Apple kills off its servers: does it matter?

Seriously, does it matter to you that Apple wants to sell iPads, not servers?

OK, here's the question: Late last week Apple killed its Xserve line of rack-mounted servers. Other than a standard laptop or desktop, the 1U or 2U rack-mounted server is the most common, most reliable thing in the IT universe. Most reliable in that you can always expect it to be there, by the way, not that you will always expect it to work the way you want.

Almost ten years ago, though it must have been in 2002 or later because that's when Apple launched its Xserve line, the CIO of a biotech company whose data-analysis routines used many times the volume of data and complexity of query running against terabytes of data in a chunk bigger than any I'd seen before.

Biotech companies make new drugs literally by designing the molecule so that its shape is like a key that fits into a gap in the molecule they're targeting -- cancer cell, blood cell, neurons with seratonin-shaped gaps in their outer layers. j

It took (still takes) unbelievable amounts of computing power, but only after identifying the targets to be pursued using a mind-numbing amount of statistical analysis. (It doesn't take much statistical analysis to numb most people into a coma, but these people could have bored a quantum accountant to death."

Walking into one of five data centers, there on the wall was a rack of servers with tiny apples on them. "What's this?" I asked. "It's a computer," the CIO said, who got his job either because of his sense of humor or despite it.

I didn't even know Apple made servers, let alone the kind of (presumably) HPC units they'd need at a biotech.

Turns out a lot of their influential employees came right out of academia, and in academia they use Macs. So they wanted Macs for word processing and other routine things, just before cracking their knuckles and moving to a real computer to get to the molecule-designing.

I figured it would be a big deal. Maybe it would fill data centers with servers that were easier to use than Linux boxes.

I haven't seen a rack-mounted Mac in a data center since.

Does it matter? Apple apparently killed the servers because Jobs thought it wasn't selling many and wanted to focus on its more-successful consumer devices.

Does it matter?

If you were hoping Apple could become a player in the enterprise, does this help? Can a company become big in the enterprise selling only client-side products?

Can you take seriously a company that can't mount a significant internal defense against the CEO's whimsical decision to kill a product that might not sell much, but does give it a product in a category without which data centers would just be expensively designed and provisioned rooms filled with nothing very much. Just like Apple.

Kevin Fogarty writes about enterprise IT for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @KevinFogarty.

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