Dear Steve: Educator’s open letter asks for Mac OS X Server virtualization on non-Apple hardware

Dave Schroeder, Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE), University of Wisconsin-Madison, has posted the following open letter to Apple CEO Steve Jobs following Apple’s cancellation of Xserve. Here it is, verbatim:

Dear Steve,

I hope this letter finds you well!

I am writing this letter in the wake of Apple’s recent announcement to stop development of the Xserve. The University of Wisconsin-Madison was proud to be one of the first sites to deploy Xserves in our datacenters in mid-2002, finally bringing enterprise-level support to our rapidly growing base of Mac clients.

In the succeeding years, we deployed many Apple server solutions, all peacefully coexisting with other enterprise server products. UW-Madison worked with Apple to create a 200 TB storage cluster with Xserve RAID. UW-Madison researchers even brought Apple server products to the South Pole!

The growth of Apple products in the academic, enterprise, and government spaces has been exponential. A large part of this growth is due to the fact that we have been able to provide a high level of support to our Apple users with Apple’s companion server and management products.

Since the Xserve introduction in 2002, UW-Madison — along with many other institutions — has aggressively pursued a strategy of consolidation and standardization in our datacenter environments. This has included campus customers bringing services formerly housed under a desk or in the corner of an office into a robust and supportable datacenter environment. It has also included the development of strict standards on what types of hardware can be hosted in our datacenters. Our Apple stakeholders have participated in this process as peers.

Alongside this, the growth of virtualization has been explosive. We developed and currently maintain a sophisticated and rapidly growing VMware virtualization infrastructure. With cost-cutting and consolidation an even more pressing focus, we and many other institutions now have a policy of “virtualization first”, and Mac OS X Server is one of the few remaining operating systems in our datacenter that cannot be supported in our shared virtualization environment.

We have had many discussions with Apple about virtualization, and university executives have discussed this with you personally, Steve, during various briefings. I had the opportunity to discuss this with Bud Tribble some time ago, and he, too, understood the issues. We were therefore quite pleased when Apple changed the Mac OS X Server license agreement with the introduction of Leopard Server to explicitly allow for virtualization. It was a big step in the right direction.

However, the discontinuation of Xserve without any other suitable path leaves us with no way to run Mac OS X Server in our datacenter environment. Without server-class hardware or the ability to run in our enterprise virtualization environment, we lose the ability to run Mac OS X Server in our datacenter environment in any form. Along with this, we lose the fundamental ability to provide critical services to Apple clients, including mobile customers.

We and many other organizations already have a virtualization environment which can take any Intel-based operating system — except Mac OS X Server. All that is needed to allow the next version Mac OS X Server to run in this environment is a license change, and minor technical changes. Since it was said after the Xserve announcement that, “Apple remains committed to the development of server products, technologies and services. Today’s announcement does not impact the future of Xsan or server software on Mac OS X,” we hope to have a way to actually use these server products.

Some of our smaller departmental or lab users may be able to run Mac OS X Server on a Mac Pro or Mac mini. At a campus level, we cannot, because these systems do not have the required mounting, power, management, and other functionality. While it is possible to rack mount a Mac Pro with third-party hardware, it is a non-starter because of the lack of dual redundant power supplies, management capabilities, and spare parts kits, to say nothing of space considerations.

Please allow virtualization of Mac OS X Server in non-Apple virtualization environments, with a commensurate license and pricing model.

If we do not have this option, it will have a significant negative impact on many major campus initiatives which impact your products and services, including iOS mobile development, campus-wide lecture capture with Podcast Producer, our iTunes U presence, our campus IP TV network, and many other services which rely on Apple server services to support the user experience. Not only will Apple users suffer, but we will have no choice but to evaluate other options.

Apple may not sell a great deal of enterprise server hardware in terms of sheer units, but isolated Mac OS X Server systems in a datacenter environment often support hundreds or thousands of Apple users. We still must have a way to support those users within the enterprise environment. The current situation forces us to immediately make plans to transition away from Mac OS X Server, and Apple users will suffer because of this, directly and indirectly. In some cases, Mac OS X Server is directly providing critical services to Apple clients that allow those clients to exist alongside other platforms.

Steve, Apple may not be an enterprise company, but Apple has long been an education company. As I look around campus today, this is clearer than ever. Today, many academic institutions have mirrored successful and established enterprise practices to provide robust, supportable, and cost-effective IT solutions. This means that running Mac OS X Server on a Mac Pro or Mac mini is not an option at an enterprise level. Virtualization is an option, and it doesn’t require Apple to develop or support any hardware. Please allow us to keep supporting your users.

Thank you for your time, and thank you for having a passion for making great products that our students, faculty, and staff love to use!

Sincerely,

Dave Schroeder
Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE)
Apple University Executive Forum (UEF)
MacEnterprise
University of Wisconsin-Madison

57 Comments

  1. I hope they have a plan…..they should have announced that plan when they discontinued the Xserve though!! I just lost alot of respect for Apple over this situation. We need an Xserve design for OS X server.

  2. If they were not going to do pro then they would not have parternerdd with that company to help bring macs and ios devices to govt and other businesess.

    Apple knows they need to have business support as well

  3. Maybe apple used all that they had in the new data center. NAH Just kidding. This is sad because next year we were planning to make the move to XServes at the new office. I guess we might have to be making some purchases sooner than we thought.

  4. This Xserve fiasco is surely one of the most short-sighted decisions ever made by Apple. Jobs is so obsessed with maintaining obscene margins on everything they sell, that he is blind to the long-term ramifications of not providing a rack-mount server product.
    Penny wise, pound foolish.

  5. who knows what apple is doing on the enterprise side… i think they are focusing all their efforts on cloud computing and mobile hardware, since they can’t even keep up with that. Apple is trying concentrating their resources on CDMA/LTE future carriers. Regarding the Enterprise side, Apple should have signed Unysis to work with them BEFORE they decided to end Xserve… in other words when Xserve was created would have been a good time. In the end, Apple seems to have gone away from infrastructure machines to clients instead – or more like enterpri-sumer friendly hardware (iPads & MacBook Pros & ‘Airs’). So, in the end… Xserve like hardware may never happen again…

  6. My big hope is that Apple will license Mac OS X Server to companies that make big iron like IBM and Oracle/Sun, as well as allow virtualization in VMware, so that they don’t lose out on the data center market, and thus feel other downstream pain.

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