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HP, MS Aim to Tidy Up Digital Clutter With New Home Server

Microsoft and HP announced the availability of the HP MediaSmart Server running Windows Home Server. The new class of server enables consumers to protect, connect and share digital media and documents.

Aimed at consumers, the MediaSmart Server (MSS) is the flagship product in what Microsoft said is an entirely new category of consumer products.

“Digital devices and content are everywhere in our day-to-day lives, and they are important all the time,” said Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft. “With the launch of Windows Home Server, Microsoft and its partners are creating a new consumer product category that will help people keep their digital media safe and make it easier for them to enjoy it with friends and family.”

The HP MediaSmart Server will begin shipping later this month. The 500 GB version is priced at US$599. For consumers with greater storage needs, there is also a 1 TB model for $749.

Are You Being Served?

Designed principally for homes with several personal computers, the MediaSmart Server provides consumers with powerful sever technology similar to that found in the workplace. It will automatically back up Windows XP-based and Vista-based PCs each night and provides a central place to organize digital documents and media. The MSS also includes a Windows Live Internet address to access the server from just about anywhere and share content with friends and family.

In addition, the server monitors the health and security status of networked PCs and can stream media to other devices throughout the home. By streaming to the Xbox 360, for example, users can to listen to music, look at photos or watch videos on their television.

“The product will appeal mostly to people with three or more PCs who also tend to have a lot of digital media (photos, videos, music, TV shows) that they want to back up or share,” Steve Kleynhans, a Gartner analyst, told TechNewsWorld.

Unlike enterprise-class servers, however, the MSS is basically a computer with a lot of storage and a processor that is a little smaller than those found on business servers, said Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates.

“It’s got this special job, so it is kind of a special service PC, and then the interface has been created to hide most of the complexity of the PC from you. All you see are a few simple buttons you hit to do tasks that are pretty clear. It’s sort of built on top of a PC architecture,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Back It Up

The benefit of having a central storage location for digital memories will appeal to consumers with a bit of technological savvy under their belts, Kleynhans noted.

“Central storage for your digital memories with a pretty solid backup facility coupled with remote access and ongoing expandability [are the benefits for consumers]. It’s not going to appeal to everyone, but more technically centric users will find the combination attractive,” he said.

“You have to have at least two copies of everything. If something hits a snag, you’ve just lost everything, and the chances of that happening in two places at once are pretty rare. If you lost either your computer or this centralized storage repository you could replace one or the other of them before you lost your data,” Kay echoed. “And since the data is more important than any hardware, you’d better have at least two copies.”

Microsoft Inside

Billed as a “stay-at-home” server, the MSS is powered by Windows Home Server (WHS) platform. Formerly known as Quattro, Microsoft introduced the new software in January at the Consumer Electronics Show held in Las Vegas. Since Quattro’s unveiling, Microsoft released a software development kit to allow third-party developers to create applications that will work in conjunction with WHS.

So far, some 35 third-party vendors have built WHS add-ons, including software for personal Web sites and blogging, media streaming, online backup and storage, home security and home automation, as well as software to detect viruses and malware.

Microsoft has done a “pretty good job” developing server software that is easy to setup and operate, according to Kleynhans.

“[They] did a good job balancing capabilities with ease of use. There are a still some rough edges, and it will undoubtedly get better over time, but it’s a pretty reasonable first version,” he stated.

Home Server Invasion

HP is just one of several leading manufacturers releasing hardware running WHS products. The Iomega HomeCenter Server will be available in early 2008. Also hitting stores shelves early next year is the Lifeware Lifestorage server that offers enterprise class capabilities to consumers.

Europeans can look for the MaxData Belinea o.center, an energy-efficient solution with advanced management and media functions as well as the Fujitsu Siemens Scaleo Home Server 1900, with 1TB capacity, gigabit Ethernet and advanced power management features, by the end of the year.

For those who cannot wait, there is the Tranquil PC T7-HAS Harmony Home Server. It is a small, quiet, energy-efficient solution available at 500 GB and 1 TB. The Velocity Micro Net Magix HomeServer is also small and can be situated horizontally or vertically. It starts at 1 TB of storage.

With several devices already on the market and more to come, Kleynhans thinks this new product category is headed for success.

“The real key to success will be getting users to look past the name. Calling it a ‘server’ automatically raises red flags for many less sophisticated users who immediately associate that term with complexity and the need for IT skills,” Kleynhans explained.

“If they can get users to look beyond that and see the intelligence and automation that has been wrapped into the package, the product family should find a receptive audience — at least with the more technically centered users. Basic external drives and even network attached storage devices, are good options, but don’t match the home server in terms of capabilities,” he concluded.

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