X.2 Server: The back (office) door to market growth?


Two versions of Apple's Jaguar were released last Friday -- one for the desktop, which has received widespread attention and a second less-heralded version designed to run on Apple-branded server hardware.

"With Mac OS X 10.2 Server, Apple has turned its focus on businesses in a way it hasn't done for years," say analysts and company executives quoted by News.com.

Apple's quest to be taken seriously in the server space began in earnest on June 30th with the release of Xserve, it's first-ever rackmount solution. The company also offers tower-style servers as well, though updated models (optical PowerMacs) won't ship until next month.

"We want to fit into the enterprise infrastructure," Tom Goguen, director of worldwide server product marketing, Apple, told News.com.

Unbundling skills, mindsets

Unlike Windoze and its egregious licensing terms and fees, and Linux with its steep learning curve and uncertain hardware requirements, Apple's back-office solutions come prepackaged and don't include hidden costs. In fact, the company's software and hardware server offerings generally don't require special skills to implement.

"Joe small-business owner" can set-up and maintain an Apple server product today. He can integrate it with his existing Windoze clients today and he needn't hire an additional employee with advanced skills or training to access 90 percent of its functionality.

Overall, the cost of employing trained tech workers far outweighs the cost of the hardware and software deloyed. That Apple hardware and software generally doesn't require special skills and training is an incredibly powerful selling point for small and medium-size business owners.

Further, like the newly revised iPod, Apple's server solutions come unbundled from the rest of the Mac universe -- i.e. you don't need Mac on the desktop to fully enjoy the chewy goodness of these products. This is an important lure for those wary of the "reality distortion field" surrounding Apple and its products -- you get what you pay for without buying the farm.

Value, value, value

In terms of licensing, offers very compelling solutions:

In a time of reduced IT spending, market researcher Gartner reports that M$' Licensing 6 program (what you'd pay to put Windoze in the back office) increases fees from 33 to 107 percent.

Windoze 2000 Server costs $1,600 and $3,500 for 25 and unlimited user-seat licenses, respectively.

An unlimited licensed copy of X.2 server comes bundled with Apple Xserve hardware.

Apple ships its server hardware with QuickTime Broadcaster and QuickTime Streaming Server installed. Both of these support QT6, which includes open-standard MPEG-4 support -- not just "brand X's" closed-shop codecs.

X.2 Server includes LDAP, Workgroup Manager, Samba and can be configured to work with Active Directory. X.2 Server also includes Network File System which supports Unix and Linux clients.

This last point -- broad cross-platform support -- is an important selling point -- you get all of this without additional cost and you don't need a long-list of specialized skills to implement these protocols.

"Companies are finding Mac OS X delivers on many of the features of Linux, such as low cost, but with more robust features," Apple's Goguen told News.com.

Back office sensation?

That Mac believers will purchase X.2 Server and Xserve can be taken as an article of faith. In truth, we'll buy just about anything (in quantity) embossed with the Apple logo. The notable exceptions being the Cube and perhaps .Mac.

Strong anecdotal evidence exists that X is gaining traction amongst Unix and Linux users. Slashdot and others have reported on this phenomena.

Greg Coleman, a freelance programmer in Taiwan, told IGM that his cohorts have switched almost en masse from Linux and Windoze machines to Titanium PowerBooks.

"If you walk into a [programming] shop here," said Coleman. "You'll see a lot of Titaniums ... What else can do so much?"

Thus said, it is perhaps just a matter of time before Linux/Unix users begin switching to back office iron built by Apple.

The 500lbs litmus test is acceptance of X server technologies among Windoze admins. That these people are beleaguered and that many are seeking non-M$ alternatives is no secret. That Apple's X server technologies are compelling needs no further explanation.

However, the question remains as to whether they'll embrace technology from a company many of them are known to despise.

Sound off

Are Apple's X server technologies its best bet for growing market share?

Do you have an X server technology success story to share?

[Updated 8/27 @ 3:30]