Today everything is about the cloud. We have public clouds, private clouds, cloud this and cloud that. Now a company called Cloud Engines has developed the Pogoplug. Pogoplug is using open source to deliver the personal cloud. What is the personal cloud you ask? Good question. I spoke to Daniel and Jed Putterman, brothers and co-founders of Cloud Engines about this yesterday and will tell you all about it. But first a little background.
I found out about Pogoplug in speaking with my friend Brad Feld late last week. Brad is a pretty well known VC and blogger. I was asking him about companies he has invested in and how they are using open source. Brad told me about Pogoplug and its use of open source. Putting open source to the side for a moment, my first impression of Pogoplug was sort of a Slingbox for your data. For those not familiar with Slingbox, it is an appliance that allows you to "forward" your TV to any internet connected device to watch. Pogoplug in my mind did the same thing except instead of TV it was your own personal data (files, pictures, video, documents, etc.). Sounded like a cool idea, but where was the open source connection?
Brad said best I speak to the co-founders, but that a lot of what they were doing was based on open source. For me what was key was Brad said they were giving code back to the community on any changes or improvements they made to any open source code. As an open source advocate that is big. Of course most open source licenses require you to do so, but I have seen plenty of companies that don't.
I caught up with Daniel Putterman and his brother Jed yesterday. The Pogoplug is at its heart an open source Linux platform. It uses a bunch of other open source components as well. You can get the complete list of all of the open source and licenses on the Pogoplug from http://www.pogoplug/opensource/.
Pogoplug gives both novice users and serious tech heads the chance to set up their own personal cloud server. It can take less than 60 seconds to set up a Pogoplug. Just plug your Pogoplug into your router at home or office, plug the electric plug into a socket and you are ready.
The current version comes with 4 USB ports to plug in USB based storage media. So you can use a USB key, a USB drive or a USB hub to extend the amount of USB devices you want to plug it. Now that you have plugged in your drives you can log in via the web to your page on pogoplug.com.
The cloud part comes in when you access via the web. You actually are accessing the Cloud Engines Pogoplug cloud based infrastructure via an optional HTTPS connection. The Cloud Engines infrastructure then connects to your home based pogoplug server with the attached USB storage and serves up your data. None of the data is actually stored up in the cloud, it just passes through. Theoretically, you shouldn't have to worry then about the security of the Cloud Engines infrastructure. But I am assured that steps are taken regarding security here as well.
Once you are logged in you can see the files and folders on your pogoplug back at the home or office. You can drag and drop files, stream media, set up slide shows and share files with others. You can even make it so your pogoplug drives appear as just another drive in your Windows explorer.
Pogoplug has a free app for Android, the iPhone, as well as supporting Blackberry and Pre too. So now you can access your own personal media from just about any internet connected device. The personal cloud has arrived!
Security is of course always a concern. You can access your Pogoplug via an HTTPS connection for encryption in transit. None of your data is stored anywhere other than on your own drives at home, so no one else has access to it. Sounds pretty cool, huh? And like I said earlier all of this is powered by Open Source.
Pogoplug's CTO Brad Dietrich had just done an interview for the SoCal Linux Expo (SCALE) discussing open source and how pogoplug leverages it and why. You can read that interview here. Many of the reasons that both Brad and the Puttermans point to are common themes in start ups adopting open source, but bear repeating.
1. Early adopters of new technology products tend to also be supporters and users of open source tools. There is a huge overlap between the two groups. Open source folks are tinkerers.
2. By giving root access and using open source components Cloud Engines allows more technologically advanced users to experiment and push the product in new directions. At the same time they really wanted to keep it really simple for new users to just plug and play. Sort of the family sedan with a hot rod engine under the hood.
3. Using open source allowed Cloud Engines to get to market much more quickly by not having to reinvent the wheel. They spent their time spec'ing out the hardware and developing the web services APIs (which are open) to enable the basic functionality.
As a result, there has been a tremendous amount of experimentation on Pogoplug. Most of the major Linux variants can run on it, as well as a wide range of Linux apps. In fact there is a site called PlugApps where you can download and find out about many apps that run on Pogoplug and other plug computers. This represents a real developers community independent of Cloud Engines. Additionally, Cloud Engines maintains a forum at pogoplugged.com that is more specific to the pogoplug.
I think tinkering with the Linux kernel and adding more apps to the box is only the beginning of what can happen using the open source back end here. I think developers may add functionality to the Pogoplug that the Cloud Engines people may not have even thought of yet. But that is the power of open source at work.
The Pogoplug folks offered to send me an evaluation box to put it through my own testing. It is on its way to me. Once I receive it and play with it a while, I will do a follow up blog post on my own experience with Pogoplug. In the meantime if anyone talks to you about "the personal cloud" remember, you heard it here first.