With Apple killing Xserve hardware, now's the time to virtualize Mac OS X

Last week Apple announced they were going to stop selling their Xserve line of server hardware, move that caused most people to think, "Wait, Apple makes server hardware?" The answer is "Yes, they do!

Last week Apple announced they were going to stop selling their Xserve line of server hardware, move that caused most people to think, "Wait, Apple makes server hardware?"

The answer is "Yes, they do!" (Err, I mean "they did.") Xserves were real 1U rack mounted servers, like this:


apple xserve.png

More important than the server hardware, though, is that just like Windows, Mac OS X comes in both server and workstation flavors. At this point Apple is still committed to the server OS. Last week's announcement is just that they're not going to build their own dedicated server hardware anymore.

So a server version of Mac OS X with no server hardware? Where are you supposed to run this thing? Apple is suggesting two options: either the "server" edition of the Mac Mini (basically a regular Mac Mini with the optical drive replaced by a second hardware), or a Mac Pro workstation (their full-size desktop workstation).

No matter how you look at the decision to kill the 1U rack-mounted Xserve line, it makes sense. The base Xserve sells for USD$3,000 and includes a single quad-core processor, 3GB RAM, and a single SATA drive. Similarly-configured servers from Dell or HP cost well under $1,000. (Even subtracting $500 from the Xserve for the cost of the Mac OS X Server license, you're still looking at about a 2-3x price premium for the Apple hardware.) Of course the "Apple Tax" is nothing new, as Apple products have always carried a premium over non-Apple versions of similarly-powered systems. The main difference is that in the case of servers, the price premium for Apple's industrial design doesn't really make sense. (I mean who cares how pretty your servers look?)

So now that Mac OS X Server is only supported on desktops, where does that leave enterprises who want to use it? Do you think they'll put shelves back in their datacenters and fill them with desktops? Of course not! And the main reason they won't is not because they don't want to put this kind of hardware in their datacenters, but because OS X Server is not exactly something that enterprises use. Sure, it's great for workgroups and collaboration. But any serious environment is going to have other products to do these things. (For example, what type of servers is Apple going to put in their new 500,000 square foot datacenter? And what OS will they run? My guess is not Xserves and not OS X.)

Actually the official Apple Xserve transition PDF says "The aluminum enclosure is robust enough to be used on its side if supported and if front-to-back airflow is not impeded," and they also talk about how a shelf full of Mac Minis is under the "power and cooling envelop" of the Xserves... Sounds like a blade solution to me!

Time to virtualize OS X?

In most of the articles about the end of Xserve, many commenters have asked whether now's the time for Apple to allow OS X Server to be virtualized and run on non-Apple hardware.

I would love this.

For the record, I don't know whether would ever happen because (1) Apple does not allow OS X to run in any form on non-Apple hardware, and (2) Mac OS X Server tends to be aimed towards SMB environments where the current Mac Mini and Mac Pro hardware are fine.

From a desktop & application delivery standpoint, virtual Mac OS X Server would rock

There are plenty of companies who need a little Mac here and there. While it's long been possible to deliver remote Windows desktops and apps to Mac users, it hasn't been as easy to deliver Mac desktops & apps to Windows users.

One solution to this is Aqua Connect Terminal Server (which we've written about before). Aqua Connect licensed the RDP protocol from Microsoft to deliver Mac OS X desktops and remote apps to users.

So while connecting to a remote OS X desktop session from a non-Apple device is okay, it's not possible to run the actual back-end remote OS X desktop on anything but Apple hardware. This means that all those cool Aqua Connect Terminal Servers have to run on Apple hardware, which up until now could have been Xserves. But now with those being killed, I wonder if that also kills Aqua Connect in the enterprise? I can't see real companies deploying Mac Minis and Mac Pros in any significant quantity in a datacenter.

But if Apple were to allow customers to run OS X Server in a virtual machine, then we'd really have something! Apple could still get their software revenue for OS X Server while not having to worry about actually making the hardware. Of course right now OS X Server is licensed per server, so it's unclear as to whether that would change if OS X Server instances were run in VMs.

The other complexity is that like Windows, the server and workstation editions of OS X share many similar components, so getting OS X Server running on anything other than bare-metal Apple-branded hardware might set the precedent that the same thing should be available with OS X Workstation.

Of course another option is that Apple could create a multi-vendor HCL (similar to the one for Windows) and certify certain pre-designed server hardware configurations, essentially allowing OS X Server to run on bare metal non-Apple servers.

