Parallels Server for Mac review

You’ve probably heard about Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion – programs that allow you to run Windows on Intel Macs by creating a ‘virtual machine’ that runs alongside the main Mac OS.

In the past virtualisation was primarily used within organisations as a way of ‘consolidating’ their use of network servers. Instead of having one server running Microsoft Exchange for email and another running a database system, you could have one computer running these programs within two virtual servers instead.

Down to business

Both Parallels and VMware have a background in this sort of corporate virtualisation software, and their recent forays into the Mac market were something of a diversion for them. Now, Parallels has returned to its corporate roots with Parallels Server For Mac. This is designed not just to run Windows or Linux on a Mac or Xserve but specifically to create virtual servers that will allow users to run heavy-duty server operating systems – such as Windows Server and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server – along with server applications such as Microsoft Exchange. You can even create virtual servers that run Leopard Server too. This allows you to create a virtual Mac server on your existing Mac hardware. Parallels Server for Mac is currently the only solution for running all these operating systems on a single server.

Parallels Server For Mac will run on any Mac with an Intel processor so, theoretically, it could be run on a Mac mini (though you’d probably need to beef it up with additional RAM). But it’s primarily designed to run on Mac models that use quad-core Xeon processors – effectively the Mac Pro or Xserve. This is because the Xeon includes features specifically designed by Intel to improve performance when running virtual machines on server systems. When you create a new virtual server you can set it to use one, two, or all four of the processor cores within the Xeon.

Other differences between the standard Parallels Desktop and Parallels Server include the ability to use the full 32GB of RAM available in Mac Pro and Xserve models and to assign up to 8GB of RAM to each of the virtual servers you create. So the number of virtual servers you can run simultaneously will primarily depend on the amount of RAM available in your machine. However, you can have additional virtual servers sitting on the hard drive waiting to be used once some memory has been freed up. Each virtual server can also be given its own virtual hard disk of up to 2TB in size.

Virtual set-up

The actual process of creating a virtual server is simple. The Virtual Machine Assistant asks the operating system you want to install, which can include Windows 2000, XP and Vista, as well as Windows Server 2003 and 2008 and various versions of Linux. (You can see a full list of supported operating systems on the Parallels website.)

The Assistant then quickly guides you through tasks such as specifying the amount of RAM and hard disk space you want to assign to the virtual machine. Once that’s done just insert the disks for the operating system and leave Parallels Server to set everything up for you. You can use the Transporter option to automatically transfer programs and files from the existing server onto the new virtual server. You can also buy pre-configured ‘virtual appliances’ that have operating systems or applications already installed onto them for instant use. These include tools for creating website-management systems, blogs and wikis – there’s even one that has a server for running multiplayer games of Warcraft III.

OUR VERDICT

Macs have never been widely used in large corporations so there isn’t an untapped market of businesses with Mac Pros and Xserves sitting idle just waiting for Parallels Server to give them a new lease of life. However, Parallels Server For Mac could make it easier for businesses and educational institutions to use Xserve and Mac Pro systems within a multi-platform environment. And, in doing so, it might even help to boost Xserve sales.

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