Ctera Networks has been delivering a range of cloud storage services based on Marvell Technology's power efficient Armada microcontrollers. Ctera has a pair of NAS devices. The first is the compact Ctera CloudPlug. The second is the Ctera C200, a more conventional NAS box that supports two internal hard drives. Like the CloudPlug, the C200 also supports external USB hard drives. Both deliver local as well as cloud accessible storage (see Cloud Storage Delivers Reliability and Accessibility).
What differentiates the CloudPlug and C200 from other NAS products is the web-based access and backup support provided by Ctera Networks on a subscripion basis. This is similar to the type of access provided by CloudEngines' PogoPlug in that users can access their storage remotely via the Internet. Still, Ctera tends to target a diffent class of users more interested in storage management and backup than the more social oriented PogoPlug.
I had a chance to check out both the CloudPlug and the C200. They differ in appearance and operation but logically they are the same when it comes to using them with Ctera Portal. The portal provides remote management and access. The service also provides scheduled backups. Backup storage starts at $10/10 Gbytes. The hard drives are likely to have more space but they are unlikely to be full. Likewise, only critical data need be stored with Ctera. Offsite storage like this is useful but it is usually unnecessary for everything. The amount of storage required will depend upon the number of backups maintained and the amount of information.
I started with the C200 because it came with a pair of hard drives installed. It was just a matter of plugging it into the network and the power brick. As with most plug computer NAS boxes, it contacted home easily through the local LAN and the gateway with NAT support. It was then a matter of creating an account on Ctera's site and adding the C200 to the list of devices for the account.
Remote administration and file access is done via Ctera's portal after you log in. The system supports users and groups and restrictions apply when accessing data via the Internet. This is handy for small companies that want to provide individuals access to their files.
Local web access from the LAN is also possible and uses the same interface. You do need to know the IP address of the box or its local domain name depending upon your local network configuration. The nice thing about the Ctera Networks NAS boxes is that they provide standard Windows file shares so they can be accessed by most operating systems such as Windows, Linux and the Mac OS with no modification or special drivers. The NAS boxes also support FTP, rsync, AFP and NFS services providing an even wider range of connectivity.
The C200 has a pair of USB ports on the back. These work essentially the same as the CloudPlug. This is a good time to talk about it. The CloudPlug has a 1 Gbit/s Ethernet port like the C200 but no internal hard drives. It has a single USB port making it ideal for linking a single USB hard drive to the network. An external USB hub can be used to extend the number of drives for either device. I tested the CloudPlug with Seagate's FreeAgent Go (see Seagate FreeAgent Go External Hard Disk) 2.5-in hard drives.
Functionally the CloudPlug is setup and managed just like the C200. This includes disk management. If the drives are setup and formatted using Ctera's format then they can be resized. Drives that are already formatted cannot be resized but they can be used immediately. This is handy for external drives that will also be used with other PCs or laptops.
Other useful functionality includes an email alert system. This can notify a user of problems such as loss of contact with Ctera's site or the success or failure of backup operations.
Another useful feature that is similar to backups is synchronization. Ctera provides a number of clientless synchronization mechanisms including rsync, WebDAV, Windows file system, and copying to a local file system. The latter is handy when multiple drives are in use providing a limited mirroring that typically has less overhead than RAID 1. It is possible to configure drives in a RAID 0, RAID 1 or RAID 10 configuration. These work at the sector level while synchronization works at the file level.
Of course, backup is one of the main services Ctera provides so it is also one of the more sophisticated aspects of the interface. It is a typical backup system with a range of scheduling options, backup sets and exclusion rules. It also supports throttling so backups do not dominate an Internet gateway connection. The latter can be set up for a single range of hours so bandwidth could be limited during the day when the LAN would be in use and unlimited bandwidth usage overnight.
The Ctera boxes can be purchased individually but they also mesh well with corporate customers that want to have remote management capabilities. This can significantly simplify things for telecommuters since they can be given a CloudPlug or a C200 and all they need to do is plug it in.
Ctera does not attempt to deliver the file sharing capabilities found in PogoPlug and Tonido's TonidoPlug. Ctera does do a much better job from a corporate management perspective and as an integrated backup solution. The ability to provide standard file sharing interfaces makes the C200 and CloudPlug better targets for embedded applications requiring NAS storage since standard network file sharing support can be used.