This blog is in two halves – hardware and software. The latter is where you’ll find out about Apple’s operating environment for collaboration – no need to but separate SKUs for wikis, blogs and so on.
When I got a call a couple of months ago asking me if I wanted to come along to an Apple European Analyst event I thought, why not? I was a tad surprised we were on Apple’s radar screen, even though we cover technology convergence at RedMonk, which means Apple is on our radar, even though its not playing much in the more enterprisey markets we cover. As someone that has vigorously attacked digital rights management technology generally, and Apple Fairplay specifically, I guess the invite came without searching my blog first.
I promptly forgot about said invitation, while i waited for a confirmation email. The email never came, but then I got a call yesterday afternoon at 2 asking if I was coming… for 3. To be fair i got a message on it last week, and missed it (what are the chances of that happening? D’OH!)
So there I was and the first thing to report on arrival, eight minutes late, was… boy oh boy do they geek out at Apple analyst briefings. When you hear Specint you know you’re in for some server dorkery. Then the presenter double clicks and you start hearing about “the fastest DIMMs in existence”…. and then he reels off the actual part numbers… “the 667MHz DDR2 ECC FB-DIMM”. Yuh!
The below are tidied notes. They are worth reading through if you’re not familiar with just how much stuff is in Leopard- wiki services, a podcasting server, instant messaging and so on. Leopard is not an operating system, it’s evidently much more than that.
But first some hardware gubbins.
Low Power. So What? On benchmarks and config pr0n.
Apple claims to have been marketing low power consumption on its server products for more than two years. Fair enough. Green is good, even if yet another benchmarking industry, divided by watts, is a bit dull. The result of lower power chips: Apple’s servers now need smaller heatsinks on its Quad 2.0GHz Xeons base configuration, which creates space in the rack for things like redundant power supplies. I will spare you any more speedandfeed-pr0n though, even though I am sure you’re all Linnpack fanatics…
X-Serve Storage Stories and The Changing Face of the Storage Buyer:
I recently met with a Redmonk client ( i need to confirm i can use their name), which is happily using Apple storage hardware to store Terabytes of data, so I know its a “real” story, from an enterprisey service provider perspective, but I still have my doubts about Apple’s Enterprise X-Serve strategy. Enterprise sales and support is so different from Apple’s core model, which is kind of like Dell designed by geniuses (that man Ives and co). Apple is a packaging company right enough (see section on open source below): it seems to want enterprises to buy like consumers, rather than changing its model to sell like an enterprise vendor. That said, contexts are changing, and perhaps simplicity messages and consumer-like buying patterns are the right approach in a changing market. We know simplicity is resonating in a number of markets.
Apple’s X-Serve machines connect to both fibre channel and gigabit ethernet disk. The new enterprise class machine can mix and match serial-ATA and SAS drives, with different costs.
Academia as Enterprise/Like Dell designed by Geniuses
Apple has some intriging “enterprise” stories, unsurprisingly drawn from academic narratives. So, for example, in terms of file and print performance, a couple of thousand students finishing lectures, closing their machines and printing the lesson. That is indeed spikiness- interesting take on enterprisey scale.
On the “Dell designed by Geniuses” narrative Apple also claims the same designers that work on products such as the iPod or iMac work on its servers. Pitching the Apple “Intelligent Enclosure Design” the claim was “We bring the same designers – talent and energy into building ultra-compact 1U server.”
Apple includes graphics processor daughterboard on the server, so you can run video apps on the servers, rather than the client. In video production this makes sense- many customers of Apple’s Final Cut, it claims, use X-Serve as their SAN environment. Over 30 TV stations are broadcasting to air from X-Serve/X-SAN environments…
Apple and market segmentation
Although the briefing was notable for lacking any European context, or even real go-to-market depth (essential when briefing European analysts), one thing that was particularly noticeable – is that Apple likes to talk to value rather than comparison, when discussing hardware. If you go to an IBM System P briefing, in contrast say, when you see the product line it can appear that IBM just took a look at all Dell and Sun’s server lines and mapped its products to both competitor portfolios. With Apple, I guess, they think different.
Oh man- now we’re hearing about Apple’s new quick deployment rails for server racks… Again- schools as an enterprisey lesson, putting in “broom cupboards”, machines are fine up to 35 degrees c. Now that is a green story – servers without needing air conditioning, let alone water cooling.
Systems Management and Apple (yo Cote)
X-Serve is “The most instrumented machine in the Apple product line- with a complete set of thermal sensors.” Apple takes a system based approach, for integrated lights-out management. Two ethernet channels, and two power supplies: which means the machine is accessible even if its hanging.
The management protocol in use is IPMI – an Intel spec- the 2.0 version, with strong authentication and encryption. You can’t even enable systems communications as plain text in this implementation. The Server Monitor management console allows for remote power on and off, and and command line interface. It supports SNMP too.
The claim is that that Apple benefits from owning everything up and down the stack. Easier to manage and deploy.
