Ctera brings the cloud down scale

Last week I reviewed the Alex e-book reader from Spring Design and complained that the device didn't support PDF or text documents. I was foolishly relying on the product specs, which didn't mention anything about PDF documents.

It turns out that the Alex can read and render PDF files, but here's the rub: The Alex can't "re-flow" the content in a PDF file. This is to say that when you zoom in because the text is too small, the text on each line isn't reformatted and wrapped to fit the screen. This means you have to scroll left and right and up and down to view the text.

Scrolling, it turns out, is something the Alex can do but it's tricky because you have to press the synchronize button so the PDF document shown on the large electronic paper display (EPD) up top is shown on the device's smaller touch-sensitive LCD display below. Then, using your finger, you move the image on the LCD and the EPD display is updated to show the new position.

This is like using a remote control on a TV and makes for an experience that isn't much like reading a book. And when you leave the document, your zoom and position settings aren't retained so when you return you're back to the whole page view. This is hardly an adequate implementation of PDF viewing. I'm told a future update will address this. Even so, I still like the Alex.

So, (he wrote changing subjects fast enough to give readers whiplash) it seems that the cloud is still the hot technology pin up. I last discussed the cloud when I reviewed Gadinet's desktop cloud storage tool some months ago.

Today I have another interesting network storage solution that is ideal for workgroup or SOHO use: The Ctera C200, a $499 device that provides network-attached storage (NAS) services as well as storage-area network (SAN) services along with optional backup to Ctera's online storage services.

The C200 is a small (6.4 by 8.27 by 3.74 inch) device that consumes a measly 50 watts of power. It has two drive bays for 3.5-inch SATA drives, which can be hot swapped. Given that 3TB SATA drives are now available a C200 could, in JBOD (Just a Big Old Disk) configuration, provide 6TB which should keep even quite large workgroups happy for a long time. Alternative storage configurations include RAID0 (striped) and RAID1 (mirrored).

The C200 is configured through its Web interface. File sharing is supported through CIFS (Windows File Sharing), AFP (Apple Filing Protocol), Apple Time Machine, FTP, WebDAV, and good ol' rsync. Through client shares a so-called "clientless" backup is supported.

Ctera also provide an installable client for Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7 that can backup open files (unfortunately there's no support yet for server versions of Windows, OS X, or Linux). Versioning is supported through both automatic and manual "snapshots".

As noted, this is a nice solution for workgroups and SOHO situations, but Ctera takes it a step further by making it possible to establish an account on the Ctera portal and have your C200 synchronize with Ctera's online backup service (the device also provides content encryption).

This is all extremely easy to set up and manage, making it usable by organizations with limited tech support. The C200 comes with 5GB of online storage and is free for the first 30 days. After that subscriptions start at $9.95 per month for 10GB and go up to $99.95 per month for 200GB. You can also attach multiple devices (only C200s are currently available) to an account,  which provides a simple, centralized management strategy.

Very compelling. But there are a few minor problems with the C200: the Web-based user interface has a few usability issues, there is no UPS support, and the event notification service doesn't support SMTP servers that require SSL or TLS secured connections. That said, these are minor in comparison to the range of features offered.

So that's it: A SAN, NAS and cloud storage solution that's simple to use, simple to manage and has very good performance, all at a reasonable price. The Ctera C200 gets a rating of 4.5 out of 5.

Gibbs has a clouded view in Ventura, Calif. Your vision to gearhead@gibbs.com.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

The 10 most powerful companies in enterprise networking 2022