An Exchange admin’s opinion: Apple is coming for Microsoft’s pie

Greetings again from WWDC 2007.

Those of you who know me know that I’ve made my living thus far as a Windows admin. I’ve always had a particular bent toward messaging technologies and I do have certifications in the Microsoft space to prove that I can architect these solutions.

The project I am working on now has made me take a second and more objective look at Exchange server. For a long time, I’ve heard Microsoft trainers and other folks complain bitterly about Microsoft Exchange. Most of the complaints started around Exchange 2000, when Exchange merged in with Active Directory. The complaints get worse as the enterprise grows. Exchange 2003 has some real issues with clustering and large deployments. I’m hoping many of these issues are resolved in Exchange 2007, but as I’ve not had the chance to dive into that just yet I cannot speak for any improvements.

It may be fitting that my disgruntlement was on the plane with me (sitting beside me, whispering sweet nothings in my ear) on my way to WWDC 2007. I’m not a Mac developer, I’m an IT implementor with dreams of getting back into media production, theatrics, etc. Attending these sessions have interested me greatly and taken my newfound love for the Mac to a whole new level. I can hardly wait to build my own Mac system at home to begin video production.

That being said, let’s look at the messaging space now.

Despite the WWDC sessions being under NDA, I do not feel that anything I say here will breach what has already been released to the public. As most of you know, Leopard server brings with it the ability to cluster the Mail server. You can now also add to that the iCal server, which is brand new in Leopard and considered to be a direct response to Microsoft’s groupware solutions.

Using the power of Mail server, iCal server, Open Directory, Wiki server, FreeRADIUS and other Mac technologies, I now believe it’s completely possible to run an all-Mac IT environment. Couple that with the ability to run Windows applications in three different ways and you have an environment that can literally do it all. I completely fail to see how this would not be attractive to everyone in the business.

Let’s think for a moment about Microsoft’s Small Business Server, which will be used for small businesses employing 10-50 clients on the network in most cases. Let’s take the major components of Xserve running Leopard server and do a direct software and cost comparison.

First, let’s start with software.

Microsoft Exchange Server == Leopard Mail/iCal/Open Directory
Microsoft ISA Server == Leopard proxy services via squid or other proxy components
Microsoft Active Directory == Leopard Open Directory (which can chain auth to other directories)
Microsoft Sharepoint Services == Leopard Wiki Server
Microsoft volume shadow services == Leopard Time Machine

As you can see, there are major components within Microsoft Small Business server that Apple now has an answer.

Combine that with the reliability record of Apple’s hardware and software and you can start to see a winning formula.

Now let’s compare costs.

I’ll put together a Microsoft Small Business Server at Dell’s website. brb while I do that.

Okie, I’m back. What do ya know… Dell is having a MONEY SAVING SPECIAL! Hooray for cheap PC parts.

I tried to piece together two systems with comparable hardware. Here’s what we ended up with on the PC side:

Dell PowerEdge SC1430
Dual-processor, dual-core Xeon 2.0ghz
2gb of RAM (note: the sale says I get a free 1gb upgrade!)
Includes Microsoft Small Business Server Premium (+5 cals)
3 x 80gb SATA II hard drives
1 Broadcom (yuck!) gigabit ethernet adapter
48x CD-ROM drive
No mouse, no monitor
+45 CALs for Small Business Server Premium

Total: $5,147 USD

Now let’s look at the Xserve plus Mac OS X Server:

2x dual-core Xeon processors, 2.0ghz
2gb RAM
3x80gb SATA ADM hard drives
24x DVD/CD-ROM drive
Built-in ATI X1300 video
Dual 650w power supply
Apple Remote Desktop 3 – unlimited license
Applecare premium support for 3 years

Total: $5,344

Note: Every Apple Xserve includes the current version of Mac OS X Server with unlimited clients for free.

Now then, as you can see, two like-configured servers cost pretty much the same for hardware and software with one important exception. You’re limited on the Windows server to 50 clients. With this configuration of an Xserve, you’re not limited at all.

Also, I should point out that Small Business Server has an important restriction that prevents you from growing the business beyond this one server as a domain controller. You can add other servers doing other roles, but you cannot add a second domain controller. Or, if your business grows beyond 50 employees and you need to have domain controller redundancy, you’ll be hard-pressed to take your domain to the next level thanks to this restriction.

With an Apple Xserve, it’s as simple as adding another server when this one gets too overloaded.

It’s clear to me that Apple is making a slow, yet aggressive move into the small business space. One could also easily picture this development standing up to a larger enterprise, as it certainly scales to that large. The feature sets being introduced in Leopard server make this even more compelling. At this point, small businesses might be totally insane to not consider a full Apple infrastructure.

For more information on the iCal server and its features on Leopard, see this URL. I’ve seen these features in action and I can tell you – the notifications and free/busy information are just plain cool. It’s simple, clean and well implemented.

Kudos to Apple. I’m behind you, hoping to see you compete in this space even better.