Simple explanation is not so simple with the mouthful above, so bear with me for a bit, please, as I do my best to clue you in on something with a bright future.  The concept is so new that most of you will not have a frame of reference and experience seeing what it’s all about, so I have to bring you in from the bottom up.

Whether you are a consumer, IT professional within your big company organization or something in the middle, I think you are going to be intrigued by what I will share with you below.

Begin with an idea from a company called Marvell Semiconductor, based in Santa Clara, CA, in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley. They had an idea for something they called a Plug Computer, a real computer built into a small box that plugs in directly to the wall.  This computer runs itself, so to speak, and makes available to its customers an array of possibilities, all based on what they call their Plug Computing platform.

 

The first consumer product out with Plug Computing inside is called Pogoplug, something that caught my attention this past January in Las Vegas at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES).  There was this little box at their tiny exhibit space, not even a real booth, plugged in for power and connected via an Ethernet cable to a router.  This put them and their box out on the Internet.  Attached via the USB port on this little white box was a hard drive, as I recall. It was a standard little pocket-size hard drive, powered by the USB port itself.  Someone at the exhibit reached for an iPhone, launched an application and showed me what they said was content, photos and a little video, streaming LIVE via the Internet from that PogoPlug up to cyberspace and back down wirelessly to the iPhone.  Hmmmm.  Pretty neat!

A few months later a Pogoplug was sent for my review.  Now, you know that this little computer-in-a-box plugs in for power and supports Gigabit Ethernet speed from it to your network router as well as USB to connect to ANY external USB hard drive or USB flash drive.  Setup was as easy as any product I’ve tried.  It is really difficult to not set up this device perfectly, easily.  Whatever files are on the connected drive, now a network server, may be shared securely with invited guests or by the user from any computer, anywhere in the world.

Simple, right?  I have my stuff here and on a storage device connected to my registered PogoPlug using USB.  While I am here I can see my Pogoplug-connected storage device as if connected directly to any computer I am using that is on my network.  I can drag and drop info as I wish and transfer data at pretty fast in-network speeds, that is, at Ethernet speeds, even Gigabit Ethernet were that in place here.

Once I leave here I can access this same Pogoplug and connected storage device as if I am still here though at slower speeds because the data has to be sent at my slow upload speed from here.

Sharing by others takes place through Pogoplug’s online portal.  When logging on from the outside to a user’s Pogoplug, this “portal” is an intermediary site that connects in the middle between the user’s Pogoplug-connected drive and the guest or the user.  From that Web URL all that is on connected drive appears in a window.  The logged-in user, of course, has full access to it all content.  Guests have access to permissioned content.

Transfers occur from Pogoplug-connected devices to subscribers outside of the user’s home network at the individual Pogoplug owner’s upload speed.  In my case, I have AT&T DSL with their 6.0 Mbps download speed and 768 Kbps upload speed, so my stuff is sent to the other end at only a maximum of 768 Kbps, which is considerably slower than the speeds achieved from a big Site such as apple.com/trailers, that can send out multiple streams, even thousands at a time, at speeds easily four or more times what I or any individual can do.

Still, having the convenience to do it all myself cannot be overlooked.

Pogoplug consumes only a couple of Watts of power if left on all the time, so it is also quite energy efficient.  I’ve been using mine most recently with a 32GB Kingston DataTraveler 200 USB flash drive to hold videos, music and files I want for myself, accessible from anywhere, and to share.

Think about how the technology might work for you personally and for your small business.  Let’s say you are traveling and you’d like to access files, music, even videos from wherever you are. Now you can do just that and you can do it more easily than with any other device about which I am aware. Remember, you don’t have to connect to a computer back home or at the office.  In addition to grabbing needed files, transfers go the other direction, too.  SAVE whatever files back to the connected Pogoplug’s drive as well.  Now, you have the opportunity to back up and protect any data while you are creating it even when away from home or office.  This concept of backing up remotely is not new, but doing it this way, this inexpensively, this selectively and under your total control is innovative.

How about this?  Your friend or colleague also gets one of these and now, the two of you can back up files away from each other’s location, real “off-site” backup, from your office to hers and vice versa.  This is ideal and inexpensive to store important files securely away from the office.

Other iterations of Marvell’s Plug Computing platform have arrived since Pogoplug.

Seagate Technology is one of the partners.  Their FreeAgent DockStar network adapter is available now, with a suggested retail price of $100.  For that price, buyers receive a dock with Plug Computing, a Pogoplug, built into a fashionable dock that accepts Seagate’s well-regarded FreeAgent Go pocket drives (available at additional cost) in its dock AND up to three of any kind of external USB storage devices using the dock’s built-in USB ports.  Of course, these are all compatible with Macs and Windows PCs!  Click on the DockStar page linked above to take the product tour.  Setup is as simple as can be with this docking device supporting gigabit Ethernet for even greater throughput when used within the home network.  From then on, files are available to the user from anywhere on the globe where there is computer access AND to designated others as well, all through a simple Web-based interface.  One year of service is included with DockStar, that is, one year of FREE transfer service.  Then it’ll cost users $30 annually for the privilege.

