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So, since this little box has a lot more horsepower than usually found in this sort of device, what's the performance like? It's surprisingly good, especially when using a EXT3-formatted eSATA drive. We tested the CloudPlug using our standard Vista SP1 filecopy test, which copies a 4.35 GB ripped DVD test folder from a RAID 0 volume on our standard NAS testbed to and from the NAS under test.

Figure 16 shows a performance summary when an Iomega UltraMax Pro Desktop Hard Drive configured in RAID 0 is attached via USB 2.0.

usb tests

Figure 16: CloudPlug Performance using a USB drive

As you can see, CTERA's advice regarding using an EXT3-formatted disk proves true. Even though FAT32 slightly outperforms EXT3 in our read test, in our write test EXT3 roughly doubles the performance of FAT32. In both cases, NTFS falls far behind. Basically, the CloudPlug has enough processing power to max out the USB 2.0 connection in both directions for EXT3 format and for FAT32 reads.

And what kind of a speed boost will you get when using an eSATA drive? Figure 17 shows the result.

eSATA tests

Figure 17: CloudPlug Performance using a eSATA drive

The advice for using EXT3 still proves true for eSATA, and you'll get a substantial speed boost as well. In reading, you'll get nearly twice the EXT3 performance as compared to USB. So the lesson is clear. If you need the speed, go with eSATA and EXT3.

Under the Covers

When I first saw this little box, its origin was obvious. The power behind it and several other variations, such as CloudEngines' PogoPlug and Seagate's FreeAgent DockStar is Marvell's Plug Computing platform. Marvell documents the components used in the platform as a Kirkwood series System On A Chip with an embedded Sheeva CPU core running at 1.2 GHz and 512 MB of RAM.

Figure 18 shows the main board of the CloudPlug after I removed the case and pulled back the shielding.

main board
CloudPlug Main Board

Figure 18: CloudPlug Main Board

You can see the Marvell device that's at the heart of the device along with the flash, RAM and Marvell 88E1116R Gigabit Ethernet device.

It's also no secret that the OS running on the platform is Linux, since this is well documented by Marvell. You can pick up a "Development Kit" version of this platform at the Marvell site for $99, and with it you'll get command-line access, the ability to build your own Linux kernel and other components.

There's also a Sheevaplug Debian port that really gives you the ability to go where you want with this powerful little device. There are a couple of differences between the development hardware version and the CloudPlug. The development device doesn't have eSATA, but it does have a mini-USB with serial console and JTAG support to help with boot control. And also with the development kit, you'll be on your own for the user-interface.

As far as the CloudPlug, I tried hard to get command-line access, but CTERA has done a good job locking the product down. None of my standard manipulation of the web user-interface variables allowed me to break in. Kudos to CTERA for properly validating all input at both the JavaScript level and the server level.

I did find an undocumented Telnet server running on the CloudPlug, and it accepted my login credentials. But then it immediately kicked me out because my "home" directory wasn't defined. Along with the standard Telnet server, there was also one running on port 8000, which let me in. But instead of giving me a generic command-line, its usage was restricted to manipulation of system configuration variables. So, this little guy isn't all that "hacker friendly". But if that's what you are interested in, you'll likely be targeting the less-expensive development kit instead of the CloudPlug.

Closing Thoughts

CTERA did a nice job with this product. The user interface was very well done, and the cloud-storage features worked as advertised. For my own usage, I typically end up automatically backing up locally and then manually copying my important data out to an Internet server. Any time you have a manual step in the process, you're adding a risk that you'll fall behind, forget files, etc. This box would alleviate that while also adding encryption.

For small-office or home use, the CloudPlug has surprisingly fast performance, low power consumption, a tiny footprint and is completely silent (except for the drives you'll attach).

The CloudPlug does lack some of the "kitchen sink" server features that other NAS manufacturers are providing, such as print, web, media, photo, database, etc. But CTERA's primary focus is on file serving and backup and that they do very well.

The cost of the CloudPlug is around $200, which includes 10 GB of storage for a year. While this is twice what you'll pay for a PogoPlug or Seagate FreeAgent DockStar, neither can come near it in terms of performance because they both lack an eSATA port. Still, CTERA might sell more CloudPlugs if they got the price closer to the $99 of its competition.

So if you're looking for a way to get your eSATA or USB drives onto your network, with the option for offsite "cloud" backup, CTERA's CloudPlug deserves a close look.

This article originally appeared on SmallNetBuilder.

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