IT admins mourn Xserve's death

The cancellation of Apple's enterprise server--apparently due to low sales--is just another disappointment for IT admins who've worked for years to get more Macs into their offices.

Erica Ogg Former Staff writer, CNET News
Erica Ogg is a CNET News reporter who covers Apple, HP, Dell, and other PC makers, as well as the consumer electronics industry. She's also one of the hosts of CNET News' Daily Podcast. In her non-work life, she's a history geek, a loyal Dodgers fan, and a mac-and-cheese connoisseur.
Erica Ogg
4 min read
RIP Xserve.
RIP Xserve. Apple

Not many MacBook or iPhone users are going to weep over the cancellation of an Apple server.

In fact, they probably didn't know Apple even made them. But when Apple announced it was shutting down production of the Xserve effective January 31, a very specific group of people took notice.

The Apple faithful inside corporate IT departments large and small are feeling jilted by Apple's sudden cold feet in the enterprise computing market. And though the announcement came last last week, the full impact of Apple's decision is still being absorbed.

Apple's own support forums are filled with customers expressing their disappointment over the cancellation of the Xserve line in a forum thread titled "A Sad Day...Xserve discontinued." A purported e-mail from CEO Steve Jobs making the rounds on the Web suggested that lack of demand was behind the decision to cut the enterprise-level server product, but that didn't seem to lessen the exasperation seemingly felt by many.

One Apple forum commenter wrote, "We fight tooth and nail to convince business and enterprise that Apple is a valid contender. How OS X Server is 'real UNIX' and how Apple servers are more cost effective for licensing and support. To then have to sheepishly explain we have no rack-mounted option, no hot-swap drives or redundant power, no LOM [lights off management], no actual 'server'--it's embarrassing and destroys Apple's presence in the server room."

Another forum commenter chimed in, "I'm doing Macs for 20 years now and constantly Apple has been coming up with servers, tried to convince me how wonderful they are and then ditched them some time later. The fact they never had a clear roadmap was bad enough for any enterprise client. Decisions like this are simply ridiculous. Shame on you, Apple!"

More than 100 comments on more than a half dozen pages have been posted in the Apple forum thread echoing this same theme. A petition has also been started and has been circulating that asks Apple to reconsider. Apple has long had a tight community of fans, and in corporate IT departments it's arguably even tighter. It's a group that have in some cases made it their mission to improve Apple's reputation in a place dominated by colleagues with pro-Windows, anti-Mac predilections. So when Apple drops a product that is viewed by them as the backbone of their system, it's a blow professionally, but as the forum comments show, also personally.

There are real-world consequences to this decision for many IT folks. Dave Schroeder, a systems engineer at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, posted an open letter to Jobs, asking that if they have to cancel Xserve, could Apple please allow Mac OS X virtualization on non-Mac hardware?

Without either option, Schroeder writes, it will negatively affect many programs on campus that Apple probably cares about, "including iOS mobile development, campus-wide lecture capture with Podcast Producer, our iTunes U presence, our campus IP TV network, and many other services which rely on Apple server services to support the user experience." He adds, "Not only will Apple users suffer, but we will have no choice but to evaluate other options."

Ben Hanes, senior systems analyst for Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute, has been happily deploying Macs and Xserves for his users for five years, but says he was "shocked" by Apple sudden shift.

"What is the most disturbing is the lack of any useful information regarding future plans for the enterprise. Apple has long been stubborn and has not given any roadmaps for planning and this is difficult to adequately prepare ourselves for where we will be in five years."
--Ben Hanes, senior systems analyst for Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute

"We rely heavily on this hardware and this move has the potential of disturbing the adoption of Macs in our environment for desktops," Hanes said. "As it is, I may be forced to scrap some significant plans for infrastructure enhancements and replacements that required Xserves." The Mac Pro Server and Mac Mini Server are, in his opinion, inadequate substitutions, despite Apple's recommendation.

"What is the most disturbing is the lack of any useful information regarding future plans for the enterprise," Hanes said. "Apple has long been stubborn and has not given any roadmaps for planning and this is difficult to adequately prepare ourselves for where we will be in five years."

Jason, A longtime IT consultant who only wanted to be identified by his first name, expressed equal dismay. He's been helping companies of all sizes deploy Macs for more than a decade, and wants to continue to do so, but Apple's perceived lack of an enterprise strategy is hurting them.

"What's the one staple in corporate IT culture? Consistency. When they deploy (machines) for thousands of users, they can't have 500 different types of machines, they've gotta have baselines. It's what makes IT efficient," he said. "So what does corporate IT pick? Stuff they can count on."

And with Apple, it's not the first time they've been through this. From the Apple Network Server in the mid-90s getting unceremoniously canceled, to the sudden switch from Power PC chips to Intel chips in 2005, Jason says as much as he enjoys working on Macs, it's difficult to go through the same thing for the third time.

"What is the point? Every time we get them inside the corporate IT culture they pull this crap," he said with obvious exasperation. "It gets to a point where, you know what? Enough's enough. They obviously don't want to be there."

Though Jason sounds resigned to the inevitable, others don't seem to be above begging, as one Apple forum user put it, "Please Apple, don't give up on servers - don't make us all go back to marginalizing Apples to the 'creative' department and using Microsoft or Linux for the backbone."