Apple allows virtualization of Mac OS X 'Leopard Server'

With Mac OS X "Leopard Server," the über-proprietary Apple is giving virtualization a tentative peck on the cheek.

While Apple Inc. is ever steadfast in its commitment to running its operating systems only on its hardware, when it comes to virtualization, the company has nevertheless relented just a bit.

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According to the end-user license agreement, or EULA, for Leopard Server, Apple's latest version of Mac OS X that shipped last week, licensees can now run multiple licensed copies of Leopard Server on a single Apple-branded server platform. Previously, Apple's EULA permitted only a single instance of Mac OS X Server to run on a single hardware platform.

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The change was first reported by Dave Schroeder, a senior systems engineer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who posted to the MacEnterprise.org mailing list about the change. He heralded the move as a way to increase utilization of Apple server hardware.

It would be wonderful to consolidate multiple installations onto one server.
Dave Schroeder,
senior systems engineerUniversity of Wisconsin-Madison

"Here, most of our Apple Xserves [Apple's server hardware platform] sit idle, but need to be distinct installations of Mac OS X Server for a variety of reasons. It would be wonderful to consolidate multiple installations onto one server, which would really help cut costs and make Mac OS X Server an attractive option for many tasks again," Schroeder wrote.

Banking on support
Mac shops' ability to virtualize Leopard Server will depend on whether virtualization providers support their software running on the platform. Today, VMware Fusion and SWsoft Parallels Desktop both run on Mac OS X, but are only certified for the desktop versions. And both of these platforms are hosted solutions, not bare-metal virtualization products like VMware ESX Server or Citrix Systems Inc.'s XenServer.

But in the coming months, at least one virtualization platform will be available for Mac OS X Server: SWsoft Parallels Server, which is currently in alpha and is expected to become generally available in the first quarter of 2008, said Ben Rudolph, SWsoft director of corporate communications.

Support for Leopard Server may not be available right off the bat in Parallels Server 1.0, but it should arrive a few months thereafter, Rudolph said. The server space "is new ground for Parallels," Rudolph said, and supporting a new operating system flavor – both as the host and as the guest -- is a significant undertaking. "It takes time for us to get our arms around it," he said.

For its part, VMware was noncommittal about whether it would develop a product that allows users to virtualize Leopard Server. In an email, Pat Lee, VMware senior product manager for Mac products, noted that VMware was "thrilled" about Apple's new EULA. "Apple now supports running multiple instances of Mac OS X Server on Apple hardware. This opens up more opportunities for Mac users to get the most out of their Apple hardware while running multiple versions of Mac OS X Server alongside other operating systems, giving them the ability to run any applications they choose," Lee said.

But as its stands, Apple's revised EULA will probably have nominal impact on enterprise IT, as its Xserve hardware has miniscule market share. For Apple to truly embrace virtualization, it would need to allow people to run Mac OS X guests on non-Apple hardware from, say, Dell Inc. or Hewlett-Packard Co.

"That's a huge leap from where we are right now," said SWsoft's Rudolph, and "so far there's no indication that that's where [Apple] is going to go."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Alex Barrett, News Director.

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