I had previously (before this announcement) wondered if they would partner with a hardware provider that builds workstation class hardware (perhaps IBM given how in bed they are these days)... but now I'm pretty sure we'll be seeing Apple's own Mac Pro hardware.
I really loved Ben Thompson's (Stratechery.com Daily Email) take on it:
The Mac Pro is irrelevant to a lot of you, which I suppose was part of the problem; in short, Apple's highest-end computer, designed for the most-demanding users, received a massive re-design in 2013 and then hasn't been updated since, causing much consternation in the Apple world.
It seemed clear to me that Apple had erred in the re-design, leaving the company stuck: hundred of millions of dollars in both R&D and investment in a U.S. factory with extensive automation were wasted if the company felt the design was unusable, while a re-design would mean spending the same money on a tiny market. I suspected the company would instead build higher-end iMacs, and indeed those are coming.
Clearly, though, the company has changed its mind, perhaps after frustration from Mac users following last fall's MacBook Pro release that Phil Schiller admitted was a surprise. Just look at the timeline: this new Mac Pro isn't coming until 2018 at best, which suggests a relatively recent change in direction. In fact, I think the timeline is the most interesting part of this story.
First, the general design of a pro computer that can handle high thermal requirements and regular updates is a solved problem: there's a reason the entire industry, including Apple until 2013, used the tower design for desktops. I'm pretty positive that Mac Pro users would be thrilled with exactly that.
To that end, that Apple says it needs until next year at best is a reminder of the power — and curse — of culture. Mac Pros are differentiated by the fact they run OS X, not by the cleverness of their physical design, but Apple simply can't help themselves. Obsessing over details and reinventing everything is so core to what makes Apple Apple that, even after its first attempt at said reinvention cost the company an estimated hundreds of millions of dollars and priceless amounts of goodwill, the company can't bring itself to simply ship a damn tower. It's almost endearing.
Second, 2018 is nine months from now. That may not seem like much, but Apple can move fast: back in February, 2001, Jon Rubinstein was visiting Toshiba, who had just invented a 1.8" hard drive that they didn't know what to do with. Steve Jobs, meanwhile, had just shifted the company's entire strategy from a focus on video to a hub-and-spoke strategy with music as its focus, and Rubinstein realized that Toshiba's hard drive could be the key technology in a portable music player.
Just under nine months later, on October 23, 2001, Steve Jobs unveiled the iPod. Apple had conceived of, designed, manufactured, and shipped the device that would transform the entire company in less time than today's Apple can deign to put its own spin on a solved problem. Being big and successful is harder than it looks.
The emphasis above is mine. I hope somebody at Apple has printed that out on 10 foot paper and stuck it on the wall of the Mac Pro design lab!!