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Review: Apple Xserve RAID

Feb. 21, 2003


Apple Xserve RAID

by Charles F. McConathy

Apple has announced their new Fibre Channel Xserve RAID. Xserve RAID combines leading-edge technologies in a 3U rack. Fast throughput and flexible configuration makes Xserve RAID ideal for businesses that demand high-performance protected storage. With up to 2.5TB of capacity and tools for remote management make this RAID solution a powerful data storage system.

The Apple-designed Xserve RAID architecture combines low cost, high-capacity ATA drive technology with a dual independent 2Gb Fibre Channel host interface for fast, reliable data access. Each 180GB Apple Drive Module uses a dedicated drive channel, maximizing the 400MB/s Fibre Channel host connection. This means that as you add drives, Xserve RAIDscales in both capacity and performance. And by adding more systems, you'll have virtually limitless expansion. Xserve RAID offers RAID that's fast enough to support real-time HD 1080i video editing. In the event of a drive failure, access to your data remains unaffected while Xserve RAID automatically rebuilds the contents of the failed drive on a spare drive.


  • -2 Gb Fibre Channel - dual independent channels - low cost host adapter.
  • -Fourteen drive bays hold up to 2.5TB of storage.
  • -Independent ATA drive channels eliminate interdrive dependencies.
  • -RAID levels 0, 1, 3, 5, and 0+1. Also hybrid RAID levels 10, 30, and 50.
  • -Redundant load-sharing power supplies and cooling modules.
  • -Set up, manage, and monitor local or on the Internet.
  • -AppleCare Premium Service and Support Plan and Service Parts Kits.
  • -System requirements: Xserve or Mac G4 Tower (800MHz or more)
    with Mac OS X v10.2.4 or Mac OS X Server v10.2.4 (or later) plus
    an Apple Fibre Channel PCI card or compatible.

Suggested Retail Prices:

  • -720GB Xserve RAID - with 4-180 GB Drive Modules - $ 5,999
  • -1.26TB Xserve RAID - with 7-180 GB Drive Modules - $7,499
  • -2.52TB Xserve RAID - with 14-180 GB Drive Modules - $10,999
  • -Apple Dual Fibre Channel 2Gb Card - With Two Cables - $499
    -180GB Apple Drive Modules - For Xserve or Xserve RAID - $499
  • -Upgrade Controller Cache - From 128+128 to 512+512 MB - $300
    -Cache Backup Battery Modules - $350

-AppleCare Service Parts Kit Includes:

  • Controller, Fan, Power Supply, 180 GB Drive - $1949
  • -3 years of AppleCare Service and Support Plan - $999
  • -XtroVert by XtremeMac is a sculptured aluminum pedestal designed
    for Xserve RAID when not being used in a rack - $299

At Creative Cow Expo last week ProMax showed the new Xserve RAID running HD video with a CineWave card as well as a DeckLink card running SD video. We used both a tower G4/1000DP and an Xserve G4/1000 DP. We expect no issue with Kona SD and HD. Our tests showed data rates to be 190 MB/sec reads and 168 MB/sec writes. The Xserve RAID unit we used was not a final shipping product thus we expect data rates to go up maybe 10 to 15% or possibly even more. It was configured with 512+512 MB cache controllers and a total of 14 drives. We configured each side of 7 drives into RAID-5. We then striped these two pairs as RAID-0 which is called RAID-50 - with this you get redundancy with RAID-5 and with RAID-0 you get maximum performance.

If you format Xserve RAID in a horizontal position and then move it to run as a tower the data rates will change. Always format Xserve RAID in the position you plan to use it. We were given a prototype vertical enclosure to test by XtremeMac that was designed for mounting the Xserve RAID next to a desk. The noise level of Xserve RAID is pretty low thus could be used in same room - unlike the older Xserve that is very noisy.

The new Xserve G4/1.33 is reported to be 12 DB quieter. The XtroVert by XtremeMac is a sculptured aluminum pedestal enclosure that works and looks great...List price is $299.


The Xserve RAID is very well built with lots of features including a well thought set of management tools. One should always upgrade to 512+512 MB of cache which adds performance. Its a good idea to purchase the Cache Backup Battery Modules to protect any data thats in cache should there be a power failure. We strongly suggest the 3 years of AppleCare Service and the purchase one extra drive in case of a failure which can replaced without delay.

Raid Admin

Many asked if you can populate the drive bays with off-the-shelf drives. The answer is no. Why? Apple puts every drive they ship through a long torture test. The rejects can be very high. And they modify the firmware for added performance and diagnostics. The Xserve RAID will run with only one power supply and one fan in case of emergency.

Apple offers AppleCare Service Parts Kit that includes a controller, fan, power supply, and extra 180 GB drive. These Service Parts are affordable, field serviceable, and easy to install.

Apple's Fibre Channel PCI card comes with two copper cables 2.7 meters long. This is long enough to connect to a G4 Tower or Xserve. Cables like this can cost as much at $150.00 each which makes this bundle an excellent buy.

The AppleCare Premium Service and Support Plan provides 3 years of coverage for either Xserve or Xserve RAID and Mac OS X Server when purchased with Xserve or Xserve RAID. Whether you experience a hardware failure or a Mac OS X Server configuration issue, Apple's technical support will work to get your system up and running as quickly as possible. The plan includes: 24/7 up-and-running EMAIL and telephone support, 4 hour onsite response for hardware repairs during business hours, and next day onsite response for hardware repairs after business hours. Onsite response time and availability of onsite service depends on your location. For details about the AppleCare Premium Service and Support Plan, including availability of onsite service in your area, visit

You must purchase separate AppleCare Premium Service and Support Plan for each Xserve or Xserve RAID you purchase. To be eligible, the system must be under its original one-year warranty. Coverage is not activated until after you enroll by following the instructions in your enrollment kit. Coverage ends three years after Xserve or Xserve RAID system purchase date.

Did you know?
Did you know that often the cheap drives that are offered by various chains are often those from major server vendors who have put them through torture tests and they failed? You get what you pay for.

Besides Mac OS 10.2.4, Xserve RAID will boot under Solaris, Windows (back to 98), and Linux. At this point in time there is no SAN software utility that has been approved. You can set up LUNs and assign them. More as we learn about the Xserve RAID.


Charles F. McConathy

Copyright © Charles F. McConathy, 2003
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