Apple's OS X server strategy: Data centers for everyone

'Lion' Server is included with the upcoming Mac OS X update

Recently, Apple previewed more features that will be available in its upcoming release of Mac OS X 10.7, "Lion." We first got a glimpse of Lion at Apple's Back to the Mac event in October, when CEO Steve Jobs said that several technologies developed in Apple's iOS mobile operating system would be brought back into Mac OS X as part of Lion. Since iOS evolved from earlier versions of Mac OS X, the "back to the Mac" moniker made sense.

The big question after that early Lion sneak peek was whether Apple would produce a Lion version of its server platform. Mac OS X Server actually preceded the client OS to market more than a decade ago, and the two have been updated in lock step ever since. In fact, every time Apple added a Mac OS X preview section to its website, it also offered a Mac OS X Server preview section -- albeit with virtually no fanfare.

Not this time. In October, Apple added a Lion preview page without the traditional Lion Server counterpart.

Just a few weeks later, Apple canceled its Xserve server line. The Xserve, a 1U rack-mounted server that Apple introduced in 2002, had become a standard fixture in Mac-specific organizations, as well as in the server rooms and data centers of businesses that support both platforms.

The Xserve was also the principal SAN controller for Apple's Xsan file system running on Apple's original Xserve RAID hardware and, after the Xserve RAID was discontinued, on compatible hardware from other vendors. (Apple now pushes the Mac Pro as a controller for Xsan.)

Though the question of Apple's overall enterprise and server strategy remained murky, it seemed unlikely that the company would abandon business customers completely.

Lion Server as separate entity: Gone

Now we know that Lion Server will be built into Lion itself, meaning that Mac OS X Server's code, functionality and services will be bundled with the client OS. Lion Server as a separate entity is gone, but its inclusion in Lion means that a lot more users will get a chance to try it out -- either at home or in the office.

That's a bit shocking, particularly if you're used to dealing with Microsoft's client and server products. I can't imagine Microsoft ever giving away Windows Server in any form for the price of a client license. Even Apple has always charged more for Mac OS X Server than for its client OS releases (though it's worth noting that Apple used to offer a 10-user license version for $499 and an unlimited license for $999, though it killed the limited version with the release of Mac OS X 10.6, Snow Leopard, and dropped the unlimited version to $499).

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