What Do We Want in an Apple Home Server?

One of the primary "projects" for AAAD is a home server. My iMac is currently tasked with storing and serving up all of my media, and I'm not exactly sure why.... it's just how Apple does things.

So I've been shopping for a Synology Diskstation home server - as I recently posted, the newest Synology software can run Plex, an iTunes Server, and can stream media via AirPlay. That's really what I'm hoping for.

But why doesn't APPLE make a home server?

First off, apologies for the slow updates of late. I took a new job as a "computer lawyer" for a big corporation, and the commute to and from work is taking up a lot of my free time.  (But more to the point, I very much want to be sure that I'm staying within the bounds of my company's social media policy, so I've been reading up on that. We're in the clear.)

I'm a computer lawyer first, and an AAAD writer second, of course. Computer lawyering pays the mortgage. 

That said, I'm starting to get a better grasp on my schedule, so I should be able to re-focus on our home projects... and get back to a post a day at AAAD. 

TODAY - more thoughts on the rumored* Apple home server. 

*Rumor exclusive to AAAD! There's no evidence of any home server hardware in the pipeline, and no one else, as far as I can tell, has discussed or cares about this!

Why a Home Server?

Obviously, that's the first question. The current "typical" Apple network involves a lot of music and photos, stored on a local Mac, often backed up to (and accessible via) iCloud. 

The various iDevices throughout the house (i.e., iPad, iPhones, AppleTV, Airport Express-enabled music streamers) access the media that's stored on the iMac, and output it to whatever screens or speakers they're attached to. 

Sure, it "just works". 

But it leaves some questions unanswered. First, obviously - why is my Mac pulling double-duty as a NAS/media storage device? 

My iMac is great. I love it. But I don't understand why it should necessarily be housing my media. It's not a NAS. It's my primary home PC. It's where I check email, and where I draft documents.

Why should 60% of its hard drive be dedicated to my media libraries? Why should I need to have iTunes running constantly on the iMac in order to access my music library on AppleTV? Why does the iMac need to be involved at all?

Sure, the iMac is a device used to access and consume content. It's not great for content consumption - I can't think of the last time I ever watched a TV show or a movie on my iMac, for instance.

It's not as good as the iPad for accessing content, either - it's a keyboard and mouse device, and it's all the way over in the home office. I can find anything I want on the iPad, no matter where I am.

But basically, the iMac is just another iDevice that (very) occasionally accesses and displays my media. It should have access to the full library. It shouldn't have to STORE it.

That should be the job of an Apple Home Server.

Maybe it would be called the "iCloud Home Server", or "iServer", or something like that. For now, we'll go with "Apple Home Server".

What Would an Apple Home Server Do?

Here's what I want from my Apple Home Server:

1. Centralize My Media Libraries.

The status quo - basically everyone's status quo - is that one particular iDevice on our network, the iMac, is tasked with storing all the content. And for the most part, our media is on the iMac.

But there's SOME media scattered everywhere. There are photos on our iPhone and iPad, that don't get to the iMac unless I do a tethered backup. There are DVDs and CDs in the media cabinet. And if you have 2 Macs, look out.

As an eDiscovery attorney, the idea of redundant, duplicative data gives me a sinking feeling. I want a home server to store EVERYTHING, in one place. I want this machine to be the universal answer to "where is X stored?"

(And while I'm at it - this device should handle all calendaring for all iDevices in my network. And it should host my blog.)

2. Wirelessly Back Up All Devices.

I currently use a Time Capsule (which I upgraded from 500GB to 1TB) to back up my iMac. It gets the job done for disaster recovery, but it's not designed to work as a server.

I don't use the Time Capsule as my wireless router anymore - the new AirPort Extremes are better at that. So it's sole job is to constantly back up the iMac. Which it does, and well.

My ideal Apple Home Server would make the Time Capsule completely irrelevant - it would constantly back up my iMac via Time Machine, to multiple redundant disks.

And then, it would go a step further, and back up everything else, directly. My iPhones and iPad wouldn't need to sync with the iMac - the server would back them up, consistently, in the background, overnight.

And then, for an additional level of security (and for a fee), the backups could be stored to iCloud on a less-frequent basis for disaster recovery. Now THAT is a differentiator. Customers understand that sort of data security.

3. Stream Everything via AirPlay. 

This is the big one. When my AirPlay network is doing what it's supposed to, it's seriously impressive. I can access my entire music library, queue up songs, and play them through the stereo.

Of course, we're relying on the iMac being on, and running iTunes, for any functionality whatsoever. That needs to change.

An Apple Home Server could make iTunes content (and ideally, other content) available to every iDevice on the network, and stream it via AirPlay.

Heck, if it had a Fusion Drive to load up frequently-accessed content, Apple could devise a way to make it fast.

4. Make it Easy to Use Multiple Macs

At the moment, you have to have a "primary" or "central" Mac on your network (holding all of your content), and any other Macs are secondary. As I wrote above - if the main Mac is off, your iTunes content is unavailable.

An Apple Home Server would free us from the mindset that the iMac is central to the AirPlay experience - and help us see the Mac for what it is: an incredibly useful and specialized device on our networks.

Your content would always be available, on any of your Macs or iOS devices, because it would be coming from the single, central iTunes library on the server.

What Would Be The Drawbacks?

An Apple Home Server would be a niche product at the outset, but the value proposition is obviously. And as soon as a potential customer saw it in action at a friends' house, they'd immediately want one.

However, for all of the advantages of a first-party Apple Home Server, you KNOW there would be some drawbacks to Apple selling a first-party server device:

1. Cost

If it's going to have an Apple on the side, it will cost a little more. (I'd pay it, and I think that the last 10 years demonstrate that people are willing to pay extra for that brand.)

2. Walled Garden

I really, really want to rip my DVDs to a single server and have them available via AirPlay. It shouldn't be that difficult. Obviously, content providers make it difficult to go all-digital with video content.

And there's no way an Apple Home Server would make it simple to rip DVDs. They'd be inviting a fight with the content makers, and they'd cannibalize iTunes sales.

3. Upgradeability

This entire post assumes that the rumored* Apple Home Server would be easy to open, to replace hard drives. That's kind of the entire point, really.

If Apple sold a Time Capsule-style device, which couldn't be opened without specialized tools and a hair dryer, it would seriously detract from the utility of any Apple Home Server.

Bottom Line

This product isn't happening anytime soon. I'm pretty sure that Apple has considered the idea of an Apple Home Server - I mean, MicroSoft did. 

So for now, we're going to have to make do with third-party solutions. And I'll keep everyone updated on how well the Synology system works (as soon as I get one). 

But Apple should reconsider the idea of a home server, with iCloud branding. With their marketing clout and design panache, an "iCloud Home" could be a major hit. 

And we all know Apple could use one of those. 


  1. I understand that you want something you can rip to pieces, but why haven't you considered the Mac Mini Server? Sounds like almost exactly what you are after.

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