Information in the Personal Cloud (Part 4)

Continuing on in this series of posts, I’ve now been considering the option of securely sharing content from any of your computers to any other. In addition you can share content to other people. This gets away from the idea of mounting the content on additional NAS; though you might want to use the two approaches in conjunction.

For this I’ve been looking at GBridge (PC only). GBridge uses GTalk, so you must have signed up for a Google Account. With GBridge you can access all your own computers using ‘SecureShare’. You can also use this to share with friends or colleagues. You can use the ‘AutoSync’ function to transfer large files and synchronize folders; ‘EasyBackup’ to auto backup important folders. In addition you can use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to allow you to access your desktop remotely or, when given consent and both using GBridge, access someone elses desktop (perhaps to remotely resolve a problem).

Importantly GBridge has Google Apps support, so it can be installed as an additional App to a Google Apps setup and all your users instantly have a free VPN and access to all this additional functionality. For a university some of this functionality might be being provided using other, expensive software. In this setting, GBridge could allow for easier on and off campus working, greater collaborative working, easier (and cheaper) remote help, and secure ‘video chat’ functionality.

See GBridge in action thanks to this Britec09 YouTube video:

Information in the Personal Cloud (Part 3)

Following on from Part 2 which looked at the consumer plug computing server solutions for your personal cloud. In this post I’m looking at another solution to NAS (Network Attached Storage), the HDD enclosures specifically designed for this task. As I was researching this topic there was one particular producer who consistently received positive reviews and that was Synology. I think that they have put a great deal of effort into the user experience; consequently they have received numerous awards. With their DiskStation products they not only focus on the enterprise solution side of things but they provide consumer focused products as well; though not quite as functionally right as their enterprise products they are cheaper and still (very much) stacks up favourably against the competition.

The two Diskstations that I’m interested in are the Synology DS110j – single disk enclosure  currently retailing at ~ £113, and the Synology DS210j – double disk enclosure (RAID) backup ~ £152.50. Stick a SATA disk or two into these beauties and you’re set up.

(If you’re not familiar with RAID what it does is automatically backs up data between two or more disk drives so that there is redundancy between the two disks; one disk fails and all your data is retained on the other disk(s). Swap the failed disk out for another disk and the whole process begins again.)

I really am drawn generically to this concept as a solution, and to these Synology products in particular. This video might just highlight a little more:

  Vodpod videos no longer available.

Information in the Personal Cloud (Part 2)

There are a number of plug computing devices on the market, some specifically do this kind of function commercially. These small form factor devices are Linux server computers running on ARM processor architecture, and consequently only draw between 4W and 13W of power. They have an Ethernet socket and from 1 to 4 USB sockets. Once you couple an external USB HDD and plug into an Ethernet socket you have a Network-attached storage (NAS). This can then provide secure cloud backup, remote access and collaboration services, and allow sharing and synchronize of files on your local network.

The options include:

  • Pogoplug v2 Pink
  • Tonido Plug
  • Seagate Dockstar (based on Pogoplug software)
  • Iomega iConnect WDS
  • CTERA CloudPlug

I’ve gone out and got a Pogoplug v2 cos it was the easiest and cheapest route for me at the time. I coupled a Western Digital 1TB HDD to it and plugged it into an ethernet socket. The setup was relatively straight forward, and didn’t take very long at all.

There are three options for access with the Pogoplug:

  1. Web access via the security login
  2. Download a small desktop client for Windows, Mac OS or Linux
  3. Install a mobile app for iPhone, Android, Blackberry or Palm.

You can manage, access, upload and download content from anywhere. You can view your images, even as a slideshow, and stream video (you need to have the videos transcoded first or you’ll only see the first 10 sec by default).

Here’s a video of me streaming a video from the external HDD via Pogoplug simultaneously to a laptop and an Android mobile:

You can backup and synch folder.

You can share your content with other people by allowing access to specific folders and inviting them using the email invite option. Alternatively you can open the content of a folder completely and have a URL allocated. From your logged in access side it might look something like:

Setting up sharing folder on Pogoplug Then from the open web side using the supplied URL you’d see:

Open web side view of folder via Pogoplug(This folder isn’t open any longer, so the URL doesn’t work.)

By default security isn’t set, but you can optionally enable SSL, though this will slow down access.

I must admit that for about the first three days following setup I did experience some difficulties. Uploading files wasn’t working successfully; they would hang or bomb out. I resorted to plugging the HDD directly into my PCs to transfer files across. Then accessing these files was a little slow via the Pogoplug interface. However, following this initial period, things have gone much more smoothly.

