Cloud // Infrastructure as a Service
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9/5/2012
10:36 PM
Kurt Marko
Kurt Marko
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Bridging Hot And Cold Cloud Storage

Pogoplug takes the chill off Glacier, turning it into a continuously replicated archive.

Well, that sure didn't take long. No sooner did I speculate on the reverberations from Amazon's new Glacier archiving service on the storage cloud/SaaS food chain--that it wouldn't be long before other cloud backup providers would wrap their own software around Amazon's low-cost archiving technology--than a new service comes along. But I was only half right in that the scenario turned Glacier into an inexpensive, convenient tape vault alternative. That may indeed play out in the coming months, but for now, a company that popularized the concept of personal cloud storage, Pogoplug, is on deck with a way to protect data.

Pogoplug had been quietly developing a way to plug a major hole in its service--namely, what happens when your personal cloud dies or you accidentally delete an important folder? Enter Glacier, a service seemingly tailor made for products like Pogoplug that "cloudify" local, and hence potentially vulnerable, storage by enabling cheap, secure off-site replicas. In sum, Glacier allows Pogoplug to provide users with a real cloud back end. Although Pogoplug CEO Daniel Putterman says he and his team didn't know about Amazon's plans when they started development of the cloud storage service, they'd been working for quite a while on integrating cold cloud storage with hot local devices, using its cloud sharing and management service as the middleman.

Glacier turns out to be a perfect fit for that cold back end.

Pogoplug, and similar personal cloud devices such as Akitio MyCloud and TonidoPlug, are small NAS devices that wrap direct-attached SATA or USB drives with a cloud service, exposing locally stored content to the Internet. They're great for consumers wanting to access files on the road, particularly now that Pogoplug has Android and iOS apps, but such products lack two key pieces important to business customers: rich support for multiple user accounts and shares and integrated cloud backup. Pogoplug rectified the first problem with its Team service and now the second with the new Cloud Storage offering.

Putterman's vision, that "archival data can and should be usable on a daily basis," entails erasing the boundary between hot and cold data. Building on Glacier, Pogoplug has turned what started as a file-sharing and remote-access technology into a full-fledged backup, and soon to be version-aware archiving, service. It achieves the goal of marrying inexpensive local storage with highly reliable, secure, and safe cold storage (read: Glacier) by automating data synchronization (hot to cold) and recovery (cold to hot) through its cloud service and Web UI. Here's how it works: Pogoplug's cloud-based software has always kept track of the data shared through its software, whether a disk tethered to one of its appliances or a PC or server share exported via client software. Its cloud service creates a namespace that maps file queries over the Internet to the appropriate Pogoplug device (or software client) and disk location. Instead of acting as a middleman, the new cloud backup service automatically gathers data from the local device and copies it to the cloud (Glacier). Not only that, but Pogoplug's service tracks file versions over time, meaning the new Glacier-based service has a Time Machine-like snapshot of every file and version. Putterman says version control won't be exposed in the initial release, but it will appear in a future service update, allowing restores of any file from any point in time.

In a sense, Pogoplug has done for files what iTunes Match does for music: create an automatically mirrored cloud repository of local data. Recovery can be initiated from any client using Pogoplug's Web interface, and targeted to any Pogoplug-enabled device, not just the originating appliance or share. As Putterman puts it, "Recovery can initiate from anywhere, to anywhere."

But what's this got to do with enterprise IT? Isn't Pogoplug just an inexpensive appliance for home users?

Indeed, the company got its start by "cloudifying" personal storage for the masses with its appliance/cloud service combination. However, the advent of a software client effectively decouples service and appliance, meaning storage on any PC or server can be part of the cloud pool. Putterman notes that customers are already using Pogoplug's software on Windows Server to expose SAN-attached storage to the cloud. And now this same pool can be automatically mirrored to Glacier.

Pogoplug's client software and Glacier-based cloud backup are but the opening salvos in what appears to be a concerted effort at building an enterprise-worthy platform. While not ready to announce details, Putterman says the company will soon enable meshing Pogoplug appliances and server instances into a single storage pool with a unified namespace, all managed through the cloud. Meshing multiple storage locations effectively extends the replication functionality introduced with Glacier to any instance (appliance or server), meaning data can be automatically copied from or restored to any other location. Such distributed redundancy augments the data protection provided by Glacier by automatically copying files to several internal devices or shares. As with Glacier support, Putterman says this feature will be managed by Pogoplug's back-end service.

Pogoplug's cloud storage is available in two editions, targeting consumers and businesses respectively, each with three price/capacity tiers per edition. Pogoplug Family starts at $29 per year for 100 GB of Glacier cloud storage and three user accounts; $49 per year bumps it to 300 GB in the cloud and five users, while $99 per year gets you 1 TB of cloud backup and seven users. As an added bonus, all include a basic Pogoplug appliance (not the advanced Series 4 with USB 3 and SATA support) and support.

The business product, known as Pogoplug Team, uses its Team Server software running on a Windows or OS X system. Starting at $19 per month, the service provides 1 TB of cloud storage and five user accounts. Doubling that to 2 TB and 10 users sets you back $39 a month, while $99 per month gets 5 TB in the cloud and 25 users. Recall that Amazon prices Glacier at a penny per gigabyte per month or $120 per year for a terabyte, so consumers are actually getting a price break by going through Pogoplug, while businesses pay an extra $80 per year for the Team Server software.

The Team service also enables full customization of the Web UI, meaning enterprises can make it look like an official intranet portal. As with Pogoplug's existing service, neither the Family nor Team service limits the amount of locally attached storage; the pricing tiers are only for the cloud backup. And while all use Glacier, they don't require an AWS account; Pogoplug insulates users from Glacier and, much like Dropbox's use of S3, users know nothing about Amazon's back end.

At less than $17 per month per terabyte, Pogoplug's cloud storage is an inexpensive insurance policy for SOHO and SMB users looking for a convenient way to both expose internal disk shares to the cloud, in itself a boon for mobile users and business partners, and replicate data to Amazon's high-end infrastructure. While Pogoplug may be the first, it certainly won't be the last service to leverage Glacier as an inexpensive backup medium. I have no doubt we'll soon see similar offerings targeting larger enterprises.

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