PogoPlug Biz Review: File Sharing and Remote Access

Thursday Oct 21st 2010 by Joseph Moran
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Looking for an alternative to cloud-based remote access and file sharing? PogoPlug Biz lets you easily access and share files over the Internet while keeping your data on your own external hard drives.

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PogoPlug made a name for itself by offering home users a convenient way to share numerous and/or bulky files, such as photo collections and videos, with friends and family. Of course, small businesses frequently need to share these kinds of files too, except with clients and customers.

PogoPlub Biz; remote access; file sharing
Connect USB storage devices to the PogoPlug Biz for remote access via the Internet.
(Click for larger image)
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Enter the PogoPlug Biz, which aims to be an alternative to cloud-based storage, file sharing or collaboration services; it builds on the capabilities of the consumer-focused PogoPlug with some added features that offer small businesses more flexibility and control over remote access and file sharing.

Specs and Setup

The $299 PogoPlug Biz is a small device that looks almost identical to the standard PogoPlug (the only physical difference is a base/front bezel of businesslike black rather than bright magenta). The front of the PogoPlug Biz sports a single USB 2.0 port, and there are three more in back along with a Gigabit Ethernet port.

If you prefer wireless access and are willing to sacrifice one of the USB ports, you can spend an extra $29 on an optional dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11n adapter. (Our evaluation unit didn't include one.)

The idea behind the PogoPlug Biz is to connect external storage devices -- either hard drives or flash drives -- to the device (it has no internal storage of its own) so you can remotely access their contents from any Internet-connected browser. PogoPlug Biz supports storage devices formatted with FAT32, NTFS, HFS+, or EXT-2/3, which represent all the file systems used by today's Windows Mac, and Linux PCs. It also works with all the major browsers -- IE, Firefox, Chrome and Safari.

Getting the PogoPlug set up and connected to the Internet is extremely easy. It's a simple matter of physically connecting power, network cables, and one or more storage devices. Then you visit My.PogoPlug.com to create an account and run a short activation wizard.

The wizard automatically detects the PogoPlug Biz on your network -- through NAT and without the need to tinker with firewall settings. An LED on the front of the PogoPlug Biz tells you at a glance whether the unit is correctly configured and has an Internet link.

While you access PogoPlug Biz-connected storage via CloudEngine-maintained servers at My.PogoPlug.com, the site's merely a portal. That means your files remain on the PogoPlug Biz; they're not replicated to any online storage, and there aren't any subscription fees required for access.

Remote File Access and File Sharing

Upon logging into the PogoPlug Biz, you're presented with a library view that encompasses all the devices connected to it. One way to access files and folders is by selecting and then browsing a specific storage device -- like you'd typically do on a PC -- but the PogoPlug Biz includes preset links that can make finding a particular category of files easier irrespective of their location.

For example, Photos and Movies links show photo or video folders across all attached storage devices, while Today, Last week or Last month links filter all but the most recent additions.

The PogoPlug Biz automatically generates thumbnail views for photos and video and can display photo slideshows. You can also view non-graphics files like documents or spreadsheets from within the browser. Mousing over a video thumbnail will play the first few seconds of the clip (sans audio), and you can configure the PogoPlug Biz to automatically transcode all video so that it can be streamed as well as downloaded.

This process can be extremely slow -- transcoding a large number of videos, or even relatively small number of lengthy and/or high-resolution videos, can take a day (or several) and, while it's taking place, the PogoPlug's responsiveness can become somewhat sluggish.

To share a file or folder (or an entire drive, for that matter), you click a link beneath the thumbnail and provide a recipient's email address to send an invitation with an access link. Sharing options include the capability to share an item publicly, require an access password (so that links can't be passed around to unauthorized people), receive updates about changes to shared folders via email or RSS feed, or share via Twitter and Facebook.

Of particular interest to small business looking to control content will be the PogoPlug Biz's Web View Only option, which allows others to view shared files in a browser but not download them.

The PogoPlug Biz doesn't have a formal backup feature per se, but it does provide an Active Copy option that lets you replicate and sync folders between two different attached storage devices or remotely between two PogoPlug Biz units.

Desktop and Mobile Applications

One aspect of the PogoPlug Biz that could be more convenient is getting large groups of files onto a PogoPlug Biz- attached storage device. You can upload multiple files from the same folder to the PogoPlug Biz via the Web interface, for example, but not an entire folder along with its contents.

One way around this is to take the extra step of creating a folder on the PogoPlug before uploading a group of files to it. Another is to use a free desktop utility called PogoPlug Drive (available for Windows, Mac or Linux), a utility that makes the PogoPlug Biz drives appear as a standard PC hard drive. PogoPlug Drive also has its own version of Active Copy for backing up files between a PogoPlug and a PC.

In addition to the desktop software, there are also four mobile apps available for Android, BlackBerry, iPhone, and Palm devices. (Sorry, Windows Mobile users.) Also free, these mobile apps allow you to browse and upload files to the PogoPlug Biz.

Customization Features

The PogoPlug Biz includes a number of customization and mobility options that distinguish it from its consumer-targeted counterpart. (See this chart outlining the differences between the two.) For starters, the look of the browser-based UI is customizable, albeit in a fairly rudimentary way. You can adorn pages with a company logo and put a link to your company Web site behind it.

However, the logo can be JPEG only, and it's extremely small size (165x39 pixels) makes it almost unnoticeable in its fixed location in the upper-left corner of the page. Other UI tweaks include the capability to change the color of backgrounds and text.

More interesting and useful is the PogoPlug Biz's capability to set up multiple user accounts with a dedicated folder for each. It also lets you define custom email addresses that employees and clients can use to upload files to predetermined locations on the device. There's also the option to use a custom domain name so you access your PogoPlug via an address like PogoPlug.YourCompanyName.com instead of My.PogoPlug.com, though enabling this requires you to modify your own DNS settings.

The PogoPlug Biz provides some basic usage statistics, since small businesses are more likely than casual file sharers to want to track how often shared files have been accessed and by whom. The file sharing device can tell you which users have accessed shared items and how many times an item has been viewed, downloaded, or streamed.

However, this information is hard to find in the UI and inconvenient to access given you can only view it for one folder at a time. CloudEngines says a future firmware update will make usage statistics more prominent and let you see them for all shared folders at once.

The PogoPlug Biz's $300 price tag is a bit pricey -- it's three times as much as a garden variety PogoPlug -- so you're paying a high premium for its extra handful of business-focused features. Still, it's a good alternative to cloud-based storage services for small businesses that want maximum storage and control over their data for minimal cost.

Pros: simple setup with no firewall tinkering; stored data remains on your network; no monthly access fees; free mobile applications available

Cons: must add your own storage; Wi-Fi available separately; pricey compared to consumer-oriented version

Joseph Moran is a longtime technology writer and co-author of Getting StartED with Windows 7 from Friends of Ed.

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