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

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.

Link to the best, don’t recreate the same old stuff

I followed a link on a tweet today to Jeff Jarvis’ blog post and I’m so glad I did.

Sometimes you come across some work that strikes a chord with your own work or beliefs. This was one of those moments. In his TEDxNYED video Jeff talks about using the best resources that are available and simply linking to them, instead of reproducing them. It does mean reassessing what education is, what format it takes, after all if you can access some of the best lectures in the world online, for free, (as I wrote about here and here) what is the value of sitting through someone else delivering the same topic without any interaction?

I remember something I wrote in the Social Media Co-Lab forums:

Posted on: Fri, 11/14/2008 – 07:29 Following on from Free

I think we should be tapping into what others are providing without having to repackage the material into the ‘corporate identity’ of an institution. Doing so simple seems a waste of time and effort, and doesn’t necessarily reward (not financially speaking; more citing and recognition) the original author. If we are working towards a vast educational community approach to resources, I feel we should be finding (and passing on) the best examples of material already produced, and not necessarily recreating them.

For example, I was recently passed a link to a site where someone was creating screencasts of how to use various software. The individual had won an award for this site. Fair enough, what he’s created is a good resource now, all very uniform. But it doesn’t really align with my own philosophy. Why not just create a wiki linking to the best you can find of other people’s screencasts of how to use software? It may look more different and dirty but I’d say possibly it gets learners thinking about a few things: they see that not everything useful has to come from a recognised, uniform resource; they as learners can go out and find material and they need to evaluate its credibility; they themselves can produce material to share; they can be part of the bigger community (for example, by editing the wiki linking to all these resources).

Which received a response from Will Richardson (yes that Will Richardson):

Posted on: Fri, 11/14/2008 – 12:49 Rolling Your Own as Opposed to Rolling Others

(Or something like that…)

Just picking up on what Mark said above in terms of choosing between making yet another how to screencast or collecting the best of what’s out there and spending time reading and thinking rather than creating, I agree. I like the effects he cites in terms of

“they see that not everything useful has to come from a recognised, uniform resource; they as learners can go out and find material and they need to evaluate its credibility; they themselves can produce material to share; they can be part of the bigger community (for example, by editing the wiki linking to all these resources).”

Not that it totally relates here, but a while back on my blog I posted about the need to take photos of beautiful places we visit when we can gets tons of photos of those places already on Flickr with a CC license that would let us remix and reuse them. Now I know that I want pictures of my kids while they are actually snorkling in the Barrier Reef, etc. but I wonder sometimes why some have so much trouble with using what is already out there instead of re-creating it in yet another way.

It’s Friday, and I’m tired, so I hope that made some sense. Yes, we want our students to be creators and connectors, but we also don’t want them reinventing the wheel either.

Well, here’s Jeff’s video for you to watch yourself (watchout for the language).

Social Media Co-Lab was created by Howard Rheingold

6 rules for using free services

With the withdrawal of the free version of Ning being announced on their blog, I’ve witnessed some interesting responses. One colleague was rather dismayed as he was just about to use Ning for a new social community he was setting up. This simply emphasised to me the differences people have towards the philosophies underpinning current technology and innovation. For me it’s not about a service being withdrawn and then going into panic mode, but perhaps we do need something like this to remind us of modern working practices.

Here’s some comments:

  1. A service can be withdrawn anytime. It seems obvious, but many become lulled into a false sense of security.
  2. Treat such events as opportunities. When this happens it allows you to examine what you are doing, how you are working, and revise your practices. Update and improve your practice. After using Ning for a few years perhaps it’s time for a change.
  3. Always be on the lookout for alternatives. New and better services are springing up all the time. Keep experimenting.
  4. Always have a backup plan. If a particular service is vital to your activities, back up the data you hold with that service using another similar service. E.g. back up your social bookmarking by using Diigo and Delicious, store copies of your blog posts elsewhere.
  5. Don’t be too precious about you stuff. Consider if it really matters if some things are lost. I recently cleared out the garage and found a right load of rubbish I’d been clinging on to; research from nigh-on 20 years ago, I’m not actually going to miss it now it’s gone into recycling.
  6. Keep moving, things change (it’s the only sure thing), just deal with it.

It also emphasised to me the importance of the PLN. After starting a discussion about the loss of the free Ning service, there was a flurry of alternative solutions offered.

Radio package making / podcasting

I’ve found a rich seam of informative short videos from BBC Blast that can help students in secondary and higher education with media work.

This is the first of these videos, only a couple of minutes long and presented by a professional radio producer giving some tips about radio (sound) production and interviewing. The advice applies to podcasting as well. [Always think beyond the box.]

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about "Radio package part 3- howto", posted with vodpod

Howard Rheingold – credibility literacy

Yesterday I clicked on a link in one of Howard Rheingold’s (@hrheingold) tweets to his latest video in which he explains about the importance of literacy in determining the quality and credibility of information on the internet mainly accessed via searches.

He draws on some footage from a presentations he has given (which was standing room only) to illuminate some of his points. He makes an interesting distinction between skills, which are an individual attribute, and literacy, which Howard describes as skills + community as it rests in the realms of social so you can participate im the community of literates.

He presents five important literacies as:

  1. Attention
  2. Participation
  3. Co-operation
  4. Critical consumption
  5. Network awareness

All of these literacies need to co-exist.

Howard makes an interesting point about child safety, comparing concerns about online safety with the higher threats that exist offline. I think this ties in to my recent  post about OnGuard Online which really centres on talking to your children holistically about online and offline activity, and your own values. Howard emphasises the important of equipping our children with the ability to think critically, and this reduces any risk in their online activity. This ability is paramount to children being able to assess more generally the quality and accuracy of the information they encounter online, and giving them the tools to filter good information from bad, as we’ve shifted from a world of critically edited material pre-publishing to one where it is the responsibility of the consumer to critically evaluate.

There are two important questions we should continually be asking:

  1. How do I ask/phrase the question; how do I ask that search engine?
  2. How do I know what I’ve found is accurate?

Howard goes on to explain about personal ‘trust’ networks, an extension of the personal learning network in which there is a trust value added. And again this is an extension of the real life scenario, where you trust your doctor more the your mate Trev down the pub to give you health advice, but Trev knows a whole lot more about football, though his financial advice is a little dodgy too.

There’s a whole lot more in this video than I could hope to describe, so I suggest just watching it for yourself.

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