Pros and Cons of Using Xserve as a Lion Server - dummies

Pros and Cons of Using Xserve as a Lion Server

By John Rizzo

Although Apple discontinued the Xserve, a lot of fans still use it to run OS X Lion. A survey showed that 65 percent of respondents planned to continue using Xserves for two or more years.

The flat, horizontal body is designed to be mounted in a standard 19-inch equipment rack and to be run headless. At 30 inches long, the Xserve is big for a desk, but if you want to connect a display to it, you can plug in a graphics card.

Three Xserves mounted in a rack with a storage array. [Credit: Photo courtesy of Apple.]
Credit: Photo courtesy of Apple.
Three Xserves mounted in a rack with a storage array.

Xserve supports high-powered add-ons, like internal RAIDs, with multiple, big, high-speed hard drives, including serially attached SCSI (SAS) drives, and eight RAM slots. The Mac Pro has all this, but the Xserve also has features to keep it running in mission-critical situations, including a redundant power supply and temperature monitor.

Best uses

When it was last updated in 2009, the Xserve was similarly powered to the Mac Pro. Today’s Mac Pros have surpassed the Xserve, but the latter is generally good for the same uses as the Mac Pro, running multiple services for hundreds of users.

You may still need additional servers to run some services for very large networks, but the Xserve is better suited than the Mac Pro to a growing network because you can easily upgrade the processors.

The Xserve is also built for mission-critical situations. If you absolutely can’t afford to have any server downtime due to hardware failure, the Xserve is better than the Mac Pro. You may never have to shut down an Xserve.

Unlike the Mac Pro, however, the Xserve isn’t well suited for sitting in the middle of an office or classroom because of the noise factor. Xserves are designed to be located in a data center or a ventilated telecom closet.


The Xserve has a similar set of expansion slots and high-end hardware options. But the Xserve does have some advantages over the Mac Pro:

  • Features to keep it running and reduce downtime. Notably:

    • An option of redundant power supply: If one power supply fails, the other takes over. Simply pull out a power supply and replace it — without shutting down the Xserve.

    • *Hot-swappable hard drives: If a drive fails, you can pull out of Xserve without shutting it down or opening it. However, it has only three drive bays; the Mac Pro has four.

    • *Temperature measurement: You can read the temperature from Lion Server’s admin tools and set the software to send you an alarm if the Xserve gets too hot.

  • Processors that are officially user-upgradeable. Upgrade instructions are on Apple’s support site. Search for Xserve processor and manuals for the different Xserve models appear.

  • A removable lid that gives you easy access to everything inside.

  • Mountable in a standard 19-inch rack.


Disadvantages to using Xserve:

  • Discontinued: You can no longer buy an Xserve, or parts, from Apple. However, new parts are still available if you Google around.

  • Only three hard drive bays: The Xserve has one less than the Mac Pro. This is still a lot of storage but not enough to support an internal RAID 0+1, as can the Mac Pro.

  • Heat: The Xserve gets very hot and requires adequate ventilation. You’ll be fine if you put it in a standard equipment rack, but think twice about stuffing it in a small, unventilated closet.

  • Form factor: The long, flat shape is good for a rack but bad for an office or classroom setting.

  • Noise: The Xserve is noisy and distracting sitting in the middle of an office or a classroom. If this is the only place for your server, consider the Mac Pro instead.