Connected but private: Transporter aims to be your off-cloud Dropbox
Can the gap between personal and cloud storage be easily bridged? Connected data's rackmount aims to create remote storage data that's not actually stored in the cloud.
The cloud may be the future of all things storage, but the present is more complicated: it can be expensive, potentially insecure, and you're left trusting a third party with all your data.
That's what inspired The Transporter, a Kickstarter project started by former employees of Drobo. Transporter aims for something more secure and distributed, while still being sharable. The concept largely works like Dropbox, with a Transporter folder that lives on your desktop and syncs with files stored on the physical Transporter drive (which resides someplace you designate). You can easily give others network security access to specific folders, although they will need to register for a free Transporter account.
The physical Transporter is the big difference; all your data lives on your own rackmount, rather than a third party's cloud servers (which could be located in data centers anywhere in the world). In addition to giving you the peace of mind of having the drive under your personal control, having the Transporter on your local home or business network appliance will make for faster transfer speeds while you're on-site. (When accessing the Transporter remotely, of course, you'll be subject to the host location's upstream and downstream data speeds.)
The rackmount itself includes housing for a 2.5-inch SATA hard drive, with an Ethernet and USB port on the back. It can work with Wi-Fi, but you need to buy an adapter that connects via USB. It sounds a lot like other hard-drive housings, but the Transporter's meant to be used in tandem with other Transporters. Plug one in somewhere, and it can share its drive with other rackmount, syncing and copying all data between them, depending on how you configure your folders. Even better, if any drive were to fail, the information can redundantly stored on every other Transporter connected to the network, in addition to PCs that have the shared Transporter folder.
For network security, the strongest part of The Transporter's pitch comes down to pricing. Yes, Dropbox offers a lot of the same functionality without the need for hardware, but it gets pricey quickly: 100GB is $100 per year and 500GB is $500 per year. For large storage amounts, the Transporter's no-subscription-fee model is much more affordable: 1TB Transporter for $300, 2TB Transporter for $400, plus you can buy the hardware without storage for $200 and add your own hard drive later. It might make a lot of network security sense for professionals that need to offer access to large files and don't want to deal with antiquated FTP transfers.
What's the difference between this and any other networked hard drive? Theoretically, ease of use and a setup process that may be able to easily bypass firewalls and port settings, like the Pogoplug. In our meeting with Connected Data, no demo of the software was shown; all we saw was the Transporter box itself. It's reasonably attractive, but ultimately the success of the network server hardware is going to come down to the quality of the software and overall experience.
The Transporter's laser-focus on data storage and backup means it's not quite as flexible as a more traditional network attached storage (NAS) drive. Sure, you can store your personal photos, music, and videos on a Transporter, but it lacks a built-in media server (such as DLNA or AirPlay) that makes it easy to access those on say, an Apple TV or PS3, without leaving a separate computer on. While the Transporter team says it's looking into those types of features in the future, at the moment it's really more of a personal rackmount, rather than a full-fledged NAS (networked attached storage) replacement.
We've felt network server hardware by dealing with our network server hardware data, like videos and photos, that take up too much space for cloud storage yet still need to be shared as well as secured and backed up. Transporter sounds like it fills some of those needs (storage, shareability), but not all of them. The question is, are there enough people out there who need a service like network security for it to be successful? It's hard to say, but The network server hardware raised more than double its $100,000 goal, plus the company announced today that it has secured $6 million in additional financing.
The Transporter is available to order today, directly from Connected Data. We're expecting to get a review unit soon, so we can see if its software and services deliver on their promise.