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 Amazon.com’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.

38 Comments

  1. This article has it right. I’ve been waiting for a home based server solution for a long time. The future of computers will be based around a home server — think of it as an extension of the original hub imac concept. I forsee wall-mounted displays or tablets for every room of the house, each connected wirelessly back to the home server. Maybe these could have a small amount of flash memory but basically everything would be stored on the server and accessed as needed.

  2. I don’t usually go for what the chattering rumormongers spin out, but this has merit. The concept of a “family server” for those “family licenses” of OS X fits how Apple thinks of the world — individuals, and then small clusters of folks who share things in common. It would make things simpler for the multi-Mac households and even on the geeks who have many Macs but just one keeper. I like it.

  3. Hard drive storage simply cannot keep pace with HD content. People purchase movies every week, and TV shows, etc…

    Terebytes of storage in a year or two for many consumers would be required, and hard drive technology simply won’t be able to keep pace.

    Apple understands this, and is why they have their new facility, to build out infastructure.

    Whether iTunes or .Mac, etc… Apple will provide an easy solution for you to access your conent when you wish. Yes, one can download to their own drives, etc… if they desire, but Apple will always have it available for you when that storage space quickly runs out.

    Think of the sharing abilities of iTunes and there you go.

  4. If Apple released such a product, I think the initial response would be mixed (professionals wouldn’t really go for it, while many consumers would balk at the price and maybe not see a need for it – even though they could probably use it).

    For some, an iServe would be a godsend. In particular, if they targeted the ‘prosumer’ market, I think they’d do very, very well. These group wants professional level features and products and are usually willing to play a premium for ease-of-use. What they don’t necessarily have is the technical expertise (or time) to build and maintain their own home servers. I’d classify myself as a probably iServe customer. I want a home server to handle sharing media for the four computers at home and other features like network storage. The other features mentioned would definitely be a welcome addition.

    I think the $999 price point is about right. I was pricing out a similar solution using by using some commercially available linux options (NAS products by Synology), but would prefer an Apple solution because of their track record of innovation and well designed products. Perhaps this type of product is in the pipeline as part of the ‘digital home’ strategy that seems to be emerging from Apple.

  5. I have 3 desktops and a laptop. THis is exactly the kind of thing I need. I am not savy enough to set up a server and then have to jumpt through hoops to get all the computers linked to it. Anyway, I want to be able to download pictures or music to any of my machines and access it from any of them and that requires a lot of work and passwords and stuff. If Apple would (we know they could!) offer this kind of easy user experience I believe it would sell like hotcakes!

  6. yeah – already have a an ‘Serve’ – and i call it my ‘iTV’ ‘iMedia’ – etc etc

    It is called a macmini with external drives hooked up to 32″ LCD in my home entertainment center ….

    why reinvent the wheel ?

  7. I already have an “iServ.” It’s an old Mac running Mac OS X 10.3.9. It’s a bit slow for day-to-day use these days, but it’s more than capable enough as a data server. There are third-party software programs, such as Econ’s excellent and inexpensive ChronoSync, that can be used to set up sync routines to the various PC’s in the house, when and as desired. You can use the open source VNC utilities for remote access, to make it “headless” if that feature is desired. So you can do everything explained in the article now at a fairly low cost (especially if you have an old Mac OS X cabable Mac gathering dust), but Apple could make it much more user friendly, for the “non-geeks.”

    If Apple wrote software to make it even easier, I hope it’s released for general use, not just for use with any “iServ” device

  8. running with ken1w’s idea… what would be really nice, IMO, would be an “iServe” app, bundled with certain models and available for separate purchase, that would provide easy access to a Mac set up as a media server…there could be a client app for the other Macs (and PCs?) on the network that would make uploading and managing media on the server simple and painless.

    It seems to me that a solution like this would be more likely than a dedicated iServ unit.

  9. Get a ReadyNAS NV. http://www.infrant.com/

    Then put all your media on there, and you can use the built server stuff to stream (which isn’t stable at the moment) or hook up an old Mac to it, and have it server stuff. I have one, the thing is amazing. Holds all my iTunes and movies.

    For a home server, you really need data security as well. RAID would be a step in the right direction.

  10. Sure, iServe … a half-price Pro-sumer version of an Xserve. Built-in “5-port” Work-group Router, firewall, DHCP, print-serve, mail serve, file serve, iChat serve, etc. Your basic IT department for the networked home. For those with extra data demands, the iRaid – same form factor but mostly given to drive bays.

    What form factor? How about a double-tall (triple-tall?) mini? Or, maybe 40% deeper than the mini? That would offer three or four times the storage of the mini plus all sorts of connectivity pluses. The iRaid would offer as much more space with the added safety of it being a RAID box (RAID often requires extra disks that are not counted in the storage total).

    We have network storage here – our NetCenter disk – and the router with firewall and DHCP – LinkSys – but it would be nice to have it in a single box more easily maintained and updated.

    DLMeyer – the Voice of G.L.Horton’s Stage Page

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