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Storage

Space Monkey beauty shot

At a Glance
Product Space Monkey [Website]
Summary Storage appliance bundled with crowd-sourced cloud backup service
Pros • Easy CD-less wireless setup
• Fault-tolerant, secure architecture
• Inexpensive 1 TB cloud synchronization solution
• Bandwidth controls
• Support for Windows / MacOS
• iOS and Android apps back up photos automatically
Cons • Requires constant internet connection
• Device must be powered on and connected 24/7
• No client-based estimate of time or number of files pending upload
• Upstream speed appears to max out at 1.6 Mbps
• Occasional Android app hangs

Introduction

Last year, Hurricane Sandy was a stark reminder to those of us on the east coast that a good backup plan has to include off-site data storage. For many consumers, cloud-based backup of critical files is part of a well thought out backup strategy.

Many companies, large and small, offer some type of cloud storage. Apple's iCloud can be upgraded to 50 GB for $49.99/year. Microsoft offers an upgrade to Sky Drive - 200 GB for $100/year. Dropbox Pro sells a 100 GB plan for $9.99/month. Similarly, SugarSync has a 100 GB plan for $9.99/month or $99.99/year.

For many consumers, 100 -200 GB will be plenty of online storage. But what if you want to store 1TB of data online? That can get pretty expensive. Microsoft and Apple currently don't offer a 1TB option. A 1TB Google Drive will cost you $49.99/month. And SugarSync charges $55/month or $550/year for 1 TB.

If you can't really afford that much but need lots of cloud-based storage, take heart. If you are willing to participate in a crowd-based storage solution, you can store large amounts of data for a fraction of the cost of conventional cloud storage.

In October of 2012, I reviewed Symform. Symform is a crowd-sourced storage and sync service that lets you share your excess storage capacity in return for free storage. If you share 200 GB of your space, you get 100 GB of cloud-based storage free. You provide the storage and the internet bandwidth, and Symform provides the cloud infrastructure.

Your files are encrypted and distributed, with redundancy similar to a RAID architecture, to other Symform member’s committed storage. Your shared storage becomes part of a shared storage network that receives files from other Symform members. Thus, you are utilizing both upstream and downstream bandwidth. The downside is that your computer running the Symform client software has to be powered on and connected to the internet 24/7 to be a reliable member of the network.

In this review, we'll be looking at Space Monkey, a new player in the crowd-based cloud storage market. Space Monkey was announced in the Spring of 2012 and much of the development was completed that year using funding from venture capitalists and angel investors. Space Monkey turned to Kickstarter for additional funding in April of 2013 to help ramp up production and provide initial production units. Space Monkey raised 3 1/2 times its original $100,000 goal with the help of 2989 backers. Be sure to check out the Kickstarter site if you're interested in the history and background of the project.

Space Monkey (SM) uses an architecture similar to Symform. However, the big difference is that Space Monkey is a storage appliance. Unlike Symform, you don't have to dedicate a computer and local storage in order to participate in the crowd-based cloud backup network. The SM appliance consists of a CPU, network interface and either a 2 TB or 3 TB hard disk. 1TB is for storing your "stuff" and the other 1 or 2 TB is used for storing encrypted chunks of other Space Monkey members' files.

The appliance connects to your network and creates a mapped drive "Z" on your Windows computer using setup software. Any files that you copy to the device are processed and uploaded to the Space Monkey distributed storage network. Once the files are copied to your Space Monkey, you can shut off your computer if you wish. Space Monkey takes care of sending your data to the cloud in the background, while still remaining available to receive files from other Space Monkey members.

Product Tour

The product shot at the top of the review gives you a pretty good idea about the form factor of the Space Monkey. When you purchase a Space Monkey, you have your choice of colors: Black or White. Since we got our SM by being an original Kickstarter backer, we didn't get a choice and received a black unit with a matte, not glossy, finish. The product shot shows this finish is a dust magnet.

Located below the black front bezel, there's a single blue LED. If it's pulsing slowly ( ~ once/second), your device is online and connected. On the rear panel, there's a single 10/100 Ethernet port, power jack, pin reset pinhole and USB 2.0 port - presumably for future features.

Inside

The gallery below shows a couple of images of the construction and PCB. I "harvested" these photos from the Kickstarter site. The company doesn't identify the processor used. But it's probably a safe bet that it's a Marvell or similar storage SoC.

Space Monkey innards

Setup

There's not really much involved with the installation. Kickstarter products were pre-provisioned using the Kickstarter backer's email address prior to shipment. There's virtually no documentation included with the product, except for a single page quick start guide with an infographic that directs you to www.spacemonkey.com/install.

Space Monkey Quick Start Guide

Space Monkey Quick Start Guide

The installation link from the Quick Start Guide takes you to the page shown below. For desktop applications, you currently have your choice of either Windows or MacOS, with Linux support promised soon. There are also apps for iOS and Android that I'll discuss separately later.

Space Monkey install page from QSG link
Space Monkey install page from QSG link

Space Monkey relies on articles in its customer portal, A.K.A. Mission Control to help you through setup, installation and usage questions. It's well worth your time to read through the articles both on the general page as well as those related to your desktop operating system.

Space Monkey Portal

Space Monkey Portal
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