Pogoplug: A wolf in sheep's clothing

Some things are not what they appear to be. They look innocent, devoid of power or danger, and then when you least expect it, pow! They show themselves to be much more. Such is the nature of this week's find: The Pogoplug produced by Cloud Engines.

At first glance the second generation of the Pogoplug, launched in November, appears to be unassuming. It is a relatively small silver rectangle (4 by 2.5 by 2 inches) on a hideous shocking-pink stand. On the back there's a power connection, a GigE connector and three USB 2.0 ports, while the front sports another USB connector and a power-on light.

That's it. But beneath this garish but otherwise unremarkable exterior beats the heart of one of the coolest and, to the enterprise world, one of the more dangerous gadgets to appear for some time.

Allow me to explain: Hidden inside the Pogoplug is a 1.2GHz Marvell ARM SOC RISC processor and 256MB of RAM and 512MB of internal flash storage. On this neat little package runs a stripped-down Linux distro with the kernel.

Here's what the Pogoplug does: You power up the device, plug in an Ethernet cable, connect a nerd stick or a USB HDD drive (USB or externally-powered) and then browse to my.pogoplug.com where you create an account giving your e-mail address and selecting a password.

Minutes later you receive an e-mail with a link that contains the unique 26-digit code for your Pogoplug. Click on that link and you are taken to a Web page that displays the contents of the drive attached to your Pogoplug. Voila! Almost instant network-attached storage, but accessible from anywhere on the intertubes! There are also applications for Windows and OS X that allow you to map local drives to the Pogoplug storage.

So, how does this magic work? Well, by making three assumptions. First, that your network will assign an address by DHCP. Next, that a UDP connection can be created from your Pogoplug to port 4365 on service.pogoplug.com. And lastly, that your firewall will allow incoming UDP connections from that same service. If DHCP isn't available, Cloud Engine's tech support can help you set up a static address.

The Pogoplug Web interface lets you browse the attached storage and, if you click on an image, it will be displayed, while clicking on a music file will play it. From the Web interface you can enable sharing with other people and notify them via e-mail, post links to your content on Twitter, Facebook and MySpace, publish an RSS feed linking to your content, enable public Web access and set up e-mail notification of folder changes.

I got my hands on a first version unit, which is much plainer than the current product. Dressed in industry standard nacreous white, the old Pogoplug has only a single USB port and plugs directly into a power socket making it one of the largest wall warts you'll ever see. Despite these differences the underlying systems function more or less identically.

Anyway, the Pogoplug story gets even better: You can use SSH to establish a console session on the Pogoplug and then install lots of interesting open source software. The OpenPogo site provides all you need to know about adding a Web server, PHP, MySQL, PHPMyAdmin, Samba, a Secure FTP server, a BitTorrent client, Django, Ruby on Rails with RubyGems, Cron … a cornucopia of open source coolness.

And here's the big thing: You get all of this for just $129!

Now, just imagine a group of users on your network. You haven't given them the shared storage or the group application they want so what do they do … ?

You get the picture? Instant security problem? Instant data management problem? Instant compliance and governance problems? Yep, the Pogoplug is not the innocent device you might have thought it to be.

I love the Pogoplug. Low power consumption (5W), no noise, open architecture, highly flexible, low cost … I award Pogoplug a rating of 5 out of 5. Outstanding!

This story, "Pogoplug: A wolf in sheep's clothing" was originally published by Network World.

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