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Apple unveils Xserve designed for clusters

Next month Apple Computer will ship a dual-processor version of its XServe server optimised for clustering.

The latest XServe is a stripped-down version of the regular XServe, designed for applications that need less file-server capability, such as web serving, said XServe product manager Doug Brooks.

A configuration with dual 1.33GHz PowerPC G4 processors, 256Mbytes of DDR333 (double data rate 333MHz) SDRAM (synchronous dynamic RAM), a 60Gbyte hard drive, Gigabit Ethernet and a 10-client licence for Macintosh OS X costs $2,799 (£1,790).

The clustered XServes are usually connected to a fully configured server that allows an unlimited number of file transfers, Brooks said. Clustered servers need only limited file-transfer capability between neighbouring servers. Dual Gigabit Ethernet support allows the XServe to exchange data with the head server and the other clustered nodes quickly.

The 10-client licence also prohibits users from using the clustered XServe as a general-purpose server, which will protect sales of the unlimited Mac OS X licence available with the regular XServe said Gordon Haff, an analyst with Illuminata.

Users can add memory to the XServe when ordering and replace the removable hard drive after they receive the server, Brooks said.

The XServe has done well among life sciences businesses, and the clustered version will also probably wind up in many of those companies, Haff said.

Life sciences companies require high-performance computing for drug discovery and gene research, and a number of companies have realised they can get supercomputing performance out of linking numerous smaller servers, said Jean Bozman, research vice president for market research company IDC.

Scientific companies are showing a great deal of interest in alternative hardware based on Linux and other open-source software, and Apple is just starting to capitalise on that, Bozman said. Mac OS X has roots in the Unix operating system, but Apple has done a good job working with the open-source community for the XServe, she added.

Apple will not bundle any specific load-balancing software with the XServe, but is pointing customers toward a number of commercial and open-source software programs such as Sun Microsystems' Grid Engine, Brooks said.

The entertainment industry also uses clustered systems for image rendering for special effects in the films. Although Apple has enjoyed traditional strength within the industry, so far the XServe has been slow to catch on.

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