Will Nehalem Boost Apple's Enterprise Fortunes?

Arthur Cole

Like much of the desktop and server industry, Apple was quick to jump on the new Xeon 5500 (Nehalem) processor. But is that enough to turn the Mac into a strong contender for enterprise hearts and minds?

Apple's contribution to the Nehalem juggernaut is the new tricked-out 2.66 GHz Mac Pro. The lowest-end model lists for about $2,500 and comes with 3 GB of DDR3 EEC memory, a 640 GB hard drive, an 18x double-layer SuperDrive and an Nvidia GeForce GT120 video card -- impressive, but not exactly a mind-blowing machine for the price. You can bump that up to a dual-quad version for another $800 or to a 2.93 GHz chip for $500.

The XServe is also getting a Nehalem upgrade. A string of new models are available using the 2.26 GHz Xeon E5520, with plans for a more souped-up unit sporting 2.93 GHz X5570 already in the works. A basic level system will start at about $3,000, which is less than a similarly equipped Dell PowerEdge, although the XServe will come stock with OS X -- meaning you'll have to jump through some hoops it you want to turn it into a Linux machine.

Apple supporters have made the argument that their upfront costs may be higher, but superior engineering leads to lower costs over the long run -- and the platform is generally ignored by viruses and hackers who have bigger fish to fry in Redmond. Of course, when Macs do need service, it's often more expensive, and system upgrades often involve changes to both hardware and software.

Mac users also tend to be, shall we say, more particular when it comes to their machines. Macs generally go to upper-level employees, says Enterprise Strategy Group's Jon Oltsik, who are more likely to expect more from support staff. Informal talks with IT administrators leads him to conclude that even though Macs make up only 5 percent of the typical enterprise population, they draw about 20 percent of support calls.

Mixed environments are always difficult to deal with, but the fact is that no single platform provides optimal support for all applications and data sets, not even a Nehalem-based Mac. They can be very useful for a great many enterprise functions, but you need to make sure they are deployed based on need, not status.

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