Apple’s decision to cancel the Xserve unleashed a range of questions and concerns from Mac IT professionals. The Xserve was the best Mac server option that Apple had ever created and its 1U rackmount design was a perfect fit for any server closet or data center. The Xserve delivered a tremendous amount of power and flexibility including fibre channel connectivity – a key feature for managing Apple’s Xsan storage system.
Apple positioned the Mac Pro and Mac mini Server as alternate server machines, neither of which deliver the same combination of power, expansion flexibility, and standard network rackmount options as the Xserve.
Despite complaints from enterprise customers about the demise of the Xserve, it’s a forgone conclusion at this point that Apple will never revive it. Mac upgrade and peripheral maker Sonnet Technologies, however, may just have created a true Xserve replacement.
After the Xserve’s cancellation, Sonnet developed a rackmount enclosure for the Mac mini and Mac mini Server known as the RackMac mini. Like the Xserve, the MacRack mini features a 1U rackmount profile. It can support one or two Mac minis. The enclosure makes it possible to mount Mac minis to any standard 19’ rack in a server closet or data center.
While the RackMac mini solved the problem of mounting a Mac mini in standard IT fashion, it didn’t really offer a full Xserve replacement because of the limited power of the mini, which is Apple’s entry-level Mac. More importantly, it didn’t solve the problem of system expansion through the use of PCIe cards and, as a result, fibre channel support.
More recently Sonnet has gone above and beyond just mounting the Mac mini in the a server closet. When Apple released of Mac minis and Mac mini Servers with Thunderbolt, Sonnet went back to the drawing board and revamped its RackMac enclosure.
The result is the new xMac mini Server that Sonnet began shipping this week. The new design supports only a single Mac mini. In place of a second one Sonnet added two PCIe 2.0 expansion slots (with a 100W power supply and fans) that connect to the Mac mini via its Thunderbolt port. That opens a lot of doors for expansion including fibre channel connectivity. The enclosure also supports additional Thunderbolt connectivity as well.
The xMac mini Server may not have the raw power of the Mac Pro or Xserve, but it does offer an energy-efficient server configuration that delivers much of the functionality of the Xserve. Beyond the standard rackmount form factor and PCIe expansion, it includes a range of rear mounted ports, efficient airflow and cooling, and a front-mounted USB port for easy access to removable storage devices or peripherals like a keyboard.