in Apple's own forums and comments on blog posts all over the Web including here at CNET, actual survey data conducted immediately after the Xserve's cancellation announcement shows that most IT admins using Apple's server now are still sticking with Xserve for as long as they can. The big takeaway? These guys are a loyal bunch. And a group that really dislikes downtime on their networks.
The Enterprise Desktop Alliance (EDA), a group of enterprise software companies that integrate Mac and Windows systems for businesses, asked more than 1,200 IT administrators who currently deploy an Xserve what they planned to do post-Xserve availability at the end of January 2011. The EDA found that 65 percent of respondents plan on keeping their Xserves humming along for the next two years, rather than switching to a different solution right away, which could disrupt some essential applications. Of that group, more than half are sticking with it until you pry it from their cold, dead hands--or until it officially stops working.
And most interesting, 70 percent said it had no impact on whether they'd continue to deploy Macs at their business.
"Certainly people were letting out some emotional response (following the announcement), but when they had to answer in a cold, hard assessment, they're going to stay with the Mac as the server," said Reid Lewis, president of Group Logic, a member of the Enterprise Desktop Alliance. As far as whether there would be a broader impact beyond just servers, he said, "whatever people were blasting away in chatrooms and so forth, they're going to in large part stick with the Mac."
Subsequent to the Xserve's announced axing, Apple said it recommended in its place the Mac Pro with Mac OS X Server software, or the Mac Mini Server. Both are basically consumer desktops with juiced up specs and server software.
The EDA found that 37 percent of small businesses and 28 percent of schools will switch to Mac Pro or Mac Mini Server once their Xserves die or fall out of warranty. But for all the mom-and-pop shops using an Xserve to manage a couple dozen Macs, there are mid-size and huge conglomerates that can only try to muffle their laughter at Apple's suggestion that they substitute an Xserve with a Mac Pro Server or a Mac Mini Server.
Peter Linde runs a Berkeley, Calif.-based IT support and consulting service that helps companies deploying from 20 to almost 20,000 Macs. Most of his clients, he says, will stick with the Xserve while Apple is still honoring the warranty. After that, they'll have to figure out replacements. But it's not as simple as Apple is making it sound.
"For some clients, the Mac Pro is going to be a reasonable but not perfect replacement. For most of our clients the Mac Mini Server does not work," he said. "The Mac Pro is missing dual power supplies, lights out management" and the size of the unit is a problem too: Mac Pro towers are significantly larger and don't fit as nicely in a server cabinet as the thin, flat Xserve. He added, "We can't suggest a machine with a single power supply. That right there is a deal-killer."
"It's just not a true replacement for an enterprise-class server," Linde emphasized.
So what will most IT administrators opt for instead? It depends on what they were doing with the Xserves to begin with. According to the EDA's findings, when it comes to Netboot servers, client management, or software update servers, sticking with a Mac solution was the most common response among those surveyed. But those looking to replace file servers answered that a Windows server was their likely replacement option, and when it comes to Web servers, most said they'd probably go the Linux/UNIX route.
For a lot of admins, however, this discussion about where to go and what to do post-Xserve would be a non-issue if Apple were agreeable to changing one tiny (OK, actually huge) licensing thing: allowing virtualization on non-Mac hardware.
Dave Schroeder, a systems engineer at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, penned an open letter to Jobs a few weeks ago and posted it online, asking this very thing. As much of a hassle as it is for a lot of people, if Apple has to cancel Xserve, could Apple please allow virtualization, he asked.
Needless to say, that's not Apple's style. As Psystar found out most recently: Mac OS only goes on Apple hardware. Legally, anyway.
In the end, what it comes down to for many IT guys and gals who've been working sometimes for decades to slowly convince their bosses to move away from Windows is the realization of where enterprise falls on Apple's priority list. Hint: not very high.
Just the way that Apple's vertically integrated model of owning the software and hardware it sells is part of its DNA, it's getting to be very obvious that the traditional enterprise computing model is just not written into Apple's genetic code.
And despite that, there are plenty of IT admins willing to go with whatever solution Apple suggests and that works with their budget and technical needs. But those are mostly people that have used and loved Macs for years, not the Windows-worshiping skeptics that were just starting the conversion process to Macs.
"It's kind of a blow in that sense," Linde said. "Several of our clients were dipping their toes into Apple (hardware) on the back end. But now they feel like Apple is sending a clear signal that Apple is not interested in the enterprise."
Correction at 9:20 a.m. PT: This story incorrectly tied Schroeder to a different effort related to Xserve. A correct link has been added to Schroeder's open letter.