At 6AM PST, Active Storage is set to make a big announcement that they’ve billed as “When One Door Closes, Another Opens“. Active Storage is known for their excellent RAID Enclosures that, in competition with the Promise VTrak units are the successors of another of Apple’s hardware cancellations — the Xserve RAID.
With the Apple Xserve cancellation announced on November 5th 2010, effective as of January 31st, the timing of this announcement let alone the form factor of the silouette on activestorage.com points to some sort of Xserve replacement.
Here’s what I think it is:
I think we’re looking at a linux based box running Quantum’s StorNext — a box that you can drop in as a replacement for your Xsan MDC with minimal change to your Xsan clients and underlying storage arrays and fibre channel switches.
Active Storage is a storage company who have found an excellent niche in the Apple space with a high-performance Xsan compatible RAID enclosure. They were, in essence born out of the need for a drop-in replacement for the Xserve RAID. With the Xserve gone, it makes sense that they would feel the need to fill that void too. Otherwise as customers look to StorNext as an Xsan alternative they may look at other storage vendors too.
Offering an off-the-shelf, ready-to-roll Xsan MDC replacement, running on Linux and StorNext would be a very sound strategic move to not only keep their existing customers but vertically extend their presence in the customers SAN without the need for major change in the customers existing SAN environment. It also neatly ensures that Active Storage is a storage vendor that’s not just tied to Xsan — a product that may or may not have a long future ahead of it.
On Xserve Replacements…
Will the box be a complete “Xserve replacement” complete with some sort of native or virtualized Mac OS X Server? I don’t think so. As per my previous posts on Mac OS X Server, I do not think we’re going to see a change in Apple’s licensing stance. They want Mac OS X Server clearly and neatly defined as being suitable for the scale of use that would suit a Mac Mini.
Perhaps though it will offer some like-for-like server functionality. After all, the majority of the services provided by Mac OS X Server leverage freely available, open source projects that are widely used in Linux and other UNIX operating systems.
Taking it further…
Here’s one intriguing possibility… It would be possible to reverse engineer the servermgrd protocol to allow a third-party server to be configured using Server Admin.app just like a Mac OS X Server host, even if that third party server wasn’t using Mac OS X Server. We’ve done extensive work in reverse engineering servermgrd, and I can see how this would be possible.
The third-party server, running Linux for example, would simply need to present a servermgrd-like interface that Server Admin.app could connect to. The host would need to accept the configuration commands from Server Admin.app and translate that into config for the services running on the Linux box such as Bind for DNS, Postfix for SMTP, Dovecot for IMAP, Apache for HTTP/Web, etc.
As long as the third-party server presented configuration and state information in the format that Server Admin.app expects, and accepted the commands that Server Admin.app executes then the third-party server would look and feel just like a Mac OS X host through Server Admin.app.
The longevity of this solution would be predicated on two things: firstly how well Apple took to the vendor reverse engineering their servermgrd protocol and interface, and secondly the life of Mac OS X Server itself. If Mac OS X Server is retired, then there’ll be no need for Server Admin.app and the effort that’s gone into making the third-party implementation of servermgrd would be wasted. However, Mac OS X Server seems here to stay at least for the moment with the Mac Mini server form-factor.
Live Call-In 6AM PST…
Active Storage will be holding a live announcement call at 6AM PST, 31st January to unveil this new box. Call-in details can be found on the Active Storage site.