Mac Mini Server and Apple TV (2nd gen): The New SOHO?

When the new Mac Mini Servers were released many saw their potential for the small office as well as larger enterprise applications. With the services of larger more expensive servers (albeit with less redundancy) and a very small footprint they have a very flexible role. A small office can run two of them (one active and one on standby) and run their basic services such as file storage, mail and collaborative services for around $2000 and if they need more than the 1TB of internal storage the can always use a NAS or attach a RAID solution to the servers and have as much storage as they need. For most small offices who are doing mostly administrative, financial or sales functions this is enough.

Now come the computers. Desktops or laptops, they most likely cost more than $750 without the necessary software and tend to require some form of regular IT support. That is a very conservative estimate of the computer costs. What if you could replace the desktop or laptop with a smart phone that required very little support and could simply be restarted to fix most issues? Or even a tablet, such as the iPad? For most who work in offices either of those solutions would be too small and not really add to their productivity while in the office. They are great productivity extensions but are not the best backbones. There could be one inexpensive solution that would be a happy medium: the $99 Apple TV.

It is not as strange as it sounds. Although Apple TV is marketed as a media device to be added to the home theatre experience, that is by no means the limits of its potential. Built on the same core as the iPhone 4 and the iPad it has all of the hardware needed to be a great productivity tool. The HDMI port allows connection to a monitor of any size, the Bluetooth hardware can be adapted to allow keyboards and touch pads to be wirelessly connected, the network connectivity can give it access to files on a server and the USB port could allow for direct maintenance access. Assuming Apple will build some form of app support into a future update, the addition of a browser, productivity suite and any other business apps needed could be ported and sold for low cost in an app store. Like iPhones and iPads, you would have a stable platform for productivity that used very low amounts of power. Add to that a wireless keyboard and touchpad with an HDMI monitor, you have a 4″ by 4″ machine that stays cool, only has 2 wires attached to it and yet can do everything you need in an office for around $500 including the keyboard, touchpad and monitor. Without the monitor it is very portable.

So you put together a Mac Mini Server with a few Apple TV’s and you can run a small office with a very small carbon footprint that requires minimal regular IT support and costs a fraction of the normal cost of a small office setup. Throw Google Docs and other online services into the mix and you will find the Apple TV’s will perform even better with less local processor load.

Apple has treated the Apple TV as a hobby, but is it a hobby or an experiment? Following their recent success with iPhone and iPad in the enterprise environment they could be positioning themselves for a new kind of enterprise and home market penetration. For users with more demanding graphic and processing needs the Apple TV would not be suitable in the near future, but for those who can use thin-clients or netbooks in their daily work there is no reason not to consider it. I can see Google taking a similar path with its Android OS, Google online services and a small device. It will be interesting to see the way things develop in the next few years as iOS and Android evolve. It is definitely something to watch.

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