Serving up lessons for the home

There are some common elements in how IT professionals and home users deal with backup: the need for backups to happen automatically and quietly, and to be easily and quickly restored when the proverbial hits the fan.

There are some common elements in how IT professionals and home users deal with backup: the need for backups to happen automatically and quietly, and to be easily and quickly restored when the proverbial hits the fan.

The biggest difference is that the professionals know they need to do it, while a large proportion of the general public remains clueless. I was reminded of this when doing some further research on the home backup market, partly with the aim of self-defence.

My recent discussions of how Apple's Time Capsule might work in an enterprise environment stirred up a lot of negative comment from readers, given that the product hasn't been explicitly pitched at business buyers.

A similar concept (no-brains backup of all your home PCs) powers Microsoft's Windows Home Server, again a product that's definitely designed for home users, but which is likely to impinge on corporate needs if it takes off.

That could be a big "if". Windows Home Server has suffered a somewhat difficult conception. It was announced at CES in early 2007, but a series of delays effectively meant it was 2008 before any product was on the market. It's a customised version of Windows Server 2003 designed for use by hardware OEMs, who can flog their own media and backup servers based on the technology -- HP being the most prominent player at present.

While it's a little bit early to tell whether Windows Home Server (or Time Capsule, for that matter) will be a roaring success, some observers suspect it will take a while to stick.

In a recent report, Forrester Research analyst JP Gownder argued that while there's a manifest requirement for home server solutions, most people are (in effect) too stupid to realise it.

"While the need for home servers is clear, articulating their value proposition to most consumers will be very difficult," Gownder wrote. (Gownder also noted that such systems could be of great value to smaller home-based businesses, just in case anyone wants to throw another "not the relevant market" bomb.)

A fundamental problem is that consumers are cheap. "Technology marketers face a difficult test in clarifying the nature and function of the product and justifying why consumers should pay reasonably large sums of money -- on the order of AU$300 to AU$750 -- to acquire one," Gownder wrote.

Other issues include confusion over the server label and the difficulties associated with making a monitor-free PC look like a good buy in a retail environment.

Forrester argues that eventually, half of all households will have a home server but that won't happen until 2020. That's good news, eventually, but means a lot of data is likely to go missing in the meantime.