Amahi's Open Source Home Server Software Goes Mobile

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Following a recent trend in network attached storage (NAS), Amahi, the open source home server software based on Linux, has added remote network access using its new mobile app for iOS and a forthcoming Android app.

The apps are the latest evolution in Amahi's open source business model as the company grapples with how to scale up. Users will pay a subscription fee for streaming from their home server remotely over the internet – to, say, watch movies from outside their home network – via the free app.

“It's a secure and easy way for users to access their files wherever they are... no VPN needed,” said Amahi Founder Carlos Puchol. “Amahi screenshotAnd the code our service is based on is all open source.”

Amahi has a web-based dashboard for managing SAMBA settings, hard disk space, sharing, passwords, etc., as well as their installed apps. The Amahi store offers hundreds of open source apps – most are free – including ownCloud, Joomla, Amahi DLNA server and OpenVPN.

Evolving the Business Model

Amahi got its start 8 years ago as a script for managing Puchol's own home server. At the time, Puchol was a developer working on AMD64 – the 64-bit kernel for x86 code – and Amahi was the side project he occasionally shared with his friends. The “home digital assistant” software has since grown into a business that boasts a community of 85,000 users.

The latest distribution, based on Fedora 19, is free to download and installs on practically any piece of hardware – from an old PC to ARM-based devices – to create a home cloud server for storing photos, streaming music and movies, and sharing files.

In the early days, the company thought it could partner with a hardware vendor to sell a pre-installed setup but discussions with potential partners took too long, Puchol said. So they turned to packaging open source applications for easy install from Amahi's substantial app store.

“We follow the app install instructions, configure DNS, databases, etc., package that whole thing into a one-click install and we charge people a fee for that convenience,” Puchol said. “What we do is very much in line with what the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) preaches; if people are willing to pay for services around open source, as long as you don't restrict their freedom, you're welcome to provide value.”

Amahi wants to share that revenue with app owners who put their apps in the Amahi store. And while they currently offer a Dropbox-style cloud storage service for back-ups, there may be room to expand in the cloud, Puchol said. Revisiting the hardware vendor model, with the goal to reach users beyond the Linux community in the broader public, is also an option, “similar to what Android is doing but on a smaller scale,” he said.

Security-minded Users

Despite the rise of cloud storage services, NAS has stayed a popular option, especially among more tech-savvy users and those who just want to have more control over their own data. And Puchol anticipates demand to remain strong as the number of network-attached devices in the home continues to climb. It's not practical for all that data, from dozens of devices, to be backed up in the cloud given bandwidth restraints and hosting costs, he reasons.

In the range of NAS options, Amahi offers more of a do-it-yourself approach compared with devices by Netgear, Qnap, and Synology, for example. But instead of targeting the small-to-medium business set as these dedicated hardware vendors do, Amahi is aimed at the techie with limited time, or the casual home user with limited system administration skills. Amahi installs like any Linux distro and can be accessed and managed over the web through a simple dashboard interface.

Amahi's users fall somewhere in between cloud evangelists who believe all data will eventually live in the cloud (and therefore don't need a home server) and skeptics who don't want any of their data online, Puchol said. Users also tend to be more security-conscious, he said, and the community has grown significantly since the NSA surveillance leaks, even though the Amahi server alone is not a security-hardened device.

“We strongly suggest having it behind a hardware firewall or router,” Puchol said. “A lot of people are looking for that all-in-one machine, but we encourage having it separated.

“Amahi isn't targeted specifically toward super security minded people,” he said. “We're trying to strike a balance between being in a trusted environment, which is your network, or on the cloud, making it somewhat safe and secure from the outside.”

For more, see our previous coverage of Linux NAS devices.