Why the fee?  Seagate licensed the technology and also has to use the Pogoplug portal online through which to transfer data between the connected hard drive and its sharer, be it you or your designated parties.  In addition, Seagate’s product includes a piece of built-in software allowing it to post updates to the user’s social networking Sites, such as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace.  Just sign up, authorize the updates through the sign-up page and let it happen. Whenever a change occurs, such as a photo added, it is shown on the user’s social networking page as listed above.  Watch for more partnerships like this to come.  Even when the subscription runs its course and if it is not renewed, files may still be transferred within the home network, but no longer on the outside.  $30 per year seems like an OK deal for these added services, if they appeal to the user, that is.

Both the audio player and the capability to play a slideshow are built into the product, using Marvell know-how.  It’s doing the work of a computer because it IS a computer, all by itself.

Both Pogoplug and the Seagate products with this technology can also use the iPhone FREE application to access files remotely.  I’ve tried it and it works very well.

By now you should have an idea of the capabilities.  How did I do it?  All I did was access my Seagate DockStar with a docked FreeAgent Go drive, and then in the Web interface, I chose to create a new folder.  Once the new folder was created, I clicked on the Sharing button in the bottom of the MyPogoplug.com window, and then I selected to Enable Public Viewing.  Imagine that I could also put short videos, photos (which visitors could see as a slideshow from the button available at the bottom of the browser window), documents, projects for collaboration and just about anything else in there.  In addition, with those three available USB ports, I could attach THREE more hard drives, each as large as I wish, that could be used for backing up data locally or remotely, or for my entire family to use for, let’s say, all of our collective music that we could point iTunes to use as the source.

I could have set it up to share with only certain persons, by invitation only, too.  And it can also be set with security options in place for invitees.  As it is set now, with this public shared folder, there are no restrictions, but neither is it possible for you to add to this folder.

You, with your own device, will be able to do as you wish, with seemingly endless possibilities.

When at Gadget Central and operating from within the local network speeds are quite good and not dependent upon what AT&T gives me. So, sharing, backing up and using the system as I wish is at the speed as if the drive is directly attached to my computer.

Ah, now I think you can begin to imagine all that you could do with one of these fine gadgets.

Another licensee to the Marvell technology is CTERA. Their business model targets the business sector with their CloudPlug based on the platform.  They’re about storing, synchronizing, sharing and backing up data for the small office worker, home office worker, teleworkers as well as geeky consumers, yet it is still done with the platforms typical ease of use.  In addition to the basics of local storage and sharing, they promote secure and automatic online backup which they either host or just manage and that includes NO software to install.  Once set up, the user’s data to be backed up is sent upward to “the cloud” as these things are known.  The “cloud” is a euphemism for a remote location that maintains your data on their computers, and in this case, your files and whatever else is part of the off-site backup is sent in a secure, encrypted format that is not penetrable to outsiders. It’s yours and only yours.

 

They include a modern eSATA port as well as USB on their “brick” to take advantage of a higher data transfer speed employed by eSATA technology.  This speed is likely only useful within the user’s local network. You will recall that the upload speed is the limiting factor in any device or product whereby one of the components is transferring data up and out of the typical home or small office.  This upload speed is generally at a relative crawl as compared to download speed.  It’s a good idea to know what yours is, both at home and elsewhere that you regularly use a computer and from where you may need to upload large chunks of data. Users may find eSATA external drives that are available in capacities starting at about 1TB and up.  CTERA customers pay for this off-site storage as a safeguard against a local calamity. In addition, these off-site files may also be retrieved as needed, whether for disaster recovery or to populate a new computer.  At the company link ABOVE you will see the price range for their devices and services.

 

Ionics EMS is yet another licensee of Marvell’s Plug Computing technology.  I am sharing it with you in order to illustrate a very small form factor possible for a product with this capability inside.

As seen above, the size is so small that each can be plugged in side-by-side in most power strips!  Call this a Plug Farm, useful to developers who design applications specific to the capabilities afforded by the technology!

All of this brings me to conclude this article on the phenomenon of Plug Computing made possible by the genius of Marvell Semiconductor engineers and developers. Whether you are a lowly consumer such as I or a geeky developer with ideas of what else this platform can do for fun and profit, I hope you, as I, come away with the thought that this is really big – A low power-consuming, powerful computer in a box with capabilities to use now and to explore for the future.

And there is much more noise being heard from within the company’s walls.  Another BIG THING you’ll learn about sooner than later, and powered by Marvell, are products known as eReaders. Not the eBooks currently available, these are next-generation faster and lower power, lower priced, ultra-thin electronic devices we will buy to display information, including books, health-related documents and more.  They are all powered by Marvell ARMADA processors.  So, stay tuned!

Thanks, Marvell!

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