I'm not going to hold my breath on this, but it would be cool.

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Just tweeted about this yesterday.

1200+ undocumented .vmx parameters - "vSphere to support Mac OSX? " Hmm...


So, it would seem that VMWare allready have the bits in place for virtualizing Mac OSX including the EFI bios


I'm running Mac OS X under vmware workstation for testing purposes since one year and with very good performance ( I know it is not "official" but surely it is very beneficial for simulation and test puposes ).

So of course it is possible, it is just a matter of licensing.


You know the one complexity I thought about after I wrote this was that Mac OS X uses the GPU for a lot of common tasks, so running it on non-Apple hardware -- either in a VM or on bare metal -- would also require a GPU and a hypervisor that could virtualize it.


I think this ties into what i wrote before hearing the news about the Xserve:



Apple OS X Server = really expensive file server.  Unless your a print/graphics shop you don't have OS X beyond the iPhone/iPad as client devices.  Otherwise you have actual Mac clients.  I can't see the value in running OS X TS apps on a windows client.  So then what?  OS X VDI VM's....great, for the 10 IT nerds in an organization that insist running OS X is better for them then Windows 7????  The cost of running OS X Server VM's on Intel based servers can't possibly justify the need compared to buying a few Mac Mini's....again if your organization actually needed them.

Apple doesn't care about the corporate datacenter....A wise BriForum speaker always said "follow the money trail"  Apples money trail certainly doesn't lead to the datacenter.


FYI- Apple sold about $1 Billion into the Enterprise in the last year.

Just because XServe is discontinued doesn't mean there won't be a replaced BTW

Also, MANY Apple customers buy Mac Pro as a server in the retail stores, it is a standard config for business customer, just like buying a DELL tower that goes in the closet


@Steve Greenberg

$1 billion in the form of what? iPhones and iPads maybe some Macbooks?  It definitely wasn't in the form of Server licenses

By way of comparison....Dell did $14 billion and HP did $30 billion LAST QUARTER in enterprise sales.  Like I said...follow the money trail.


What do you think the price should be? $500?

This would be a cash cow.

I think Apple can double their sales of the MAC overnight by selling a VM version virtual appliance. Call it the VMac.

Their costs would be really low with Internet distribution.....no hardware to sell.


Don't forget about No Machine's NX remote display product line.  They have a big block ad on their sight and a series of content pages explaining the virtues of their upcoming NX 4.0 product.  One of the new features is that NX server will be available for both Mac OS X and Microsoft Windows... in addition to the always supported Linux.  And a two user version will "always be free" (as in beer).

That means there will be an alternative to Aqua Connect for Mac users... and if two will do you, it's free.

Of course No Machine has been saying that NX 4.0 is coming out any day now... for a few months.  I'm assuming that it is eventually going to happen.. although I don't know when.  Kinda like with Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6... which MIGHT be resolved cough tomorrow cough.

Anyway, I'm sure many of you are not familiar with No Machine's NX because it is (until 4.0 comes out) Linux specific... although they have do have client-side apps for most everything.  I use NX sometimes, the free limited version... and it works quite well... as well or better than RDP... although it lacks some features that they are greatly expanding on in 4.0.

I check the NX site every day hoping 4.0 has come out... along with brianmadden.com. :)


I would imagine that it wouldn't be too difficult to modify Mac OS X Server so that it didn't need/use the accelerated 3D stuff.  Of course if you wanted to run multimedia/content creation apps that use it they would have to also be re-written to accept life without a GPU... but other than that, it shouldn't be a big deal.

Imagine Steve Jobs, who is considered by many (not by me.. not since the original release of the Mac) to be this big computer visionary... completely ignoring virtualization with the exception of "Classic" mode for pre-Mac OS X app use... the transition from Motorola CPUs to PowerPC... and then from PowerPC to Intel.  Virtualization to Steve is mostly a way to keep customers from complaining when you force a software/hardware architecture on them.  For being able to better utilize your current hardware for your current software, not so much.

You can also get away with an ssh text-based or X11-based app connection to your remote Mac without needing a GPU... but what traditional Mac user is going to want that? :)  I use it all the time since they have a command line update tool.


Perhaps when NX 4.0 is released, Brian Madden can dedicate a whole page to it. There seems to be every other product reviewed in the desktop virtualization industry, but sadly no !M.

What do you say Brian?