Review: Pogoplug Wireless Adapter

Monday Dec 6th 2010 by Gerry Blackwell
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The Pogoplug simplifies sharing one or more external hard drives over the Internet. With its new wireless adapter, you're free to place it anywhere you have a drive.

The first-generation Pogoplug, from CloudEngines, has been around for over a year now. A small business-targeted edition, Pogoplug Biz ($299), appeared earlier this summer. Then, last month, the company introduced the wireless "Little Buddy" ($29, free to some existing customers), a custom Wi-Fi (11b/g/n) adapter/bridge that makes it possible to place the Pogoplug somewhere other than right beside your router.

This is, to be sure, not a revolutionary breakthrough in private cloud infrastructure, but it does add to the ease of use and flexibility of the Pogoplug - and ease of use is one of the key value propositions with this product.

Let's back up a minute, and make sure we understand the Pogoplug itself, how it works and how it installs. Then we'll take a look at how easy or difficult it is to make it wireless. (Preview: it's pretty easy.)

Pogoplug's private cloud

To use Pogoplug, you attach a USB hard drive or drives to it - the unit we reviewed has four USB ports. Note that the device doesn't have any storage capacity of its own. You provide the disks.

Next, you attach the Pogoplug to your router. One of the keys to Pogoplug's ease of use is that when you activate the product at the company's website, it automatically sets up a password-protected, optionally encrypted, remote connection to the attached drives, dealing seamlessly with all the firewall traversal and dynamic DNS (service included) complications.

Theoretically.

The company's claim is that the activation process, which you begin by clicking the 'Activate Pogoplug' button at its my.pogoplug.com page, takes less time than it does to nuke a bag of Orville Redenbacher's microwave popcorn.

Sorry, not in our experience. But close.

Easy set-up

The 'wizard' that launches when you click the activate button walks users through a simple set-up process, starting with ensuring you've done the hardware connections properly. Then it tries to find your device on the Internet.

In our case, it couldn't find it. It meant going to the device, turning it over - keep in mind it has wires and disks dangling from it - and copying down the 26-character identifier printed on the bottom, then typing the characters into a form at the website. (By this time, my wife has eaten the popcorn.)

After that, the set-up went smoothly, including signing up with e-mail address and password for remote access.

You can log in to the device (over the Internet) from the Pogoplug site in a browser window, or download software for whichever device you want to use as a client when you're mobile. The company offers free client software for Windows, Mac, Linux, BlackBerry and, most recently, iPad/iPhone.

Windows Explorer compatibility

With the Windows version of the client software we tested (and presumably the Mac and Linux versions as well), you get an applet that lets you adjust simple settings and configure the ActiveCopy feature (which automatically copies media files from your computer to one of the drives attached to the Pogoplug).

The client software also adds the Pogoplug as a drive in Windows Explorer. It means that anywhere you go, you can now access files on the Pogoplug-attached drives from within any application on your mobile device as if they were on a local hard drive. You can stream media files from Pogoplug too.

So that's Pogoplug. There's more to it, but that's the basics. It's pretty cool. It offers home users and small businesses something like the kind of private cloud infrastructure that big enterprises are now starting to deploy.

A private cloud emulates and shares the benefits of public cloud applications such as online storage and backup - including remote, anywhere access - but has the advantage of letting you retain physical control of data and network security. It also eliminates monthly charges for cloud services.

Pogoplug Biz

The Pogoplug Biz product adds some useful business-specific features, such as usage statistics and auditing. You can see how many times a file or folder has been viewed, streamed or downloaded. An administrator can set up access levels and storage quotas for individual users.

The Biz product also lets you customize the look and feel of the Pogoplug interface, with your own company branding and graphics, and customize in a similar way the look and feel of emails you send out when sharing files.

CloudEngines provides customers with custom email addresses which let even non-registered users e-mail files to the Pogoplug as attachments - a simple way of remotely adding data to your private cloud. It's similar to the e-mail mechanisms used by public file sharing and storage services such as SugarSync.

Biz also lets you print from any mobile device, including the iPhone and iPad, to any printer connected to the Pogoplug. And finally, it lets you set up remote backups, continuously mirroring all or part of your Pogoplug storage to a second Pogoplug in a different location.

Going wireless

In many home and office environments, it won't be convenient to have the Pogoplug sitting right beside the router, or have Ethernet cables draped all over to connect it. That's where the new "Little Buddy" wireless extender comes in.

Assuming your Pogoplug has been flashed with the latest firmware -- which CloudEngines pushes out over the Net in much the way Microsoft pushes out operating system patches -- setting up the "Little Buddy" is a breeze.

Plug it into an available USB port on the Pogoplug, log in to your account at my.pogoplug.com, click Settings and then select Wireless Settings.

This is where it can get interesting. If your Pogoplug hasn't been flashed with the latest firmware supporting the wireless extension, the Wireless Settings option won't appear in the Web interface. You can't proceed. Some users were complaining in CloudEngines user forums about not seeing the option as late as mid September.

That was our experience. It may have been because our Pogoplug was offline for a few days after being activated and so unavailable for the automatically pushed update. In any case, the company finally had to flash our Pogoplug unit selectively. After that, it truly was a breeze setting up the wireless capability.

Two-step process

When you click on the Wireless Settings option in Pogoplug Account Settings, the system presents a list of available networks in range. Click your network name, key in the encryption key, if required, and you're done.

Now you can unplug the Pogoplug from the router and position it anywhere you want within wireless range of the router. To test this step, we moved the Pogoplug to an area in our home office that has notoriously poor Wi-Fi coverage. The Pogoplug immediately connected to the network, indicated by a blinking, then a solid green light on the front.

From a recent-model laptop (i5 dual-core processor) - a computer connected to a different Internet service from the Pogoplug (so no question of Pogoplug using the local network) - we launched the client software and logged in to the Pogoplug.

The Pogoplug-attached hard drive immediately appeared in Windows Explorer, and we were able to select and stream music from the drive. In truth, Pogoplug is not a top-notch streaming media player, but it does work, with a few initial hiccups.

However, it took an agonizing five minutes and 25 seconds to download one 16.9MB file from the Pogoplug to a computer on the second Internet connection - obviously much slower than downloading a file from a commercial download site.

Slow Internet service upload speeds and network congestion could have played a role in this result, and Pogoplug doesn't claim to be fast, just easy to set up and use. Moving the same file with Pogoplug attached by Ethernet cable took almost as long, suggesting the bottleneck is Pogoplug's routers.

Bottom line

Wireless Pogoplug? Yep. It works, it's easy. It's not lightning fast, but it does work and it makes the product that much - i.e. slightly - more useful.

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