PCs

Meager Mac Pro upgrades worry enterprises

Mary Shacklett reports on the troubling lack of attention paid to the Mac Pro systems, largely ignored in Apple's most recent round of updates.

Apple servers and enterprise computing are rarely mentioned in the same breath but the fact is, there are some "niche" industries that rely on Mac Pro servers to host their mission-critical applications. Industries that traditionally have used Mac Pro servers for mission-critical applications include publishing, music and movie rendering/animation.

Stories abound of music studios, publishers and video animation studios placing rows of Mac Pro servers in their data centers to achieve the processing power needed to do their daily work. In most cases, they can probably find a PC-server alternative, but they choose not to, because the software and the ergonomics of the Mac in their eyes are unequaled.

For these enterprises and small businesses, Apple's recent announcements in June, which seemed to leave the Mac Pro behind in its product development plans, sounded an alarm. Upgrades were confirmed to replacement of aging CPUs, and seemed to be more in the spirit of just keeping the machine maintained. Even more revealing was Apple's exclusion of the same Thunderbolt data throughput upgrade that was announced for iMacs. MacBook Airs, MacBook Pros, and Mac Minis. Thunderbolt I/O technology matters because it moves data up to 20 times faster than  USB 2.0 and 12 times faster than FireWire 800.

"Companies reliant on Mac hardware -- especially high-end workstations -- need to be thinking about the day that there's no longer a new Mac Pro system to buy," said Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, an Apple industry analyst and blogger. "Unless the iMac hardware is adequate for their needs, they're going to have to go over to Windows. While that's likely to be a PR kick in the teeth for the Cupertino giant, it's going to mean nothing to the company's bottom line. Apple sells some four million Macs a quarter, and only a fraction of them are going to be Mac Pro systems. Apple has demonstrated time and time again that it is moving out of the specialist markets, instead giving preference to mainstream markets."

Unfortunately for enterprises that love Mac Pro and also hear this heralding of Mac Pro's demise, there is not even an opportunity to consider an iMac, since iMac is not designed for the data center.  The reason is simple: iMac doesn't have much scalability since its CPU has limited upgrade headroom.

Meanwhile, rumors are circulating that Apple is still planning to invest significantly in the Mac Pro, with upgrades that include solid state drives, native PCIE3 and yes, Thunderbolt. "There are plenty of internal upgrades that need to be made for it to be considered a computer that meets professional standards," said news commentator Alex Heath.

There is also argument that some "external" upgrades can be made, if enterprises are going to stay comfortable with Apple's commitment to Mac Pro. This begins when you walk into an Apple store, and have to strain yourself to find the Mac Pro-tucked unobtrusively against a side wall, while the iMacs, Mac Airs, Mac Books and Mini Macs take up most of the store's real estate. When the sales reps on the business side are asked questions about where Mac Pro is headed, they are unable to answer them.

"Apple operates under a cone of silence," said Kingsley-Hughes. "All we ever truly know about Apple is what the company announces and what appears in the stores. Apple had plenty of time to incorporate Thunderbolt into the Mac Pro --and it didn't. It's more than likely that we'll have to wait at least a year until the next Mac Pro update. If one appears, I would expect it to have Thunderbolt, but my guess is that the absence of it now doesn't bode well for a future update."

What are your thoughts about the future of Mac Pro?

About

Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President o...

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