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Aquatic Mac

Xserve and the Apple Network Servers

Andrew W. Hill
2002.05.22

In 1996, Apple offered its Apple Network Server in two varieties: the ANS 500 and 700. The major difference between the two was that the 700 had redundant hot-swappable power supplies plus a faster processor and larger level two cache. The Apple Network Servers never sold very well, despite some fairly impressive specifications. The main reason for this was that they did not run Mac OS.

Once again Apple is attempting to enter the high scale server market. It is a very profitable market, and also very reliable - much more so than home computers.

Naturally, one would not run the Classic Mac OS on a server like the ANS. Stability and reliability are needed more than a nice user interface in such a machine. Apple went with AIX, IBM's version of Unix. AIX is a very good operating system, with all the features a Unix based server should need. The problem was that IBM sells its own high end servers running AIX, and anybody running IBM's operating system would rather run it on IBM hardware.

A few Apple fans bought Apple Network Servers, but AIX wasn't the operating system they knew and loved. [Editor's note: Because the Apple Network Servers were never designed to run the Mac OS, we don't cover them on Low End Mac.]

Essentially, what makes Apple unique in the computer world is its software. It's usable. Windows is popular, and Linux is free, but the Mac OS makes sense. AIX wasn't as nice as the Mac OS, and the ANS had the stigma of "its an Apple" in the professional server market.

Xserve

With OS X Server, Xserve is something new. It's small, it's fast, and it runs a powerful operating system that makes sense.

The ANS was a giant behemoth with wheels, six hot-swappable SCSI drive bays, DAT, and redundant power supplies. It was a powerful machine.

Xserve is small, uses cheaper ATA drives, is designed for external backup through three FireWire ports, and nothing is redundant.

Are the two machines analogous? Let's compare each to the high end machine of their day:

1996

Power Mac 9500

ANS 700

Processor

150 MHz 604

150 MHz 604

Level 2 Cache

512 KB @50 MHz

1 MB @50 MHz

Max RAM

1.5 GB 70ns FPM

1 GB 60ns parity FPM

Hard Drive Bays

Two Internal Fast SCSI

Six Hot-swappable Fast/Wide SCSI

PCI Slots

6 33 MHz 32-bit

6 33 MHz 32-bit

Operating System

System 7.5.3

AIX 4.1.4

Weight

38 lbs

84 lbs

2002

Power Mac G4/1 GHz

Xserve Dual

Processor

2x 1 GHz G4

2x 1 GHz G4

Level 2 Cache

2x 256 KB @1 GHz

2x 256 KB @1 GHz

Level 3 Cache

2x 2 MB @250 MHz

2x 2 MB @250 MHz

Max RAM

1.5 GB PC133 SDRAM

2 GB PC2100 DDR

Hard Drive Bays

Four Internal ATA/66

Four Hot-swappable ATA/100

PCI Slots

4 33 MHz 64-bit, 1 4x AGP

2 66 MHz 64-bit, 1 66 MHz 32-bit/4x AGP

Operating System

Mac OS 9 or X

Mac OS X Server

Weight

30 lbs

26 lbs

As you can see, Apple has followed a similar model to what they did six years ago. The Xserve has better memory and faster (and hot-swappable) drives than the regular desktop G4. There are two striking differences: The operating system and the size.

The Xserve has sacrificed some redundancy and features (PCI slots) for size. The small 1U size will make it easier for professionals to use several of them in server farms, where the ANS was aimed more as a single system. I believe the Xserve will sell well in the professional market.

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Andrew W. Hill (a.k.a. Aqua) has been using Macintosh computers since 1987 and maintains that the Mac SE is the perfect Macintosh, superior to all - including the Color Classic. He is on the verge of being evicted from the family home due to its infestation of Macs (last count: about 50). Andrew is attempting to pay his way through college at UC Santa Cruz with freelance Web design and Mac tech support.

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