(Apple Network Servers were a short-lived technology, but the geeks that still have them swear by them.)
Apple’s Network Servers are aimed at corporate users who want the power and flexibility of Unix without the grief of the power and flexibility of Unix. The Network Server hits this target and is also worth a look for those expanding an installed base of AIX or other Unix systems.
The Network Server comes in two different models, Network Server 500 and Network Server 700, with several configurations of each. I tested the Network Server 700/200, with a 200-MHz PowerPC 604, 64MB of RAM, two 4GB disks, and an eight-speed CD-ROM. Weighing in at a cool $18,367, this machine is not for everyone, but Apple offers a variety of configurations starting at about $9,768 for the Network Server 500/132, a 132-MHz version with fewer expansion options.
Both the 500 and the 700 offer seven trays accessible from the front that can be filled with hot-swappable media. The Network Server 700 will support two internally mounted disks. The cooling fans are hot pluggable; you can also get redundant hot-swappable power supplies as an option on the 700.
Simply put, the hardware is a pleasure to work with. The system is on rollers, or it can be rack mounted. A locking, sliding door covers the drives and the power switch during normal operation.
The system board, with the CPU card, memory, and expansion slots, slides out of the back for maintenance access. The only hardware issues I found were the difficult-to-read LCD on the front of the machine and the lack of a three-button mouse (you can buy one separately from Apple).
The operating system is equally enjoyable to work with. By Unix standards, installing AIX 4.1 is a snap, and Apple takes this one step further with easy-to-follow documentation. When the machine reboots after the second phase of the installation, you have a fully configured Unix system.
The system is binary compatible with all RS/6000 family software, but Apple has taken the extra step of certifying the hardware with several key software vendors, including Oracle, Informix, Lotus, and Netscape.
Of course, administering Unix is not trivial. The fact that it looks great and has that friendly little apple on the front does not mean that the issues that Unix brings to an environment go away.
Even on this user-friendly machine, it is important to understand the security, networking, performance, and storage-management concerns associated with Unix.
Fortunately, Apple and IBM have made dealing with these issues as easy as possible. Apple’s documentation gets you up and running quickly, with pointers to IBM’s thorough online documentation, InfoExplorer.
In addition, multiple administration tools provided by IBM and Apple make system administration much easier.
One of the most interesting tools is the Disk Management Utility created by Apple for the Apple Network Server series. The Disk Management Utility lets you remotely configure the storage on the Apple Network Server from a Macintosh. It also will enable you to ensure that you won’t have to consider RAID server recovery, at least as long as you backup the drives. It also communicates with the Apple Network Server via AppleTalk instead of TCP/IP.
IBM’s contribution to system management includes the Visual System Management tool. This icon-based utility provides drag-and-drop access to administrative tasks such as adding users and managing storage.
All that said, I recommend that you learn to use SMIT, the System Management Interface Tool. It is a time-tested AIX administration tool that provides both text- and GUI-based interfaces and includes the most comprehensive set of administrative tasks of the three tools provided with the system. Plus, SMIT allows you to easily display the command it is about to execute, allowing you to verify what you are doing as well as making it a great learning tool.
Apple has unleashed a powerhouse on the workgroup server market. It is not a cheap solution, especially when you tack $1,489 to purchase the AIX license and $1,399 to upgrade that license from two users to unlimited users onto the price of the hardware.
However, if you need the reliability of hot-swappable components and you value the quality that you get from Apple, this machine is a winner.
Tags: aix, apple network servers, ibm server platforms