For better or worse, I've become a sort of gadget-review guy for TechSource, watching all the new hardware announcements and trying to pay attention to things that I think will be useful, novel, or even just interesting to libraries and librarians. I've found another little bit of technology that I think might be interesting for a few reasons, not the least of which is the future that it holds in its oh-so-small frame. I've been testing one for a couple of weeks now, and it's just so insanely cool and it works so incredibly well that I have to point people at it just to see what someone else thinks about it, because I'm officially won over.
The gadget: Pogoplug
Much like the wardrobe that led to Narnia, the Pogoplug is larger on the inside than the outside. It's a very small device, just slightly larger than a large AC adapter. On one end you'll find a plug that attaches it to an outlet, and on the other end you'll find two openings, one for an ethernet cable, and another for a USB cable. That's the whole device.
So what is it? What does it do? In short, it's a computer...a very small Linux system, with Gigabit ethernet and a USB port. Through the Pogoplug service, the device can turn any USB external hard drive into a networked storage device, reachable on the web or mountable as a regular drive on any desktop, whether Windows, Mac or Linux. It can also be accessed on an iPhone or iPod Touch--with a free app, you can open/view/stream files anywhere that you have mobile service.
Setup goes like this:
- Unpack, plug into power, plug into your network, and plug in any USB drive.
- Log onto the pogoplug website, and tell it that this drive is yours, and that's it.
Total setup time? Under 2 minutes, and your drive is now acccessible from any and every computer that you want it to be, and from the web directly through the pogoplug website. On the road and need access to files? Not a problem--the drive shows up in My Computer or in the OSX Finder just like any other drive: copy, save whatever you need, secure in the knowledge that the drive itself is happily back home. Laptop crash just before a big presentation? Not a problem since the file is safely on your pogoplug and you can grab it through the web. With the price of external hard drives where they are, you can have a terabyte of personal cloud-based storage that follows you wherever you go and no matter which computer you happen to be on.
So how is this any better than Dropbox, or other cloud storage? There are a lot of reasons, but for me, the main one is that I can upgrade the storage by simply swapping the drive for a new one. Unplug the old, plug in the new, and the pogoplug is none the wiser. It will even mount multiple drives if you connect them to the pogoplug via a USB hub. It will also stream files to you, allowing you to listen to your MP3s or watch videos from your home while you're on the road. One feature that I think could be particularly useful to libraries is that Pogoplug allows sharing of files or directories to others, simply by giving the pogoplug their email address. Pogoplug sends them an email with a clickable link to whatever file/files you are sharing with them, with all the sharing managed via the website. For less than $100, the pogoplug is a file server that allows you to share across the internet itself.
And, the most fun of all, since this is just a small linux computer, there are already lots of people hacking away at it. The OpenPogo community is busy with hacks to make the pogoplug an iTunes server, a webserver, and a bittorrent client, among others. So if you feel like digging into the device, you can increase its capabilities enormously.
So how could this be used in a library? In a small library, for less than $200, you could have a terabyte of shared space available for your staff to use...cheaper than buying a dedicated file server, and far easier to set up than building one yourself using linux. Need to share files regularly that are too large for email? With the pogoplug you are only limited by the speed of your network, not the file-attachement size. Need an easy backup solution? Throw a terabyte drive and a pogoplug somewhere offsite (another branch, server room, at home) and backing it up is as easy as drag and drop.
I'm still experimenting with it, but the promise of this little white box is that it frees me from worry about losing files on the road. I can upload photos from conferences to it, ensuring that even if the TSA misplaces my laptop, they will be safe and sound, waiting for me when I get home. And really, isn't $100 a low price for peace of mind?