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Apple upgrades servers, unveils storage

The company adds faster processors to its Xserve line of rack-mounted servers and cuts prices. Also, after some delay, a companion storage system makes its debut.

    Apple Computer on Monday announced an upgrade to its line of rack-mounted servers and unveiled a line of storage gear.

    In its Xserve server line, Apple added faster 1.33GHz processors. A single-processor server with 256MB of Double Data Rate (DDR) memory, a 60GB ATA drive and Gigabit Ethernet networking sells for $2,799. A dual 1.33GHz processor model sells for $3,799 and includes 512MB of DDR memory and a 60GB hard drive.

    Both machines are 1.75 inches tall and come with a CD-ROM drive and the Mac OS X server operating system with a license for an unlimited number of client Macs. The prices are $200 less than when Apple first introduced the Xserve--the company's first rack-mounted server--last May.

    Apple has been gaining share in servers, albeit from a very small base, since the Xserve's introduction. Apple had originally planned to announce a companion Xserve RAID storage system by the end of last year, but later delayed the launch until early this year.

    "We're really happy with the deployments we've seen for Xserve," said Alex Grossman, Apple's director of hardware storage product marketing. "We were pretty humble (when we entered) the server space."

    Apple executives said the company has been "pleasantly surprised" with the breadth of customers who have adopted Xserve, who range from Apple's traditional base of schools and graphic designers to users who need file and print serving and clustering in business and academic settings.

    According to Gartner Dataquest, Apple's U.S. server sales in the fourth quarter rose more than fourfold to $14.6 million, up from $3.75 million in the fourth quarter of 2001. The company's unit market share rose to nearly 1 percent of the total server market, up from just one-third of a percent a year earlier.

    The Xserve RAID systems introduced Monday feature up to 2.5 terabytes of storage in a 5.25-inch-high rack-mounted system. With standard prices ranging from $6,000 to $11,000, depending on the configuration, Apple says it is offering storage as low as $4 per gigabyte.

    One analyst said that Apple will need to be a quick study if it wants to find much success in the storage realm.

    "Apple is entering the storage market pretty late in the game at a time when battle lines have been clearly drawn and loyalties are firmly entrenched," said Tim Deal, an analyst at Technology Business Research. "This means that Apple will once again be forced to try to lure customers from...heavyweights like EMC, Hitachi Data Systems, and Dell."

    The storage system comes in three configurations that will be available starting in March.

    The $5,999 entry-level model includes dual, independent RAID controllers with a 128MB cache (and support for up to 512MB) per controller, dual 2-gigabit-per-second Fibre Channel ports, 8MB of on-drive cache and four 180GB ATA/100 Apple drive modules.

    A midrange configuration, priced at $7,499, increases the number of 180GB drives to seven, while the top-of-the-line model has a full cabinet of 14 drives. The models can also be custom-configured by boosting the number of drives or by adding cache memory.

    Xserve can connect to Xserve RAID with a 2GB Apple Fibre Channel PCI Card that is sold separately.