“To wrap up from a software perspective…”
Wrap up with software? Wrap up with software??? That’s a difference. Most briefings I get, even for server-vendors, lead with software. I am used to leading with OS/systems issues, but then my client base is 90% software, 10% hardware. Apple is its own thing.
So over to MAC OS X Server v 10.4.8, which will ship in Spring 2007. What’s good about Mac OS?
- 64bit support including mySQL database (but what about apps?)
- New JVM – tuned for Intel, including server extensions. 6x improvements. This is significant internally for Apple, because all key Apple web services (iTunes, Apple.com etc) are written in Apple WebObjects environment which uses Java at the back end. Its licensed, optimised Sun Hotspot.
- 3GPP – supporting next generation 3G mobile services.
- IPV6 – out of the box.
- Cross platform file and print (Apple should be good at this, right?)
- Video-streaming out of the box
- Integrated pod-casting tools.
If we’re all media companies now, which I believe we are (note IBM TV) then perhaps its obvious Apple is set to do well. Phew- it turns out its that was just the hardware guy, now here comes the software chap – and i wonder if he is related to Anne? It turns out though Zelenka is an uncommon name there are quite a few in Colorado – particularly in the Glennwood area, said:
Eric Zelenka, senior product manager, server and storage software: on Leopard and Apple’s OS strategy.
“We think we have done a good job with the high end. But this time around we’re focusing on small business and departmental.”
“We started with Unix. With this version of Leopard, customers can recompile, to our servers.”
The Leopard as Unix pitch was the least compelling point in the two hours. Anyone that has lived through the Unix Wars knows that recompile just doesn’t cut it. No way is Oracle or SAP going to support OS-X because X-Open gave Apple a badge. If Apple wants to pay SAP then something might happen. But I dont think Steve Jobs is going to run around paying enterprisey ISVs to support the platform. Maybe it will just do an end run by aiming to dominate a Web 2.0 tier. That seems a more Apple like strategy.
Apple and the OSS Tier
Let’s switch gear though to what is compelling. Eric said:
“The fastest way to get to open standards (our commitment) is through open source.”
‘We’re a major contributor to Jabber, mySWL, modperl, php, OpenLDAP, Apache, python, SQLite, Rails, CalDav, FreeBSD, freeRadius, SpamAssasin, SquirrelMail, ApacheAnt, OpenSSL etc. Apple takes these tools and integrates them for the user, as part of a stack. This is not just about shipping a disk.”
“We understand ramifications of change [namely Interdependencies] - and can help customers because of that.”
Interesting: Apple as a sort of competitor to folks like SourceLabs, SpikeSource and OpenLogic. There *could* be the bones of an ISV/channel play in there somewhere, actually. One of the clearest evidence factors I know for Apple OSS goodness is the fact so many OSS hackers use Apple hardware. But its interesting Apple isn’t really known for its contributions. That could be a great opportunity for Apple… to leverage outside goodwill - not that Apple seems particularly bothered by that.
Some innovation: widgets, storage management
Apple is developing a dashboard widget for X-Serve for status. Nice. Why not take some clientside widget thinking to systems management.
In the desktop Apple has introduced Time Machine, which allows you to get back to an earlier version of a document. Apple is also planning an enterprise version of this for server services-such as backup, user services. Apple is integrating from installation DVD. Do you want to restore from a backup, for example, will be an initial question on install. Apple will aslo provide client backup to the server.
Lets go Beat Up Microsoft Small Business Server?
It was intriguing to note that, unlike with its hardware offerings, Apple has a very clear single target in its marketing – namely Microsoft Windows. Even more intriguing Apple says it wants to tackle Microsoft in the SMB space. What applications will provide the pull through, and where will it get a channel are the key questions in my mind?
The approach Apple bears some resemblance to the recent pitch from Microsoft about server roles.
“We look at the network, then prompt the user – what kind of server is this? We offer different UIs dependent on the use case. A mail server, for example, for a department or small business needs to be simple.”
Eric went negative here. Good. Why not give it some?
“Microsoft Small Business Server is a nightmare to set up. What I don’t understand is… SBS takes hours to set up, five disks and so on. 4/6 hours. Then you need to go to each client, to set up Outlook for the machines-20/30 minutes on each machine. So we have Automatic Client Setup function.”
When it comes to installation, Microsoft servers are hardly a breeze to install. But then again, the channel needs a base level of complexity so that it can establish margin opportunities. Invariably the SMB space is a channel play. Apple’s pitch sounds good in theory, as a potential attack on SBS, but in practice, it doesn’t work like that. The channel installs servers in small and medium sized organisations, and value-added resellers (VARs) want to charge for their time. Its like the classic enterprise data center fear of automation… “what if they automate my job?” Small full service companies, take for example Microsoft solution provider YellowPark, need a bit of complexity, because its their job to deliver solutions to clients. Would YellowPark be interested in selling Apple solutions? Chris?
“Its harder to make something simple than something complex,”
Well said, Rick. But the channel still needs to make a buck, and small business means channel (traditional) or Software as a service (where the puck is going).
