Apple announced the end of the XServe line, effective January of 2011. The small and loyal Apple market may be disappointed by the loss, but Apple is also unveiling some alternative Mac server options to fill the void.
Despite the stackable and rackable XServe, Apple has never really been a serious player in the data center server space. The Apple server offers an out-of-the-box "it just works" experience similar to its Mac desktops and laptops, though, so many small and medium businesses--particularly those that rely on Mac OS X PCs--find it to be easier to implement and maintain than comparable Windows or Linux-based servers.
Comparing off-the-shelf retail pricing, the XServe--like most things Apple--has always seemed vastly overpriced compared with similar platforms. However, it is worth noting that the XServe comes with unlimited client access licenses (CALs), an expense that can add up quickly for a Windows server. In an apples to Apples comparison (pun intended), the XServe can actually be a decent value depending on the number of users.
Love it, or hate it, though, come January the XServe will be history. Apple is, and probably always will be, a primarily consumer-oriented company. Putting an Apple system on a data center rack seems a bit like putting mustard on cereal, or wearing white after Labor Day--you just don't do it.
Those who still want an Apple Mac-based server need not fear. The rack-mounted XServe may be going away, but that doesn't mean that you can't still run the Mac OS X Server platform on a Mac Mini or Mac Pro system.
Apple also followed the news of the impending death of XServe with an announcement of a new Mac server. As noted above, the Mac Pro can be used as a server by simply running Mac OS X Server, but Apple is also offering a pre-configured Mac Pro optimized for the role. The new Mac Pro "Server" configuration has a quad-core 2.8GHz processor, 8GB of RAM, and two 1TB drives. It retails for $2999 and will, of course, come with Mac OS X Server.
The move away from server hardware designed for a data center should not be construed as any broader message that Apple is in any way abandoning its pursuit of business customers. The iPhone and iPad will continue to gain ground and build a foothold that Apple can use to build its business customer base in other ways.