Pogoplug: Make your hard drive a cloud drive

Last Fall, we met the fine folks at Cloud Engines, the company behind the pogoplug, a wonderfully easy-to-use gadget that turns any USB storage device into a web and smart-phone accessible file system, giving users easy control over who they allow to access their files. In short, the pogoplug allows you to take the hard drive attached to your computer (or hanging off your router in the basement of your house) and make it accessible to the world at large – allowing it to become a full-fledged part of the cloud. The beauty of the pogoplug lies in the simplicity of its premise (to give users control over making their content extensible beyond their walled network) combined with the elegant way that Cloud Engines has designed the pogoplug to be both powerful in its function but extremely easy to set up and use.

Of course, the nerds among us might argue that making a hard drive in your home accessible from the internet is “easy”. After all, all you need to do is put a NAS drive on your home network, give it a static IP address, configure port forwarding on your router/firewall appropriately and then set up a Dynamic DNS service so you can still access the device when your ISP issues your home network a new IP address. And that only makes your disk accessible remotely – nevermind if you might also want to manage the creation of user accounts and offer varying degrees of permissions and access to different users across a variety of files and folders. If that sounds easy or fun to you, then perhaps the pogoplug isn’t for you.

But for the rest of the world – those of us who would choose to simply put a slice of bread into a toaster rather than grow a field of wheat, harvest it, dry it, grind the grain into flour, culture some yeast, knead some dough, bake the bread, slice it and then toast it over an open fire, the pogoplug is a great little device that is dead-simple to setup and a pleasure to use.

Pogoplug boasts one of the simplest setup processes we’ve ever experienced for a piece of consumer electronics — even easier than the Slingbox, one of the gold standards in terms of ease of install and usability, in our minds. And while other products exist that can make a storage device LAN and WAN accessible, none go as far as the pogoplug does in truly making your local storage part of the cloud and giving you a granular level of control over how you share your data.

What does this mean? For starters, in addition to offering multi-user web access to an attached storage device, pogoplug also offers Mac, Windows and Linux client software to make the pogoplug appear as local storage on the desktop, regardless of whether the user is on a local LAN or half-way across the world. Second, pogoplug provides a great iPhone app, allowing access to files from the phone. Support for Android and other smartphones is on the way.

Third, while true storage-in-the-cloud and backup-to-the-cloud services exist, they are, relatively speaking, expensive. While a user can find a few gigs of free web-based storage, if you want more than that, the current market price appears to be, at the low end, about $10/year/gig. That’s fine if you’ve only got a dozen or so gigs worth of data. But whatt happens if you want a terabyte of web-based storage? We don’t see many users willing to pony up ten grand a year. With a pogoplug and a terabyte USB hard drive, that’s a sub $200 (one time) proposition.

Finally, and most importantly in our mind, pogoplug provides a web API to their service, allowing third party developers to build apps on top of the installed base of pogoplugs. This is what truly makes the pogoplug an important gadget – it takes a formerly marooned piece of hardware, the lowly hard drive, and makes it a full-fledged citizen of the web. We think that the folks at pogoplug and third party developers out there are going to dream up some exciting applications built on this API.

After spending time with the company in the Fall and hanging out with them at their very crowded booth at CES in January and seeing the enthusiastic response from folks (including ourselves) who couldn’t wait to get their hands on a pogoplug, we began spending even more time in San Francisco getting to know the team behind the pogoplug and learning about their vision and product roadmap going forward.

While a great product vision is a requirement for us to get excited about making an investment, even more important is that there is a great team behind the product that is capable of fulfilling the promise of the company, and the team at Cloud Engines is as rock-solid as they come. Founders Daniel Putterman (CEO), Jed Putterman (VP Product), Brad Dietrich (CTO) and Gregory Smith (CFO) have all been founders and senior executives of successful startups well as established large companies. What’s even more impressive is that they brought the pogoplug to market having only raised money from angel investors. While this is increasingly common in the world of startup web apps, it is a decidedly rare thing to do in the world of consumer electronics.

Finally, it has been gratifying to see that other people out there think highly of the pogoplug as well: the pogoplug has received accolades from the technology press and the many gadget bloggers out there. Pogoplug was recognized with Laptop Magazine’s Editor’s Choice Award, PC Magazine’s Editor’s Choice Award and was a Popular Mechanics Editor’s Choice selection, and the device has been positively reviewed by the likes of Gizmodo, Engadget, Cnet, USA Today, Popular Science, PC World, jkOnTheRun and many more.

Today we are happy to announce that Foundry Group has made an investment in Cloud Engines, and we are looking forward to working with the team to quickly reach the day when far more cloud-based storage is available via personal hard-drives attached to pogoplugs than any service-based means.

  • Dave G.

    I don't understand why i would use a physical device at such a steep price when I can use a software service like Soonr or even MobileMe to sync and access all my remote data (music, documents, powerpoints, folders) from the cloud? I must be missing something. I use Soonr all the time on my iPhone and across my many PCs and Macs to access data from my office LAN, my central music hard drive, etc. It works like a charm, it's FREE and I don't need to burden the earth with the manufacturing of plastic and electronics.

