Believe it or not, the Minnesota Wild and Apple Inc. have something in common: they’re each showing up in places no one would have expected them to a year ago.

For the three-year old NHL expansion team, it’s the Stanley Cup playoffs. In the case of Apple, it’s the enterprise server market. Maybe

that’s why the two were drawn to each other in the first place.

The Wild offers fans watching from the luxury suites at the Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul, Minn., the ability to watch game images on PowerBook G4s while browsing live stats and scores over the ‘Net. It’s on the Xserve system where the data is created, stored and delivered.

Closer to home, Sean Stephens, director of IT for Treefrog Interactive Inc., sings the Xserve’s praises. Treefrog — a Newmarket, Ont.-based multimedia company specializing in Web development for about 300 corporate clients including Air Canada and York University — runs three Xserves. Stephens anticipates having a total of five of the servers up and running before the end of the year.

“”The hardware is perfect; there’s always modifications that can happen but for the price, it’s fantastic,”” he says. “”The software is manageable . . . it’s just not perfect yet.””

Stephens insists he’s not a “”Mac guy,”” but says Treefrog has been serving its clientele on Macintosh computers for about six years.

“”Apple has this group of hardcore people that would literally sell their mothers for the system. It’s an elitist cult-thing,”” he says. “”But the reason we buy Apple is because it’s reliable equipment . . . the amount of money I save on not having to have an IT department I can’t even fathom.””

Stephens says Xserve has two aspects to the software relevant to his company — hardware monitoring and a suite of graphical user interfaces (GUIs) to manage Apple-configured versions of industry standard software.

“”The hardware monitoring aspect of the server software is so nifty I want to stop people in the street and tell them about it,”” he says. “”The GUIs, however, are drastically immature for anything but the most simplistic of applications. Although they look great, they lack the fundamental functionality that is necessary for basic applications and it can undermine any manual intervention necessary for doing so. For example, the server comes with useless logging configurations. Changing the logging configuration manually is a pain in the Xserve, and a checkmark in the GUI sends all of your settings out the window again.””

Despite this, Stephens says the GUIs are really just Apple’s plug-and-play answer to the standard server configuration on a Linux box with some tools for managing services. “”The Xserve can do anything any other server can do and looks fantastic while doing it,”” he says. “”For people who have never set up a server before, it is simple. For IT guys who know their way around the box, they can throw out the GUI. For people in the middle, it’s probably inadequate. But until Apple has time to evolve the GUI on the machine, the hardware will keep up with anything you can throw at it. And upgrading software is way easier than upgrading hardware.””

According William Powell, strategic development manager for Markham-based Apple Canada, the rack-mountable Xserve costs less than comparable servers do. For example, the Xserve with 720GB of storage/150MB/s is US$2.70 per GB compared to Dell’s PowerEdge 1650 438 GB/43MB/s at $6.20/GB.

For the Xserve RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Drives), released last February and targeted at companies with large amounts of data to store, Powell said the cost for 2.5 Terabytes of storage is $17,000 or $6.75 per gigabyte compared to Dell/EMC’s CX200 at $48,000 or $21.82 per gigabyte.

Alan Freedman, an analyst with IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto, says there were 480 units of Xserve server shipped in Canada in 2002, or US$1.8 million.

“”Traditionally they (Apple) have been very strong in the education market so it would make sense that those with desktops and mobiles would be interested at some point.””

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