Calendaring and Scheduling: Apple’s contribution
Apple is moving forward with a calendar management application in Leopard, based on the CalDAV protocol. I must admit I don’t know CalDAV so well, but its an open standard for clients and servers to communicate for scheduling. Companies like IBM, Novell, and Boeing are onboard.
The goal is nothing less than to reboot the industry around date information, and turn scheduling into a core internet service.
“Go back 15 years. Think about how you sent email- it was through LAN-based email. Most was through your LAN. Then what happened? Customers demanded open standard protocols. I can mail anyone anywhere in the world. The whole world is federated, but you can’t do that with calendaring and scheduling. We want to allow choice, sharing with anyone else in the world.”
Apple’s is using CalDAV to underpin the iCal server in Leopard.
To my mind Apple makes a brilliant point about how we should think about schedules, as a service. Consider what is just beginning to happen around presence, through, for example, the SIP protocol, and some great opportunities present themselves. We need standards-based calendaring to allow time-shifted presence applications. So both are necessary underpinnings for the new world of work.
Apple Group Collaboration
- File Sharing
- Email and mailing lists
- Blogs and podcasts
First of the new services is a Wiki server. Wikis are everywhere, as Eric says. Not surprisingly Apple thinks the fact most Wikis have a markup language is a drawback (others would argue with that, but I tend to think WYSIWG is key to mainstream adoption).
So Apple is delivering a markup-less wiki platform, which can also publish blogs, and indeed be used an internet publishing platform for a small company or enterprise. Its all WYSIWG, drag and drop, cut and paste any objects and so on.
Apple even has its own tagging system – which it calls a ”Taguar” – boom boom. I didn’t have time to check out whether this tagging could be used internally or externally, ie like an “enterprise tagging” system, with directory integration and so on. Apple will include “themes” for different kinds of wikis out of the box, such as classroom, science project, small business.
Instant messaging -iChat offers encrypted IM, and integration with other IM systems via Jabber, allowing integration with GoogleTalk and XMPP.
Onwards to Enterprisey: Apple Directory
A new app for people management.
Podcast Producer: Hey Cote we might get you one!
What would a podcast producer in an OS look like? Well like Apple is delivering I guess.
“Everyone and their brother is doing something with podcasts. That’s good because it sells iTunes.”
But Apple also sells Garageband and so on, and various media creation tools. What would a server for that be? The answer might well be Podcast Producer, a component of Leopard. How do you guarantee delivery of a podcast you have created, or make it work on a variety of devices? A tool for capture, enclosure and delivery of media content.
With PodCast Producer, the user will be able to capture camera feeds from other machines. It also covers screencasting: taking whats on the machine now, and turn that into a podcast…
- other types of content
- MPEG 4 etc.
- Open Directory Integration
Its important to note this is really an xCasting tool – in that this is far from being just MP3s/audio files in enclosures. Most people think of podcasts as audio content, but that is set to change.
Unlike Microsoft, which nearly broke Vista on the wheel of a once and future object/relational file system (this is the second time Microsoft h0rked the delivery of this – in the early 90s Microsoft failed to deliver Cairo…. which had some similar design ideas) Apple has just moved on with indexing based metadata management for file handling. Apple OS has smart folders, so the user can call up files of a certain size, say, and only search across them. Interestingly Spotlight also works with Sharepoint server, using CIFs and SMB protocols for access.
Some market info
Not much time for Q&A but I wanted to know about Apple’s market footprints.
“First and foremost- is the wide range of education, our creative markets- including now post-production, effects and rendering. Small business has been a focus for us, with pockets of macs in the enterprise.”
“We’re seeing growth in science markets, also government research. last two years have seen great growth in US markets.
One surprise was Rick’s claim Apple is growing in financial services, in areas such as banking and in particular credit card authorisation. That’s something I would love to know more about.
Wrapping Up, On RedMonk as a media company
The event was good. I learned a lot, particularly about Leopard. In fact I can see us buying an Apple server in 2007, if the Podcast Producer really rocks. First I have asked Apple if we can trial it, but I am certainly willing to invest in better media production capabilties, especially given Cote, our media production guy, is a Machead.
Suffice to say Apple’s story makes more and more sense if we accept, as I mentioned above, that we’re all media companies now. RedMonk, and many people in the space, tend to be quite loosely coupled in terms of tools choices, but the mainstream often isn’t. Podcasting is just starting, enterprises are increasingly creating their own content, and Leopard should play well there.
Competition in convergent markets is going to be really fierce next year. Digital living is kicking off, and the tools to support it are coming thick and fast. Adobe vs Apple will be a key battle. So will Apple vs Microsoft. Interesting, that IBM’s social software approaches are somewhat more text led- that is, IBM is not in the media creation business. It will be interesting to see how the MovableTypes of this world respond as we move beyond text. Google YouTube is great for uploading media content, but not creating it. Rich clients still have a role to play, media servers with graphics cards notwithstanding.
disclaimer: Apple is not a client. MS occasionally is. IBM is. Adobe is between renewals.
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