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MacUser / October 1996

File Servers

Apple Network Server 500/132

4 mice

Apple Network Server 700/150

4.5 mice

Apple serves up versatile PowerPC-based UNIX computers.

Publishing companies and prepress houses, where the Mac is the platform of choice for creative work, often find themselves in need of something more powerful than an Apple Workgroup Server for storing, moving, and printing huge files. The typical solution is to use a UNIX-based server. Sometimes it's just a very big file and print server; in other cases, publishers add OPI (Open Prepress Interface) software to churn out print jobs containing complex, high-resolution images.

Apple wants a piece of the publishing-server market and may have a chance with the Network Server 500 and Network Server 700. These new machines are the biggest, most expensive Apple computers ever built -- but they're definitely not Macs.

Your first clue that these boxes aren't Macs is the fact that they ship without system software installed. The clincher is that the operating system they run isn't the Mac OS -- it's AIX 4.1.2, a version of IBM's UNIX operating system. AIX is a necessity for running the Network Servers, so consider its $1,498 price a hidden cost of buying one.

Beefy Boxes

The Network Server 500/132 and Network Server 700/150 are very close siblings: The 500 sports a 132-MHz processor and 512K of Level 2 cache, whereas the 700 has a 150-MHz processor, 1 MB of Level 2 cache, and two hot-swappable power supplies. Each includes six PCI slots and a minimum of 32 MB of RAM (upgradable to 512 MB).

The Network Servers are also built for speed. In addition to having fast processors and PCI expansion options, the Network Servers are the first Apple systems to come with Fast-and-Wide SCSI built in. Each Network Server has two Fast-and-Wide buses (one internal, one external) and an external SCSI-1 bus. Most server configurations ship with a 1-GB SCSI-2 disk drive, and a top-of-the-line Network Server 700 contains a 4-GB Fast-and-Wide drive. Networking support is provided by an AAUI Ethernet adapter. You can also use one or more Network Interface Cards for connectivity to Fast Ethernet or other high-speed networks.

The Network Server cabinet is roughly cube-shaped and measures about two feet on each side. Although it can hardly be called sleek, it offers a new and genuine manifestation of Apple's flair for industrial design. It's easier to upgrade and maintain a Network Server than it is to poke around in many Macs, and all the components, from fans to drives to power supplies -- are designed to be hot-swappable. That is, they can be removed and replaced quickly, even while the computer is running.

Four of the servers' seven half-height SCSI-drive bays ship filled -- By a floppy drive, CD-ROM drive, DDS-2 DAT drive, and hard drive. You can get at these easily by sliding each bay's drawer out of the server. You can also slide the logic board out easily when it's time for a memory or processor upgrade. Key locks are provided to prevent unauthorized removal of components.

Don't plan on running a Network Server in "headless" mode, without a monitor: Server management from a Mac client isn't sufficient for all tasks (we'll tell you why a bit later). The Servers include a built-in video subsystem that lets you run a Mac or VGA monitor up to 20 inches in size in 256 colors.

Foreign Correspondent

For the Network Servers, Apple has scrapped its homegrown UNIX variant (the ill-fated A/UX). The Network Servers instead employ AIX, a mature operating system that is used by IBM in its own PowerPC- and RS/6000-based PCs and workstations. Since Network Servers are intended to serve Macintosh clients, Apple has added an AppleTalk stack to the basic operating system and includes some rudimentary utilities for use by Macintosh-based system administrators. Unfortunately, you can't do much more than create logical volumes -- disk partitions -- or log onto the server via a command-line interface from the Macintosh software. However, AIX does include a system-management application called SMIT, which looks a lot like a menu-driven DOS application. With it, you can perform most system-administration tasks, including doing disk and volume management, creating users' accounts, and scheduling and initiating system backup. Nonetheless, a more full-fledged Macintosh tool would be welcome.

Although you're not required to have file-server software to share data among UNIX systems, Macintosh users can't get access to data stored on a Network Server unless you've added AFP-compatible server software. Apple includes trial versions of two packages: IPT's uShare and Helios' EtherShare. Each package includes AFP file-server software as well as print- and OPI-server software. uShare's trial version is limited to one user and 30 days of access. The EtherShare demo limits client connect time to three hours per session. These trial versions are just that, and the included printed information fits into a CD-sized booklet. There are online documents, and the complete versions of each package provide full documentation.

The documentation for both supplied programs is rather limited. The two packages offer the same basic functionality: file, print, and OPI services. Because Apple's remote-management utilities are so limited, we looked to uShare and EtherShare for a way to manage the Network Server from a Macintosh. IPT's uShare tools are superior, providing a Mac-like interface for system-management tasks such as assigning user accounts, creating and managing file systems, and maintaining the print queue. If you opt to use Helios' EtherShare to manage a Network Server, you'll need to take a seat at the Network Server or use Apple's rudimentary disk-management and terminal software.

The Bottom Line

Apple's Network Server is a solidly designed hardware platform with a road-tested operating system behind it. It's the first Apple computer built as a server, and it competes well in terms of price and features with UNIX-based systems from Sun and Silicon Graphics. We would like to see more thought put into remote system management: Counting on third parties to provide even the basics is shortsighted. Although Apple correctly warns that administering a Network Server requires being comfortable and experienced with UNIX, it seems probable that administrators will use a Macintosh to work with the server, so a robust Mac OS-based management tool with a friendly face would go a long way toward easing administrative tasks. UNIX experts will find just about everything in the Network Server to be familiar. One oddity we noticed: Apple includes a standard ADB II mouse with the Network Servers -- the same one-button cursor controller it ships with its Mac OS systems -- rather than the three-button mouse usually found on UNIX systems. To simulate the other buttons, you have to hold down the left and right arrow keys, respectively, while you click the mouse. / Shelly Brisbin

Apple Network Server 500/132(32MB/2GB/CD/DAT), $10,969;
Apple Network Server 700/150 (32MB/1GB/CD), $11,829; (list).
Company: Apple Computer, Cupertino, CA; 800-776-2333 or 408-996-1010;