As promised, Apple has introduced its rack-mount server, Xserve.

The server is a 1Unit (1.73-inch high) rack-mount combining Mac OS X’s Unix core with remote-management facilities and Apple’s focus on ease-of-use. The company is initially aiming the product at the small business, graphics, video, and education markets. Its 1U size means that up to 42 high-performance units can be stacked in an industry-standard eight-foot high rack.

Two configurations are available, but these are customizable at Apple’s resellers network and the Apple Store. Top of the range is a dual 1GHz G4 processor server with a maximum 2GB DDR (Double Data Rate) RAM capacity. The processors also have 2MB DDR l3 cache on-board. The machine supports up to 480GB of storage on four 120GB ATA/100, 7,200rpm drives. Dual Gigabyte Ethernet ports also feature on the product.

Unlimited users Apple is fighting against the per-user charge levied by many server manufacturers. To this end, the company is introducing an unlimited-user licence for the Mac OS X 10.1.4 Server software expected to ship with the machines. Mac OS X Server offers file/print services, video-streaming, database facilities, computational clustering, and Web and mail services.

Introducing this key product, Apple CEO Steve Jobs explained: “Xserve is the result of listening to our customers. It’s super-easy to set-up, and is easily integrated into existing networks. Plus, with its unlimited-user software licence at no extra cost, Xserve is a tremendously cost-effective server with real Unix under the hood.”

The server product launch also saw statements of support from associated companies. Joe Shannon, Clear Channel Worldwide’s CTO said: “We saw Xserve and were blown away. We are adding 40 new servers before the end of the year, and Xserve is perfect for our outdoor creative and media production needs.” The company plans to exploit Apple’s new product to deliver networked entertainment content.

“As a server operating system Mac OS X is even more robust,” said Phil Schiller, senior vice president of worldwide product marketing at Apple.

Xserve presents Apple with opportunities within the enterprise markets, too – boosted by Oracle’s announcement yesterday that its Oracle9i services will be available to run from Apple’s servers. Oracle senior VP Michael Rocha explained: “Apple’s powerful new Xserve rack-mount workgroup-server solution, combined with Apple’s Unixbased Mac OS X Server software, is a superior platform for Oracle9i Database.

“Oracle9i Real Application Clusters running on Xserve will deliver enterprise-class solutions to our joint customers and create new opportunities for both companies.”

Feature-packed Xserve offers 15 gigaflops of computational power, and nearly half a terabyte of hot-pluggable storage. It also offers four independent ATA/100 drive channels, which Apple claims makes for double the performance of other 1U servers using Ultra3 SCSI drives.

Remote-management facilities are crucial for delivering today’s Internet applications and services; downtime isn’t acceptable. Xserve’s Server Admin is a services-monitoring and remote-management tool that allows administrators to set-up and manage all key Mac OS X Server network services remotely. Server Monitor is a new hardware-monitoring tool that lets sys admins remotely monitor one or many servers, get detailed subsystem views, produce reports, and receive system-notification alerts via email, pagers, mobile phones, or PDAs.

Apple is also offering its most extensive support package ever – this includes four-hour on-site response, 24/7 technical support, AppleCare Service Parts Kits, and the AppleCare Professional SupportLine and Tools programme. Charges for these different levels of support are available from Apple.

Other features include: Three PCI slots, two of which are 64-bit, and 66Mhz slots for high performance I/O – the fastest performing PCI slots ever installed in a Mac product. Software RAID mirroring aids the protection of data, and RAID striping yields extra performance. Three FireWire and two USB ports, and a DB-9 serial port for Terminal consoles also come with the unit. An optional Ultra3 SCSI card is also available for connecting to external storage and back-up devices. An optional fibre Gigabit Ethernet adaptor is also available – perfect for advanced video-work such as rendering.

The Xserve units hold a VGA graphics card that supports headless booting and connects up to cross platform devices. As an option, an AGP 4X graphics card can be installed to connect displays, keyboards, and a mouse for using the unit in a rack.

Positive feedback Analyst reaction has been positive: “I would see this as being predominately a complementary product for the markets where Apple plays,” said Gordon Haff, a server analyst with research company Illuminata. “If you’re Apple, you don’t really want someone bringing a Windows server in if you’ve got the desktop environment sewn up.

“It will do pretty much all the functions that small servers are used for,” he added.

The product ships in the UK in June. Apple is taking pre-orders today.

Standard configurations are: A single 1GHz PowerPC G4 processor, 256MB DDR RAM, a 60GB ATA/100 Apple Drive Module, dual Gigabit Ethernet, CD-ROM, and Mac OS X Server with unlimited clients for £2,212.

A dual 1GHz PowerPC G4 processor unit with 512MB DDR RAM, a 60GB ATA/100 Apple Drive Module, dual Gigabit Ethernet, CD-ROM, and Mac OS X Server with unlimited clients for £2,978.