Apple to allow Mac OS X Server virtualization

Move could indicate it wants more business for server hardware

Apple Inc. has relaxed the licensing of its server software and will now allow users to run it in virtual machines, a sign that the company may focus more attention on the business market, said one of the companies developing virtualization software for the Mac.

The change in Apple's end-user licensing agreement (EULA) for Mac OS X Server 10.5 Leopard, first noticed by a system engineer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, permits OS X Server to run in a virtual machine (VM) as long as each VM is stocked with a different license and the physical system is Apple-made. The new rules don't apply to the client edition of Apple's operating system, which is still barred from being virtualized.

"You may also install and use other copies of Mac OS X Server Software on the same Apple-labeled computer, provided that you acquire an individual and valid license from Apple for each of these other copies of Mac OS X Server Software," the new EULA reads (download PDF). "You agree not to install, use or run the Apple Software on any non-Apple-labeled computer, or to enable others to do so."

"This is the first time they've changed their EULA to allow virtualization," said Ben Rudolph, the director of communications at Parallels Inc., maker of Parallels Desktop for Mac. "We've known for a long time that it was technically feasible to implement OS X in a VM." But Parallels -- like its rival in the Mac virtualization market, VMware Inc. -- was leery of entering the market without a green light from Apple.

This is that green light, said Rudolph.

"Will it take some time? Yes. Are we working closely with Apple on it? Absolutely," he said. A beta, which will be publicly available but will require registration at the Parallels Web site, will be released "sometime in the next month or two," he noted.

Pat Lee, a VMware senior product manager, wouldn't commit to any timetable for his company's support of Mac OS X Server virtualization but said he too was thrilled about the change. "I'm really excited about this," he said today. "There are lots of things to think about, but I can't comment at the moment on future products."

Apple, which didn't announce the EULA change or respond to a request for comment, has traditionally been a tougher sell in the business market, particularly among large organizations. But the virtualization of Mac OS X Server, said Rudolph, is a sign that the vendor is refocusing its efforts.

"Apple's selling into all sizes of business now," he said, "and I think it's mainly because of Mac OS X's ability to run Windows on the Mac. The flexibility of the Intel platform, and the access to critical applications has opened the door [to the corporate market]. It makes sense to look at the server side, too."

Lee concurred. "We've been hearing from customers who would love to be able to run multiple instances of Mac OS X on Xserve, as well as other operating systems, including Windows and Linux. Others want a simpler way to move [Mac] apps from one physical server to another. Virtualization lets them do that."

The requirement that all VMs running Mac OS X be hosted on a physical box built by Apple also points to a tweaked strategy. "The Xserve is a great piece of hardware," said Rudolph, "and virtualization of Mac OS X Server makes Apple's hardware a viable choice now to everyone who wants to run multiple instances on the same box. But if you thought you could run Mac OS X on a Dell, you're out of luck."

Lee, on the other hand, noted that the power of the Apple's quad-core Xserve hardware is largely wasted without virtualization, because few applications take advantage of the multiple cores to run parallel processes for faster performance. "But virtualization parallelizes those apps that aren't meant to be parallelized," he said. Allowing multiple instances of Mac OS X on one Xserve box, however, makes the machine more attractive to Apple's corporate customers.

"This makes [Mac OS X] more flexible and users more open to virtualization," Lee said.

Parallels will focus on delivering a server-based VM that will run Mac OS X, as well as other already-supported guest operating systems -- including various flavors of Windows and Linux -- targeting small- and medium-size businesses. "We want to do something that has the features they need but at the price they can afford," said Rudolph. "VMware has great technology, but for small business, it's prohibitively expensive." Parallels hasn't talked price for a server side VM product, but Rudolph said it would be higher than the desktop software's $80 price tag, but "in a similar pricing structure."

Lee declined to commit to any product or schedule, citing the need to reach out to customers for feedback.

Apple sells Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard in single-license editions that support up to 10 client machines for $499 and an unlimited number of clients for $999.

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