    • Matt Galligan

      Dave, having just bought one of these Pogoplug thingys, maybe I can answer a few of your questions.

      A couple of reasons:

      Storing data in the cloud is great, but can sometimes be unreliable. If you cut out the middle man, and allow a device to connect directly to a computer or storage device, then you're way better off.

      Also, in the event that you have a computer running just so that you can have data accessible (like through Soonr), that's a computer that has to stay running (and seemingly reliable) for 24/7. The Pogoplug means that I can plug in a simple USB hard drive and just let it do its things. Now I don't have rely on Dropbox or the like to “trust” that things got synced. Also, since it's in my own closed network, I can trust that only I can access the data, and it's not stored in the cloud somewhere.

      Lastly, have you ever tried to upload 80 gigs of music to the cloud? Yeah, not so much fun. BUT, it's something that I'd love to do because it'd make my music library far more “up to date” across all of my computers.

      Not to mention someone that's on the go like me, where I'd love to be able to access all of the photos and video I take no matter where I'm at.

      This is great stuff.

    • http://www.ryanmcintyre.com Ryan

      Dave, clearly there are folks who would rather approach the remote access / sync / backup challenge via software/services rather than a device, and each solution has its advantages. As I point out in the blog post, a service like Soonr can be had for free, but you wind up limited to 2GB of storage based on my reading of the Soonr's offerings. Just for fun, I looked at the pricing for Soonr Pro for one terabyte of cloud storage and 5 user access, roughly similar to the scenario I describe in my post. That would cost $6,000 PER YEAR on Soonr, as opposed to a one time cost of $99 for a pogoplug and ~$100 for a terabyte hard drive.

      Second, while you point out the green angle of wanting to avoid burdening the earth by not buying another piece of hardware, I'd point out that the pogoplug (really just a tiny linux server based on Marvell's Sheevaplug technology) only draws 5-10 watts of power, which is a greener option than using a third party's spinning disk farms in a datacenter or leaving all your home/office computers on 24×7 so you can have remote access.

      Finally, the other reason I'm an investor (and satisfied customer) is that sometimes a special purpose appliance-based approach enables an ease of installation and use that software approaches do not. We saw this when we invested in Sling Media, the makers of the Slingbox — while there were software-based solutions available that in theory allowed one to placeshift their TV signal and offered remote media access beyond what was on your DVR/STB, the Sling solution was the winner in the marketplace, despite many early skeptics dismissing it as an overpriced toy that offered no “new” functionality. I think the pogoplug shares these characteristics with the slingbox, and at $99, it is coming in at a pretty reasonable price point for many people, not to mention the fact that we think pogoplugs will find their way into the enterprise (particularly soho and SMB) over time too.

  • rajbala

    This is great. Would love to see the runtime environment and all the local applications made portable as well — something not as kludgy as VNC.

  • Robert

    I like this a lot.

    I envision (or at least want to see) a future where everyone's data is connected to the internet. There's a lot of content people want to share, but have to go through the trouble of uploading it to another server.

    Imagine if you could perform a search across files that people specified as public on their computer… Or a search across family members (shared) photos.

  • Dave G.

    Matt,

    Thanks for the reply. I guess my point is that Soonr is a “good enough” for the vast majority of mainstream users….and it's FREE. Also, I use Simplify Media ($3.99 on Apple App Store) to stream my entire 100GB music library to any device. Again, software (not hardware) and free or nearly free is the way to go. I haven't tried pogoplug and probably won't as my storage/cloud needs are being met today but I look forward to seeing if an expensive hardware solution (yet another box!) will actually find a market. My sense is that the answer is, “no”.

  • Solnyshok

    it might become success once you burn torrent client into it.

  • Albert

    Hi all,
    Just wanted to give my 2 cents. I think I fall within the main target group for the POGOPLUG. I'm not too tech savvy, wouldn't be able to do all that was listed to get my harddisk on the web. But I have a lot of files, take a lot of pics, listen to a lot of music and own an iPhone.
    I bought the device after hearing about it on a G4 TV show covering CES. It took me no more than 5 minutes to set up and have it running. I then set up folders for my friends to access all the photos I've taken of their family and gave them access. This only took me another 5 minutes. I downloaded the POGO App for my iPhone and now have access to ALL my files wherever and whenever I want.
    All the friends I've given access to want to get a POGOPLUG too. The beauty of this device is in it's simplicity. Best $99 dollars I ever spent!
    -Albert

  • http://falseprecision.typepad.com/my_weblog/ Todd Vernon

    I have a Pogo plug and I have to say its awesome. Put simply, I hate services that rely on my home computer A) being on, or B) working. I'm a huge believer in standalone IP connected devices like PP or Sonos, or NAS drives, or Slingbox, etc. I hate my entire home infrastructor being tied to the uptime of my windows box. Thats a nonstarter.

  • Solnyshok

    this could become popular when it includes 24*7 torrent client.