Electronic Design
Tonido's Personal Cloud Storage

Tonido's Personal Cloud Storage

Tonido's has a great idea. Securely access your storage from anywhere on the Internet Tonido stands out from other platforms like CloudEngines PogoPlug and Ctera's CloudPlug because of its cross platform support. This is not to say that those other platforms do not support different client platforms. Instead, these are platforms that actually run Tonido's software. Tonido's TonidoPlug is like the other pluggable NAS devices like PogoPlug and CloudPlug except that the same software services can run on other platforms like Apple's Macintosh, a Linux or Windows PC. Web and network access works with a number of smartphones as well.

So what does Tonido's namesake software do? At its core is a NAS server providing access to files stored on a local disk. Access to these files can be done on a local network using conventional drive mappings. It also provides browser access. Like other plug systems, Tonido provides access using these mechanisms via the Internet. Access can be provided using two mechanisms.

The first approach is via Tonido's website. This type of service is on par with other plug devices. In this case, a user gets an account on Tonido's site and registers one or more Tonido devices like a TonidoPlug or a PC running Tonido's software. These devices access Tonido's website providing access via Tonido devices or a web browser. Security is provided by user names and passwords.

The second approach is how more conventional NAS devices could be access via the Internet. This requires a fixed IP address or support for dynamic DNS. Tonido handles both. The challenge for most users is opening a hole in their NAT gateway. The advantage is Tonido's website is not involved.

Accessing files is just basic services provided by Tonido. Tonido can also run a host of applications that can be downloaded from Tonido's site. They handle everything from streaming multimedia, access to web services like Flikr to personal finance. There is even an application for managing and downloading via BitTorrent. Most applications are free although more advanced versions sometimes have an additional charge like the Pro version of Tonido Webshare. Group collaboration is handy and all the data is stored on the users' computers instead of a service such as GoogleDocs. Tonido also provides synchronization options between Tonido devices. This allows users to share files automatically.

Checking Out Tonido

I tried out Tonido on a couple of platforms including TonidoPlug and Tonido on PCs running Linux (Ubuntu and Fedora) and Windows. I used it through a NAT gateway using Tonido's website as well as direct access using dynamic DNS and a free account on one of the dynamic DNS services.

To say I am suitably impressed is an understatement. Getting the TonidoPlug up and running was very simple but more on that later. Likewise, installing Tonido on a PC was a straightforward process including the initial configuration. The web-based interface was the same on each platform. Signing up for a Tonido website account is free but not a requirement. Tonido is one of the few platforms in this space that works standalone, via the Internet using dynamic DNS though a NAT gateway, as well as via the website.

Tonido has an iPhone app but I run a Droid. I could access Tonido via the Droid's web browser and I could also access the server using the ES File Explorer application.

Tonido does not provide web-based backup but it can work with these types of services. On the other hand, setting up backups between Tonido nodes is easy and preferable since you have control over both ends. The backup service has incoming and outgoing configurations and handles multiple devices by default. A typical configuration has multiple devices being saved on a hard drive managed by a TonidoPlug.

The most difficult aspect of the system was setting up the security for multiple users. I expected this but the interface is reasonable. It also pays off in the long run since using a single user account for everyone is definitely not a good idea. Likewise, good password management is critical to proper access control. Most users of local NAS devices often forego passwords but that should never be the case on a device that is accessible via the Internet.

Checking Out TonidoPlug

I take a separate look at TonidoPlug because it is the best alternative for most users that want these services but hate configuring software. It is also an open Linux-based system that allows people like me who want to customize even more to have full access to the system. Need to provide MySQL services via a web server application? Not a problem.

TonidoPlug is a compact NAS box for external USB-based drives. It runs a 1.2 GHz Sheeva microcontroller from Marvell. It has 512 Kbytes of flash and 512 Kbytes of DDR2 RAM. The small box has a gigabit Ethernet interface and a USB port. Multiple hard drives can be handled using a USB hub. The system is no match for a quad core PC with a couple gigabytes of memory but it does have more than enough horsepower and memory to do more than just serve up files.

TonidoPlug run Ubuntu 9.04. This is a stock installation so it is possible to log in using SSH and use apt-get to install new packages from Ubuntu repositories. This is for the expert and is not related to the applications Tonido supplies although they do use the underlying package management system.

TonidoPlug comes with most of the free applications. It also supports UPNP/DLNA as a server. It can stream multimedia files to DLNA clients such as suitably equipped HDTVs. I tested the TonidoPlug with Seagate's FreeAgent Go 2.5-in hard drive.

The thing I like about TonidoPlug is that it works equally well for novices and experts. Want to just share files via the Internet? No problem. Want to drop a custom network application for controlling webcams? That works too if you have the expertise. There are no restrictions and the use of Ubuntu makes the platform readily accessible.

Overall I am very impressed with Tonido and TonidoPlug. Its support forum is active and the online documentation for developers is good. The SDK can be downloaded from the Tonido website.

Tonido

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