|At a Glance|
|Summary||Tiny, powerful, bring-your-own external drive NAS with "cloud" storage|
•Nice User Interface
|Cons||• About twice the cost of competing products|
Ever since I got my hands on a NSLU2, I've been a sucker for little Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices. Why fire up a big, noisy, power-hungry file-server when a tiny, silent 3.5 W NSLU2 will do the trick? I found a lot of uses for my NSLU2, but there was a downside. Running at 133Mhz with only 32 MB of RAM, the NSLU2 wasn't the fastest NAS around. And now, five years later, it's also out of production without much to replace it when you're in the market for a silent NAS with small form-factor and low power draw.
But things have changed. In this review, I'll check out the CloudPlug from CTERA. Hardware-wise, the CloudPlug is a tiny bring-your-own external drive NAS with all the silent, low power-draw goodness of the NSLU2 while adding eSATA support, Gigabit Ethernet, a 1.2 GHz processor and 512 MB of RAM. As far as software functionality, the CloudPlug performs the standard role of a NAS while automatically encrypting and copying your data to a "cloud" server for additional protection. And you get all this in a device that draws as much power as a nightlight while looking more like a wall-wart than a NAS.
With rough dimensions of 4" x 3" x 2" inches and power-prongs on the back, you'd be forgiven for mistaking the CloudPlug as a power-brick instead of a NAS. Figure 1 shows the bottom of the device where you can see the Gigabit Ethernet, eSATA, USB 2.0 connectors.
Figure 1: Bottom of the CloudPlug
The USB and eSATA ports can be used simultaneously or if you really want to load it up with disks, you can add a USB hub. In use, the device is completely silent since it has no fan. And it doesn't draw much power either, which I measured at a measly 4 W.
Getting the CloudPlug onto your network is as easy as connecting a drive and a network connection and plugging it in. One of the key features of the CloudPlug is storage to the "cloud". So if you want to take advantage of this, you'll also need to set up an online account at the CTERA portal before starting the local configuration. Figure 2 shows the initial sign-up form on the CTERA web site.
Figure 2: Setting up a cloud-storage account at CTERA
Once you're set up at CTERA, you start configuring the local device. Just remember to keep track of which account is which, because the administration account you set up for the local system isn't the same as the account that you set up on the CTERA website.
Like most NASes, configuration is accomplished via your web browser. The CloudPlug announces itself on the network both via both UPnP and Bonjour, so it should be fairly easy for most modern operating systems to find it on the LAN. Figure 3 shows the local administration account login prompt the first time I connected to it with my browser.
Figure 3: Admin login prompt
The basic setup of the device is pretty much as expected. A "wizard" walks you through setting up an administration account, the network configuration, the time zone, the machine name, etc. When it comes time to connect your external disk, you'll need to make some choices about disk format. The CloudPlug supports formats of FAT32, NTFS and EXT3. If your external drive is already in a supported format, you'll see an "already in use" message (Figure 4).
Figure 4: Configuring a drive
You can leave your drive in a supported format, but CTERA advises for maximum performance, you'll want to use the "Format" option, which will put the drive into EXT3 format (and erase any existing data in the process). Where setup begins to show a difference from a standard NAS is when you tie the local device to the CTERA portal account set up earlier (Figure 5).