This article originally appeared in TidBITS on 1994-05-02 at 12:00 p.m.
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Workgroup Servers Get PowerPC Boost

by Mark H. Anbinder

Apple's Enterprise Systems Division last week announced a series of PowerPC-based Apple Workgroup Servers to supplement the existing line of specialized Macs bundled with various network server products. The Workgroup Server 6150, 8150, and 9150 models are big brothers to the Workgroup Server 60, 80, and 95 models, all of which remain in the product family. (Apple discontinued both the 8/500 and 8/500/CD configurations of the AWS 80, but the others remain.)

Under the Hood -- The Workgroup Server 6150 is based on the Power Macintosh 6100/60 platform, and sports a 60 MHz PowerPC 601 processor, internal 500 MB hard drive, and internal CD-ROM drive.

The midrange model, the Workgroup Server 8150, features an 80 MHz PowerPC 601 chip, three NuBus slots, a PDS (processor direct slot), an internal 1 GB hard drive, and both internal DAT and CD-ROM drives in the same case as the Power Mac 8100. It also includes a 32K on-chip cache and 256K Level-2 cache.

At the top of the line, the Workgroup Server 9150 will satisfy Quadra 900 and 950 owners who were shocked that the Power Macintosh family lacked an upgrade for their top-of-the-line Macs. This unit, based on the Quadra 950 form factor, offers an 80 MHz PowerPC 601 chip, 32K on-chip and 512K level-2 cache, four NuBus slots, a PDS, two internal 1 GB or 2 GB hard drives (with space for three more), internal DAT drive and CD-ROM drive, and two SCSI DMA buses to support up to 14 devices.

All the new Workgroup Server models include AppleShare file and print server software, and Apple RAID (providing RAID level 0 and 1 capabilities) offering either data protection (through mirroring) or striping for improved performance. (Naturally, the striping and mirroring features require multiple compatible hard drives.) The 8150 and 9150 models include Retrospect Remote 2.1 as well; this popular Dantz software, now running in native mode for significantly improved performance, provides centralized backup capabilities in concert with the servers' built-in DAT drives.

Upgrades -- Unless the street prices of the Apple Workgroup Server logic board upgrades are dramatically lower than the combination of Power Macintosh logic board upgrades and AppleShare server software prices, we suspect only Quadra 900 and 950 owners will jump at these upgrades. (And jump they will.) The Workgroup Server 6150 and 8150 logic board upgrades are intended only for AWS 60 and 80 owners, respectively (presumably the prices are based on the return of old AWS logic boards, not Centris or Quadra logic boards). Until Apple rewrites the LocalTalk and EtherTalk network protocol software in PowerPC native code, and upgrades AppleShare to match, there will be little benefit to upgrading these machines. AWS 60 and 80 owners will probably want to wait for another round of Workgroup Server models based on the just-released 100 MHz PowerPC 604 processor.

However, the Workgroup Server 9150 logic board upgrade is specifically intended to upgrade Quadra 900 and 950 computers, and - according to Apple - is not intended for the Workgroup Server 95. Owners of these tower Mac models desperate for PowerPC horsepower will be able to take this route, though if they have no use for the bundled DAT and CD-ROM drives, or the AppleShare and Apple RAID software, the price for entry into this club may be a bit high.

AppleShare 4.0.2 -- The bundled AppleShare is version 4.0.2, which replaces the previous 4.0.1 version. Its primary enhancement is compatibility with PowerPC-based computers, including both the Workgroup Servers and the Power Macintosh line. AppleShare 4.0.1 will not run on the PowerPC-based machines. AppleShare 4.0.2 is otherwise "virtually identical" in features and performance to its predecessor, and in fact is fully compatible with 68040 Macs.

AppleShare 4.0.2 is still based on 680x0 code, and runs in emulation on the PowerPC platform. Apple says the software's performance will be comparable on the PowerPC or corresponding 68040 machines. (For example, performance on a Workgroup Server 80 and 8150 will be similar.) The company plans to ship a native version of AppleShare in 1995.

Apple will include the AppleShare 4.0.2 update kit with Workgroup Server logic board upgrades, but those who wish to use the software on Power Macintosh systems can obtain the upgrade (in the U.S.) by calling 800/769-2775, extension 7851. Proof of 4.0 or 4.0.1 purchase is required; there is a $10-$15 shipping and handling charge. AppleShare 3.0.x owners may purchase the $699 AppleShare Upgrade Kit, item M1946Z/C.

And a Freebie -- All new PowerPC-based Workgroup Servers and logic board upgrade kits sold through 31-Dec-94 will include an offer for a free copy of the $229 TechWorks Server Manager software upon return of the registration card. This software allows network administrators to control AppleShare servers from any Macintosh on the network or via a dialup connection.

Serious Servers? -- Apple RAID, which isn't expected to ship until this summer (based on the northern hemisphere's summer!), is a good sign that Apple is beginning to take enterprise systems seriously. The mirroring capability will allow multiply-redundant "live backups" of server storage; all data that's stored will be stored on more than one drive at the same time, and should one drive fail, another can immediately take its place. The striping feature takes advantage of multiple drives in another way, by splitting blocks of data into small chunks split across multiple drives. This allows two or more drives to be active at once, dramatically speeding up the possible transfer rates. The Mac can tell the second drive to begin a write operation while waiting for the first to complete its task.

Such features have been available in third-party software and hardware products (such as FWB's Hard Disk Toolkit Professional Edition software and their SledgeHammer drive arrays, and Golden Triangle's earlier NuBus cards), but their inclusion in an Apple box will generate a better image for these machines than if they were simply bundled Macs and server software with a fancy new name. The original Workgroup Server line offered some innovation, but in many ways was just such a bundle arrangement.

Novell agrees; Apple also announced today the framework of an alliance that will see a PowerPC-based version of NetWare 4 implemented later this year as part of Apple's Workgroup Server line. The new network operating system is expected to be introduced by Apple towards the end of the year, and will give network managers another welcome choice of server environment.

Certainly Apple's about-face on the apparent plan to leave Quadra 950 owners without an upgrade path is a good sign. (Frankly, the description of the Workgroup Server 9150's storage and expansion capabilities makes me drool. But I digress.)

The Chicken or the Egg? -- Again, these machines will exhibit the anomaly of unremarkable performance at first, with leaps expected as more of the operating system is ported to PowerPC code and more server applications are written in native code. That means at the moment an upgrade is not likely to be a sensible investment (except for those Quadra 950 owners) and only people in the market for a server machine now will likely want one of these machines.

It's unfortunate that the Catch-22 principle applies much more to servers than it does to personal computers. Until Apple has rewritten its networking routines (both firmware and software) in PowerPC native code, it will be counter-productive for third parties to release native versions of network-based applications and services. The constant context switching results in slower performance than would be seen with 680x0 applications using the 680x0-based network routines. And until more third-party developers commit to developing network services for the Power Macintosh and PowerPC-based Workgroup Server platforms, Apple may further delay development, or focus on porting other areas of the operating system.

I hope not.

Dantz Development Corp. -- 510/849-0293 -- 510/253-9099 (fax)
FWB Incorporated -- 415/474-8055 -- 415/775-2125 (fax)
Golden Triangle Computers Inc. -- 800/326-1858 -- 619/587-0110
619/587-0303 (fax)
Technology Works Inc. -- 800/688-7466 -- 512/794-8533
512/794-8520 (fax)
Information from:
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