Audio Streaming with Firefly Media Server

Our Language Lab currently serves up its foreign music collection via an iTunes server that is built in to our Infrant ReadyNAS 1100. The NAS itself is a great piece of hardware, especially for the price, and allows us to archive media, student projects from iMovie and Garageband, and store backup images of our application servers. So far the only issues we’ve had have been so-so AFP performance, and some spotty issues with Samba transfers. These seem to have been cured with a memory upgrade to 1 Gb from the standard 512 Mb.

The biggest disappointment with the iTunes server, however, has been its less than full-featured nature. Specifically its inability to create playlists. With large collections of Spanish and French music students are a bit annoyed to have to sift to get what they’re looking for. Because of this, and probably for other reasons as well, Infrant has decided to ditch the iTunes server for a Firefly Media Server when it rolls out its next firmware update (speculated as sometime in August).

Being the impatient perfectionist that I can be at times, I decided to build a test Firefly server on my laptop at home. The setup couldn’t be simpler, really, and on Linux that is saying a lot. All one need do is install Ubuntu on a box with fairly large disk space (for the media) and then install the mt-dappd package through the Package Manager. Then point a browser to the right port on localhost and configure the media server’s directories and behaviors. Voila! You have a full-featured music server capable of streaming all popular formats, including Ogg and Flak, converting them on the fly for iTunes clients. You can create smart playlists that update automatically using certain criteria, or create an m3u playlist for specific files. I havn’t gotten an m3u to work yet, but I suspect it is because the program I exported the playlist from did not use a relative directory structure.

One could easily throw a large hard drive in an unused PC with decent specs, install the server, and breathlessly serve up audio to anyone on the local network. I need to wait a week to see how the server performs under a substantial load, but I don’t anticipate much of a problem. The thing is VERY zippy even on my older, bottom of the barrel, HP laptop. Streaming lossless Flak files to my Powerbook G4 (which requires on-the-fly transcoding as iTunes does not support Flak) was just as fast as if I had loaded a song from the local drive. Very cool.

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