Pogoplug: Make your hard drive a cloud drive

by Ryan McIntyre

Last Fall, we met the fine folks at Cloud Engines, the company behind the pogoplug, a wonderfully easy-to-use gadget that turns any USB storage device into a web and smart-phone accessible file system, giving users easy control over who they allow to access their files. In short, the pogoplug allows you to take the hard drive attached to your computer (or hanging off your router in the basement of your house) and make it accessible to the world at large – allowing it to become a full-fledged part of the cloud. The beauty of the pogoplug lies in the simplicity of its premise (to give users control over making their content extensible beyond their walled network) combined with the elegant way that Cloud Engines has designed the pogoplug to be both powerful in its function but extremely easy to set up and use.

Of course, the nerds among us might argue that making a hard drive in your home accessible from the internet is “easy”. After all, all you need to do is put a NAS drive on your home network, give it a static IP address, configure port forwarding on your router/firewall appropriately and then set up a Dynamic DNS service so you can still access the device when your ISP issues your home network a new IP address. And that only makes your disk accessible remotely – nevermind if you might also want to manage the creation of user accounts and offer varying degrees of permissions and access to different users across a variety of files and folders. If that sounds easy or fun to you, then perhaps the pogoplug isn’t for you.

But for the rest of the world – those of us who would choose to simply put a slice of bread into a toaster rather than grow a field of wheat, harvest it, dry it, grind the grain into flour, culture some yeast, knead some dough, bake the bread, slice it and then toast it over an open fire, the pogoplug is a great little device that is dead-simple to setup and a pleasure to use.

Pogoplug boasts one of the simplest setup processes we’ve ever experienced for a piece of consumer electronics — even easier than the Slingbox, one of the gold standards in terms of ease of install and usability, in our minds. And while other products exist that can make a storage device LAN and WAN accessible, none go as far as the pogoplug does in truly making your local storage part of the cloud and giving you a granular level of control over how you share your data.

What does this mean? For starters, in addition to offering multi-user web access to an attached storage device, pogoplug also offers Mac, Windows and Linux client software to make the pogoplug appear as local storage on the desktop, regardless of whether the user is on a local LAN or half-way across the world. Second, pogoplug provides a great iPhone app, allowing access to files from the phone. Support for Android and other smartphones is on the way.

Third, while true storage-in-the-cloud and backup-to-the-cloud services exist, they are, relatively speaking, expensive. While a user can find a few gigs of free web-based storage, if you want more than that, the current market price appears to be, at the low end, about $10/year/gig. That’s fine if you’ve only got a dozen or so gigs worth of data. But whatt happens if you want a terabyte of web-based storage? We don’t see many users willing to pony up ten grand a year. With a pogoplug and a terabyte USB hard drive, that’s a sub $200 (one time) proposition.

Finally, and most importantly in our mind, pogoplug provides a web API to their service, allowing third party developers to build apps on top of the installed base of pogoplugs. This is what truly makes the pogoplug an important gadget – it takes a formerly marooned piece of hardware, the lowly hard drive, and makes it a full-fledged citizen of the web. We think that the folks at pogoplug and third party developers out there are going to dream up some exciting applications built on this API.

After spending time with the company in the Fall and hanging out with them at their very crowded booth at CES in January and seeing the enthusiastic response from folks (including ourselves) who couldn’t wait to get their hands on a pogoplug, we began spending even more time in San Francisco getting to know the team behind the pogoplug and learning about their vision and product roadmap going forward.

While a great product vision is a requirement for us to get excited about making an investment, even more important is that there is a great team behind the product that is capable of fulfilling the promise of the company, and the team at Cloud Engines is as rock-solid as they come. Founders Daniel Putterman (CEO), Jed Putterman (VP Product), Brad Dietrich (CTO) and Gregory Smith (CFO) have all been founders and senior executives of successful startups well as established large companies. What’s even more impressive is that they brought the pogoplug to market having only raised money from angel investors. While this is increasingly common in the world of startup web apps, it is a decidedly rare thing to do in the world of consumer electronics.

Finally, it has been gratifying to see that other people out there think highly of the pogoplug as well: the pogoplug has received accolades from the technology press and the many gadget bloggers out there. Pogoplug was recognized with Laptop Magazine’s Editor’s Choice Award, PC Magazine’s Editor’s Choice Award and was a Popular Mechanics Editor’s Choice selection, and the device has been positively reviewed by the likes of Gizmodo, Engadget, Cnet, USA Today, Popular Science, PC World, jkOnTheRun and many more.

Today we are happy to announce that Foundry Group has made an investment in Cloud Engines, and we are looking forward to working with the team to quickly reach the day when far more cloud-based storage is available via personal hard-drives attached to pogoplugs than any service-based means.