Apple ‘iServe’ home server for the masses?

“Consumers are increasingly investing in three forms of digital content (content that lives primarily on hard drives):1) commercial content, such as music, TV shows, and now movies; 2) personal content, such as photos and home video; and 3) hybrid content, commercial or public content that consumers have recorded or downloaded, such as TV shows saved on personal video recording (PVR) devices like Tivo and content downloaded from Internet sites like Google Video,” Tom Rowley writes for New Rowley Group.

Rowley writes, “For consumers embracing commercial, personal, and hybrid content, two challenges are rapidly emerging:”

• Massive storage needs. For some content, such as music, each song file is relatively small (perhaps 3 or 4 megabtes (MBs)), but a collection can take up many gigabytes (GBs) of storage. For other content, such as movies, files can each be multiple gigabytes (e.g., the file for the movie Pirates of the Caribbean from Apple Computer’s iTunes Store (iTS) is 1.6 GB; a recent episode of the TV show Battlestar Galactica from iTS is over 480 MBs; the movie Superman Returns from’s Unbox download store in “DVD quality” is 2.9 GBs). And as high-definition content becomes the norm, the file sizes will only increase.

• The use, management, and distribution of content. Many households have multiples PCs (we use the term PC to mean a computer running Windows, Mac OS, Linux, or any other user operating system), and many consumers also bring home notebooks and other portable computers supplied by their employer. Each of these devices may be purchasing and storing digital content, and many of the downloaded files are locked down by various digital rights management (DRM) technologies, such as Apple’s FairPlay, that set the rules for how the content can be used and distributed. Added to the mix is the the growing personal content, such as multi-gigabyte photo databases and video repositories. In households with adults and kids, these issues will become critical very quickly.

Rowley writes, “Two companies are likely to lead the home server charge: Apple and Microsoft. However, since Apple dominates the digital download market for audio today, and since they have direct control over their PC and server hardware products, we will focus on what it could deliver. Also, Apple is continually looking to innovate with its consumers offerings, and the idea of an “iServ” media server seems very reasonable given the company’s history.”

Rowley explains, “The server would be built around these concepts:”

• User upgradeable storage. The iServ would offer bays of hot swappable hard drives, perhaps up to 1.5 terabytes in a three-drive configuration. The large storage would provide a central repository for content as well as enable household backup of data on various other Mac, PCs, and digital devices. The iServ could ship with a single 250 GB drive; consumers would got to the Apple Store or order additional drives online.

• Automatic syncing of household digital content. Any device on the network that buys a song, TV show, or movie from the iTS will inform the server of its purchase; a specialized iTunes iServ app will make a copy of all content purchased on authorized household systems. This copy will serve as both an archive, as well as a source for streaming or copying the file to other authorized devices.

• Streaming access to content. Besides enabling simple backup and transfers, iServ would be hard wired or use wireless connections to directly stream content to other computers or the forthcoming ITV set-top box. For example, when a mom purchases a copy of the Office on her laptop, the device will notify and transfer a copy of the file to the iTunes server app on the iServ. Without any extra effort, the family can then access the show from the FrontRow interface on the ITV box.

• Remote management of the iServ. The home server could be used in a headless fashion — controlled by a remote Mac — or with a local monitor. The iServ Remote software would enable the household administrator to set policies on content access, such as restricting streams or transfers of explicit content. From this remote console, a consumer could authorize and deauthorize household devices and otherwise manage FairPlay digital rights management issues.

• Additional household software. Just as Apple offers complementary — but secondary — applications for its iPods, such as games, the iServ could offer its own complementary software, such as a server-based family calendaring solution. In addition, an iPhoto server app could archive, backup, and enable local distribution of family photos.

Full article with much more here.


  1. I initially didn’t think much of this idea, thinking that home users don’t really need servers – they just need more space. I think, though, that we are now finding more homes with multiple computers, so it would be nice to have a home server to store songs and commercial movies, as well as a place to create and store home movies, songs and other things. Further, the home server could have a centralized Address Book and other shared libraries. Might not be a bad idea. If someone is going to do it right, it’s going to be Apple.

  2. There needs to be 2 models. Home media server, as described, and home media plus network server with full DHCP, web, file, print, firewall, internet gateway support. just throw on OSX server with the media functions this guy talks about and we have a contender.

    I would even say let them sell it as a stand alone OS so i can install it on my “aging” power mac G5 so i can use that as the server and buy a new unannounced Mac mini Pro (imac without the LCD)

    Thats my nickel….

  3. This very same product also would be very attractive to SOHO (Small Office/Home Office) businesses as well. Small, 1-or 2-person companies may not yet be able to afford an Apple Xserve, and this product could serve as entry point into Apple server technology for that market.

    Home-based businesses would jump on this, especially if it could be designed to offer some sort of upgrade path or interoperability with Xserve…Small companies like to grow into big expenditures…

  4. I would love something like this if done right. I have external hard-drives connected to my macs and am using the space up, I want to be able to access that content from other macs not directly connected to them and the current set-up is beginning to get complicated. Some sort of server with a central iTunes library of some sort, iTV streaming and so on and so forth would take away a lot of hassle.

  5. This proposal is close to the “missing mac” I’ve been waiting for – a headless, expandable Mac to fill the gap between the Mini and the Mac Pro. The sketch vaguely resembles the Shuttle, which I’ve also suggested as one of two viable form factors (the other being a 1U “pizza box” suitable for an A/V shelf). What he adds is the “server” functionality. One would expect a media center to include some mechanism to *receive* media (e.g. high-def broadcasts) and to record them. He mentions neither.

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