Aug 132009

For some time I’ve wished NetWorker would support both storage node and server functions on Mac OS X. When I had a PPC 17″ PowerBook, this mostly came from the glacially slow performance of running Linux within VirtualPC so as to run up a NetWorker server for testing. (Windows-within-Virtual PC was a dead-loss: the then-current version of NetWorker would not even start within VirtualPC.)

Since Apple made the jump to Intel machines, running a NetWorker server for lab work within a virtual machine has been far more efficient, given that now it’s just virtualisation rather than emulation. However, I’ve been thinking for a while that given the performance options available on Mac OS X, and the amount of data frequently stored on Mac OS X machines, not supporting at least a storage node is foolish.

Now that I have a Mac Pro, my personal belief is that it’s crazy not to support Mac OS X both as server and storage node.

Why, you may ask, would I think this? Is it just some weird combination of the “Mac Fan Boy” and “NetWorker Fan Boy” that I want them joined at the hip like some bizarre Doctor Frankenstein experiment?

[Here’s an aside. Why is it that people who defend Apple, and Macs, are immediately declared to be Apple Fan Boys, when PC/Windows users just as vehemently defend their own platforms declare themselves ‘realistic’? There’s only one answer: sad hypocrisy. Defending one platform is “hysterial frothing at the mouth buy-in to the reality distortion effect of Steve Jobs”, whereas equally defending another platform is “logical”. Please, spare me.]

So, jumping off that little soap box, I do actually have a method to my madness here. I honestly think, bang for buck, that the Mac Pro (using Apple’s high end machines as a reference point) represent the sort of significant processing and expansion capability often sought in backup servers. I snapped up a bargain previous generation Mac Pro that features that Intel Xeon 5400 CPUs rather than the current top-of-the-line Nehalem based processors, but this machine has serious processing power. The reason it’s called a workstation by Apple is because of it’s ability to handle complex graphics – but in reality it’s basically a server in a nice shell. With 8 x 3.2GHz cores and (currently) 12GB of RAM, this is a machine that just absolutely flies at data throughput. With expansion of up to 32GB of RAM, Mac Pros represent in one shiny shell more than enough processing power to run a backup server/storage node for any sized business*.

For companies that are space-conscious, there’s the “server” version of the Mac Pro, the Xserve, which is quite a powerful host in a 1RU enclosure.

Given the client software has already been ported to Mac OS X, the hard work has effectively already been done; server and storage node options are not going to take a significant amount of development effort.

Is there justification in porting server and storage node to Mac OS X? The cynical part of me wants to answer that there’s a hell of a lot better justification in porting server/storage node to Mac OS X than there was in porting the client to Linux PPC, but undoubtedly that would have been done to service some large-scale deal for EMC – i.e., there would have been significant business-incentive to do so.

Is there a business incentive for supporting more than client capabilities on Mac OS X? Well, market share is continuing to grow, as evidenced by Microsoft breaking what is almost universally acknowledged as the golden rule of advertising**. Then there’s the high frequency of use of Mac OS X systems in academia. This may not seem a compelling business case for EMC now, but let’s think a little longer-term – as more and more people become exposed to Macs again during their education (either secondary or tertiary), that exposure is going to influence them in their buying decisions as they move into employment. I.e., short of some catastrophic collapse***, Apple is going to see market share continue to increase – not flatten, not drop, but continue to increase.

In the short term though, another compelling reason is where Apple’s market share is at its highest – multimedia: graphic design, advertising, etc., all feature large amounts of data storage. While there’s some support for client software within Mac OS X, the backup server market in that arena is owned almost exclusively by Retrospect. (Retrospect is a good product, but it is still reasonably limited – definitely a workgroup, rather than an enterprise product.) In short, it seems mad that machines that routinely store tens or more terabytes of storage are denied storage node/dedicated storage node capabilities.

Now, some might argue that the lack of support for Sybase DBAnywhere (which powers GST, the back-end to NMC) would be sufficient cause to stop at the client (or at most, the storage node); after all, if you can’t run the GST/NMC server on the backup server, what’s the point? I have two (I believe valid) responses to this: first, it’s reasonably common to see separation between NMC/GST services and the NetWorker server, not only in environments that have multiple backup servers, but also just for reducing the potential for one service impacting the other. Secondly, there’s already examples of NetWorker server platforms that don’t have an accompanying NMC/GST server option – Solaris/AMD springs to mind immediately, and I know there’s other examples as well.

I do honestly think the point is rapidly approaching (if it is not already here) where there are more compelling reasons to port NetWorker server and storage node to Mac OS X than there are for not doing so. Architecturally, data storage volumes, increasing market share and an existing client all point to this having solid reasons.

* Note that I’m not saying that they are capable of being the sole backup server for a massive company; just like any other platform, in larger environments, the three-tier approach is always required.

** That rule is that the number one company in an industry should never refer to the number two company in the industry in their advertising.

*** With a market cap that now periodically bounces above Google’s, this seems somewhat unlikely now. (Apple’s market cap now exceeds the combined market cap of HP and Dell.)

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