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.

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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  https://my.pogoplug.com 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 – http://www.tonido.com/
  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 – http://www.tonidoplug.com/
  3. Pogoplug – http://www.pogoplug.com/home-en.html?
  4. Seagate Dockstar – http://www.seagate.com/www/en-us/products/network_storage/freeagent_dockstar/
  5. Comparison of hardware specs http://plugapps.com/index.php5?title=Portal:Hardware

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.

British Library Sound Map – Sheffield

The British Library has a project just started where the general public can record short soundscapes to be kept and archived for posterity. The pilot phase is happening right in the gorgeous city of Sheffield.

There was an article about it on BBC Radio 4’s World Tonight yesterday (listen via iPlayer from 39min42sec to 44mins) plus an article in the Sheffield Telegraph.

I spent my lunchtime recording some soundscapes in town, geo tagging and uploading them. By the time I got back to my desk they had already made it onto the British Library Sound Map.

Here’s my tweet about it. Follow the #uksm on Twitter.

Application of this concept has some great potential for education. It also shows what a multi-tool the smart phone has become.

So if you want to be a little part of history, get recording sounds to Audioboo. More details are on my previous blog post about Audioboo.

Audioboo – podcasting has never been so easy

Here’s the history part: I started creating podcasts over half a decade ago. I created and ran courses about podcasting when no one else was interested. I even ran them locally for the community in conjunction with the local BBC centre. Initially it was reasonably technical to create podcasts. There was all the teaching of how to use Audacity, uploading the files somewhere, and to make an enhanced podcast you had to turn to a Mac and use three line-code programmes (pre-Garageband I’m talking here).

More recently running parallel to this we’ve seen the ever simplification of video production and upload, particularly to YouTube via Flip cameras, etc. I remember a couple of years ago working with Qik on a smart phone when it was in private alpha testing and then with Flixwagon as well with the idea of creating and streaming video from a mobile to such a site and then automatically squirting it out to YouTube and creating a vblog or video podcast. (I might revisit this idea with different hardware.) But there are still some things were video isn’t really necessary. If I just want to make some notes or regular comments to myself and/or others then my ‘talking head’ is surplus to requirements and just eats up bandwidth unnecessarily.

Well I’ve just found the easiest of podcasting solution and it’s Audioboo. This is an audio recording site that enables you to create high quality audio recordings direct from an iPhone or Android phone via some apps, or you can use the website if you don’t have one of those phone times, and before it’s rolled out to other phones.

There’s an editor built into the site, so you can cut out the bad bits from your recordings. Use the embed code to stick your ‘boos’ into a blog or elsewhere. However, it goes on from there, because it makes it easy to syndicate your feed via iTunes or via the ‘RSS’ (Atom) feed. And there’s more, there is also a social element to Audioboo where you follow and have followers – Twitter stylee. You can also link in with your Twitter account.

Here’s the 2min vid:

The British Library are using public uploads to Audioboo to create a soundscape map of the UK; simply tag your uploads uksm for possible inclusion.

I’ve set up an account that I’m going to use as an impromptu, quick and convenient podcasting platform for notes on new tech for education. Check me out at Minimarkuos.

Apps Inventor

Back in March I wrote about PhoneGap the JavaScript programming app which could be used to create Android and iPhone Apps. Well earlier this month on the Google Blog was a post about App Inventor;

a new tool in Google Labs that makes it easy for anyone—programmers and non-programmers, professionals and students—to create mobile applications for Android-powered devices.

Importantly, it’s now available for anyone to use, after a year of testing.

Here’s the vid:

Multiphysics simulation – Physics engine

I’ve seen a fair bit of discussion relating to the Lagoa Technology Inc.’s video since it was posted three days ago, mostly relating to how we are going to see advances in gaming technology as a result. But it occurs to me that the potential of such a high definition physics engine for teaching principles of Physics or modelling in a Physics, Material Sciences or Engineering research environment is substantial.

You can see the action of granular material, deformation of structures, elasticity, and more. Anyway, take a look at the video:

The programmer, Thiago Costa, is obviously very talented. He also created this smoke simulation.