I recently had two conference calls with two titans. One was with IBM about its brand-new server, the other with Apple about the future of its high-end server business.
During one call, I learned about a bold, customer-responsive strategy from a company that isn’t known for turning on a dime. During the other call, I was treated to an insufferable bastardisation of the word “server” by a company that was on track to upgrade the entire enterprise server market, only to sell out to Intel’s maximum-volume/minimum-power hooey.
It turns out that Apple’s own top-end customers, the ones Apple said wouldn’t notice when PowerPC disappeared from their systems in favour of Intel mobile CPUs, did notice. Brother, did they notice. But while Apple was evaluating customer feedback and consulting with analysts, IBM leaped in and snatched opportunity right out of its jaws.
That’s right. In the race to pawn off Intel bargain-bin desktops as servers, IBM has crossed the line first. And what a distinction it is. The eSeries x100 Express combines “entry-level affordability with server-class features.”
Here are the base specs of IBM’s revolutionary $599 server: a single-core Intel Celeron CPU, 256MB of RAM, and an 80GB Serial ATA hard drive. Clear a space in the server room, fellas, IBM’s smokin’, 50-user mid-tower monster is comin’ in. Want that server all pimped out? Just add a second Serial ATA drive and a dual-core Pentium 4 CPU. Oh, and about that operating system: it is certified for Windows Server 2003 x64 Edition.
The eSeries x100 Express, built the way I’d have it, has a parts cost of about $160. Built to IBM’s specs, I estimate the parts would cost me $90 at retail, but I can’t bring myself to shop the online equivalents of the Dollar Store.
While IBM becomes Intel’s surplus-goods clearinghouse, Apple -- whose marriage to Intel seemed right out of one of those dumpy-guy, gorgeous-babe sitcoms -- got its act together. Or rather, kept it together. At long last, Apple has answered my question, “What comes after Xserve G5?” And the answer is, “Xserve G5.” Apple’s renewal of vows to IBM’s PowerPC 970 CPU comes in the form of three new configurations of the Apple Workgroup Cluster.
Apple PR strained to keep its briefing focused on the scientific market -- Apple has to keep its options open to put Intel in some server -- but there’s no questioning its commitment to Xserve G5. Apple’s desire to calm the scientific community, which must have been pounding down the doors of SGI (formerly Silicon Graphics) and AMD’s Opteron OEMs over the risk of seeing a Pentium M Xserve, was priority one. What about the high-performance server and workstation market that cares about the CPU inside its boxes? Apple didn't want to address that during a briefing for products targeted at narrowly defined vertical markets.
Look, anybody can mark up a $300 Celeron desktop to $600 by calling it a server, but as IBM will learn, most customers are not fools. Let IBM join hands with others to dump Intel’s excess inventory on the unwitting. It will take some time, but mark my words, if Apple gets the message that Xserve G5 is the right solution across the rack server line-up, and not just for specialised markets, it’ll have a share of the growing Unix market in addition to that volume market it longs for.
Make sure Apple gets the message, will you?