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Apple Computer Inc. took aim at the data center on Tuesday, unveiling a new version of its Xserve line of rack-mountable servers and announcing the availability of its Xsan storage area network file system in advance of next week’s MacWorld conference in San Francisco.

Xsan, which Apple unveiled last spring at the National Association of Broadcasters conference, is priced at $999 per “node” (a node being a client system, a metadata server for the SAN, or a system acting as both a client and server), with volume discounts for more than 10 node licenses. Several beta customers have been using the software since then, in media and high-performance computing applications.

“HPC wasn’t possible with SAN before, because of the cost,” said Eric Zelenka, Apple’s senior product line manager for server and storage software. The relatively low cost of Xsan, he said, was part of the reason for the University of Pittsburgh’s deployment of Xsan in concert with an Xserve G5 cluster. “They’ve connected the SAN volumes right to the head nodes” of the cluster, he said, “so the head nodes can more efficiently distribute data across the cluster.”

The low cost is also a factor for Apple’s media customers, particularly for video editing and production applications. “Xsan is the holy grail of shared storage for Final Cut Pro,” said Mark Raudonis, director of post-production for Bunim-Murray Productions, in a statement. Bunim-Murray now uses Xsan and Final Cut Pro HD to edit in real time such reality TV series as MTV’s “The Real World” and “Road Rules” and Fox’s “The Simple Life,” at a third of the cost of other solutions, Raudonis said.

HPC users were among the first to benefit from Apple’s updated Xserve G5 line.
The newly upgraded Xserve G5 line now includes a dual-processor 64-bit 2.3GHz PowerPC system that can accommodate up to three hot-pluggable 400GB hard drives in its 1U-thick chassis, for a total of 1.2TB of storage.

Click here to read eWEEK Labs’ review of the Xserve G5.

Virgina Tech upgraded the servers in its System X supercomputing cluster to the 2.3GHz system, according to Srinidhi Varadarajan, director of the Terascale Computing Facility at Virginia Tech, who said the cluster is now “now achieving over 12.25 trillion operations per second.”

Virginia Tech “saw a 20 percent increase in overall performance,” said Alex Grossman, Apple’s director of server and storage hardware. In part, Grossman said, that performance boost is because of the Xserve’s 1.15GHz front-side system bus, which provides a data throughput of 18.4G bps within the server.

The dual-processor version of the new system, which comes with the OS X server operating system and a license that allows connections from unlimited Macintosh, Windows, and Linux clients, starts at $3,999.

The other two new standard configurations for the Xserve also include a lower-cost single 2.0GHz G5 system based on the same architecture as the dual 2.3GHz system, and a “cluster-optimized” version of the dual 2.3GHz system with only one storage slot and a 10-user version of the OS X server operating system. Both these configurations are priced starting at $2,999.

Grossman said that the previous dual 2.0GHz Xserve G5 will still be available to customers who have standardized on it.

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