Complaining Without Cause

December 8th, 2010

So there’s an article on CNN Money (link not worth providing) that aims to criticize Apple for suggesting lame solutions for those who feel abandoned because the Xserve is being discontinued and, worse, failing to really convey the message that they understand the concerns of business customers.

For those who care, the Xserve was Apple’s attempt to deliver a traditional pizza box or rack server for the enterprise.

Before I go further, please bear in mind that sales estimates have generally run about 10,000 copies per quarter. This is for a company that sells four million Macs, over 14 million iPhones and (at least for this quarter) an unknown number of iPads for the same period.

When you compare the Xserve to those numbers, it becomes abundantly clear that it’s an extremely tiny tool in Apple’s product arsenal. More to the point, has the Xserve actually expanded Apple’s presence in the enterprise, or was it largely used primarily for existing customers in small business and school systems?

It turns out that Apple did better with the Mac mini, even though it is mostly unsuited to traditional rack server needs. At the same time, lots of people have managed to create tiny server farms that do contain loads of Mac minis. For many users, particularly those who simply put them in back rooms or in closets, it’s a wonderfully inexpensive product that’s fairly easy and powerful enough for smaller networks.

In a regular server environment, the hardware has to be designed for offsite management and easy exchange of components in case of failure. You may have twin power supplies, and live swapping of hard drives so that there’s no downtime. With a Mac mini, you’d probably want to set up external FireWire drives for decent performance, and to be able to easily transport them to a replacement unit in case the original fails.

More to the point, even though Xserve sales, according to published reports, remained essentially stagnant for years, Apple’s presence in the business world has continued to expand. A main reason is that corporate executives and employees have acquired millions and millions of iPhones and Macs, and now the iPad. Apple has added key features to mobile products, such as remote management, and decent Exchange Server support across the product line.

Sure, maybe a Mac wouldn’t be on the radar for a company that just wants a few thousand cheap PC boxes custom configured. Apple can get you all the Macs you want, they might even bend on pricing for large quantities, but you have to select your gear from the standard or limited customization versions. You can’t ditch Wi-Fi or a Web cam simply because a company may not require them. But that hasn’t stopped IT people from simply opening up new Macs and disabling the unneeded hardware internally, usually be disconnecting or clipping cables. They would be reconneted when the computers are resold.

When all is said and done, however, it doesn’t matter. The armchair assassins apparently cannot tolerate Apple’s ongoing success going their own way. It’s very easy to sit back and put words in a blog or word processor, and pretend you actually know something. It’s a lot harder to do research and try to accurately report what’s really going on.

With The Night Owl, I readily admit my faults, and that loads of technical matters may be way above my pay grade. Instead, I try to take a realistic approach to what’s going on, and not to make criticisms simply because they are provocative, and will generate lots of hits and comments.

Indeed, sometimes you have to look at a blog’s comments to see whether someone actually knows what they’re doing. Sure there will be pro and con statements, and some are downright dumb. But when all the rancor is directed at the original writer because they are just saying downright stupid things, you’ll know that may have been the intention all along, to stir trouble — well, assuming that writer can’t do any better.

I’m also troubled by the assumptions that Apple is forever wrong. This sort of treatment has been ongoing for years. At one time, Apple deserved the brickbats, because they screwed up constantly, and they are lucky many of us stuck with them through thick and thin during the lean years.

Yes, we all know that Steve Jobs is temperamental, and no doubt a royal pain to work with. At the same time, he is a brilliant visionary who took a fading company that was on the skids and built it into the number one tech company on the planet.

Not every company gets a second chance at success. Some just fall by the wayside, and many of the tech giants of a couple of decades ago, assuming they’re even around, have been reduced to irrelevance.

Some day, no doubt Apple will be the aging dinosaur, ready to be pounced upon and beaten down by a new kid on the block. But wishing for failure isn’t going to make it happen any faster.

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2 Responses to “Complaining Without Cause”

  1. Keyword says:

    Gene –
    Your comments, like those of many other Apple fans on this issue, miss the point with respect to the Xserve. Apple has certain niche industries, primarily graphics and video, that have been a core constituency and have stuck with Apple through thick and thin. The Xserve is a strategic asset to these industries and dumping it leaves a big hole in the center of their mac-dased ecosystems. Apple should be looking at the Xserve as infratsructure that supports a lot of other Apple technologies, making it possible for the company to sell more of the products that DO make a profit.

    Those of us that need to run unique Apple software in a stack of Xserves in a data center are really hurt by this decision. Apple’s suggestion of replacing the Xserves with Mac Minis and MacPros is opaque at best, bordering on insulting. Lights out management and redundant power supplies are not some kind of frill and we pay by the rack unit for space in these data centers.

    What I hope transpires ultimately is for Apple to allow, or even encourage, virtualization of OS X server on hardware of the users choosing. You don’t want to sell us Xserves? Fine. Sell us virtualizable OS X server at least. We need to be able to keep the Apple ecosystem alive in the data center and consumer machines just don’t offer the services and space efficiency we need.

    • @Keyword, I’m not arguing about Apple’s reasoning. It’s all about the fact that, after a number of years, Apple couldn’t sell enough for it to make sense. They aren’t going to continue to build a product for which there’s only a very small audience. That audience has been stagnant, meaning that any growth in Apple’s business share has come from other products.

      That indicates, to me at least, that Apple isn’t going to suffer any in the enterprise with the Xserve going away. Remember, that all of Apple’s products are quite capable of existing and prospering in cross-platform environments. Heck, our Web server is Linux, still, because no Mac OS-based solution was as cost-effective. Not even close.


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