It’s been one of those weeks. First, the electronic control panel on the dishwasher died. Next, a bunch of pluggable NAS boxes showed up, and one didn’t work. Finally, our PlayStation 3, the original PS3, decided to have a Y2K moment.
I play a couple of multiuser games using the PlayStation Network (PSN) with my kids, who are now spread across the country. The bug didn’t crash the PS3 but it did prevent access to the PSN. It also disabled access to much of the purchased content stored on the PS3.
Of course, this happened when we all planned on playing a co-op game. We burned up the Internet and phone and did a bit of texting, but we didn’t find a solution. There was a good bit of traffic about the problem, though not much from Sony except for the recommendation that we shouldn’t turn on the PS3. Too late for that. On the plus side, it did give me more time to look at those pluggable NAS devices (see “Pluggable NAS Devices”).
These NAS devices (see the figure) included Seagate’s DockStar and CloudEngine’s PogoPlug, which use CloudEngine’s software. They also included Tonido’s TonidoPlug and Ctera Networks’ CloudPlug and C200.
All of these platforms are based on Marvell’s 1.2-GHz Sheeva high-performance ARM-based microcontroller, which is found in Marvell’s SheevaPlug Computer (see “What Can You Build With Ethernet, USB, And An Arm?”).
Architecturally, these products are the same as the SheevaPlug. They differ in the amount of memory and the number of USB ports. They also differ in the software and services provided. All are designed to simply the user’s experience with cloud storage.
Actually, these products are different from cloud storage in the regular sense since data is designed to be stored on a local USB-based external hard drive or, in the case of the C200, an internal hard drive. Ctera Networks has the closest thing to a cloud application, providing Internet-based backup to storage on the cloud. The others provide Internet access to the NAS drives, even through firewalls. How this happens differs based on the platform.
These platforms have a Web-based interface that may be local or on the Internet. The Internet interface provides access to Web-based services. The NAS device communicates with Web-based services, allowing remote access through a NAT firewall router without opening a port on the router.
Tonido’s offering will also work with port forwarding, enabling it to work without the Web-based services. Remote access in this case requires the IP address of the router or a dynamic DNS (DDNS) managed domain name.
The Web-services access does not need DDNS support since the NAS device is calling out. Instead, users only need to remember the service’s domain name and their user name.
Some platforms like PogoPlug and DockStar have iPhone and Android applications. This works nicely with transcoding services found on those platforms. Of course, that assumes the data does not have DRM. Streaming multimedia content over the Internet or an intranet is a useful application, especially for smart phones.
The platforms all run a version of Linux. Tonido’s offering runs Ubuntu, though it is well hidden from users by the Web interface. They also all start up with an SSH daemon running in the background, providing hackers like myself an in to the server.
For pure cloud-based storage, loss of the central server prevents access to all users. A loss may reduce the functionality of these products, but local access will remain.
The PS3 problem was not due to a problem with the central server but a common problem in each remote device. The effects would be the same, though. Customers don’t really care what the problem is. They care about the results.
The challenge for developers of these platforms and their services is to provide a robust and secure environment. So far, they seem to be off to a good start.