Interestingly, the Seagate Dockstar also uses the Pogoplug service.

If you have any worries about the longevity of Pogoplug, they have said that if the company does dissolve then the code will be made available via SourceForge so you’d be able to continue using your Pogoplug.

I think the Tonido Plug runs all open source so that might be an area to consider further.

I intent to write another part in this Personal Cloud series of posts soon.

Additional information:

  1. Tonido – Run your own personal cloud –
  2. Tonidoplug – TonidoPlug is a tiny, low-power, low-cost personal home server and NAS device powered by Tonido software that allows you to access your files, music and media from anywhere for just $99 –
  3. Pogoplug –
  4. Seagate Dockstar –
  5. Comparison of hardware specs

Web 3.0 on Vimeo

Very interesting Vimeo hosted video about the future of the web; what we need to do and where it needs to go. I really understood this one.

Content isn’t king after all; context is.

We need to capture the meaning and relationship of data. And current searches aren’t efficient and they don’t scale up. At the moment when you do a search you have to do most of the work. You have to consider the criteria. If the search returns results you weren’t wanting, you have to redefine your parameters. Tim Berners-Lee says,

That’s not a search. You’re parachuting in and crossing your fingers hoping to land on something interesting.

Tim Berners-Lee

With all the information that’s out there, if it isn’t indexed in an accessible form it might as well not be out there.

Chris Dixon, CEO

Before long every item will have a page on the web. Right now every tweet is a page on the web. How do you filter?

Anyway, watch Kate Ray’s video:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Information in the Personal Cloud (Part 1)

I’ve been considering the area of information storage for a while now. As we go about our ordinary lives (both personal and work lives) we accumulate lots and lots of files; photos, videos, documents, etc. There are plenty of online cloud solutions available that could be used to store these: photo hosting sites, video hosting sites, or just plain file storage solutions. I have a track record of producing and hosting content directly online; and being willing to combine multiple different free services, keeping track of them all. However, whilst investigating some of the more comprehensive functions of such services, I was surprised at the rapid ramping up of costs beyond the initial level. To some extent it is the ease of access and backup facilities that you’d be paying for, but these costs would soon mount up. I wondered whether the majority of people I’m looking at solutions for would be willing to go down this paid for route, even though I am seeing an increasing number of them becoming mindful of backup, loss, retrieval and sharing of data and information.

So are there any other possible solutions? It occurred to me that if I was starting out to provide a file store solution now, would I come up with what I’ve been using previously? Well possibly not. So when I’m considering the topic  I need to think radically with a clean sheet of paper what would be the combined ‘best’ and ‘cheapest’ solution available.

It appears from a quick ‘straw-poll’ of a broad cross-section colleagues that their requirements seem to include:

  • easy access from work and home (and probably anywhere else)
  • large enough disk space for their needs & this can be quite large
  • ability to share files
  • 2-way file synching
  • ‘Dropbox’ type functionality
  • store a range of different file types
  • fast access
  • easy to use
  • potentially stream media files

There seems to be a big use of internal HDD for storing work, external HDD for backing up, pen drives for transporting and sharing work (particularly presentations), and services like ‘Dropbox’ for multi-location access and sharing files. There is less use of centrally provided file storage for a number of reasons. Also there’s a need to reduce the CO2 impact of services. Can this be built into the solution?

It’s true that some of the online file drop/store/share services fulfil some of these requirements and could well meet the needs of several people. However, from my perspective, there are limitations.  The biggest of these is the space limitation. Generally, you get a limited initial free file store of perhaps a couple of GB; equivalent to a pen drive for transferring files between work, home and other locations. After that, monthly costs quickly being to accrue with for example 50GB of space costing of the order of $10/month and 100GB costing say $20/month. Even that seems to be a limited amount of space for my needs.

If there was a more de-centralized model with individuals taking more control and responsibility, would it lead to greater support requirements? Or could it mean putting fewer resources into maintaining standard services and innovating more elsewhere?

Well thinking along these line I’ve come up with some solutions that might do just be the answer. But this post is already too long, so I’ll leave the details until next time.

What I’m thinking about is using a plug computer server solution with a (or multiple) connected external HDD and an Ethernet connection to their home Internet connection to host their own file store (NAS – Networked Attached Storage), backup and synching service, that they can use to access content over a browser with an Internet connection from anywhere and any device. 1TB of USB external HDD storage costs about £50 currently.

This would meet many of the requirements expressed by colleagues. Of course advice has to be given about using these services, and retaining integrity of data, hard disk failure, etc.