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Pogoplug is basically a file server that bills its products as a “personal cloud.” Or since we got a Pogoplug Biz review unit, I suppose it would be your “law firm cloud.”
My first impression on setting up the Pogoplug? Totally awesome. It is basically a simple, really easy-to-use, drop-in replacement for a file server or network-attached storage. Pogoplug is a sweet gadget, and it makes me question my long love affair with Dropbox.
Let me count the ways . . .
What Pogoplug is
The device itself is pictured up at the top of this post. It is a neat-looking little box that you plug into your router. Then you plug in external hard drives—up to four. Then sign up for a free account at my.pogoplug.com. You should also install the Pogoplug Drive software on your computer, but this is optional.
Once you are set up, you can access the hard drives you plugged into your Pogoplug from any web browser, anywhere. If you install the Pogoplug Drive software, your Pogoplug will show up as a hard drive on your system (P: on Windows, by default).
What Pogoplug does
Essentially, Pogoplug is a happy little user-friendly file server. It allows you to access files on your external hard drive(s) from any computer or web browser. In other words, you can move all your files off your computer to the cloud.
Once you install the Pogoplug Drive software on your computer (it is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux), you can access files on your Pogoplug drive(s) as easily as you can access files on your computer. You can also automatically sync files from your computer to your Pogoplug drive. You can also share files with co-workers and clients (with Pogoplug Biz). If you have a networked printer attached to the same router, you can print to it from your web browser.
Pogoplug basically works like a file server (and a printer server), but takes zero IT expertise to set up, maintain, and use. It just works.
Since you can access your Pogoplug drive(s) just like your regular hard drive, you can use it just like your My Documents folder—or anything else on your hard drive. You can open and edit files directly, without the need to sync them locally. In other words, double-click your P: drive, navigate to the file, and double-click it to open. The speed may be slightly reduced, if you are accessing your files over the web, but when you are accessing them over your office network, it should be nearly as fast as pulling them off your own hard drive.
In other words, you can put your client files, your practice management software database, your music collection, and everything else on your Pogoplug, and access it just as easily from Venezuela as from your office. There are also apps for most smartphone operating systems, and my.pogoplug.com works with any browser, so you can use it with Windows, OS X, or—hey, why not—Iceweasel
Pogoplug also make file sharing easy, with clients, co-workers, co-counsel, or anyone else. You can provide links to any file or folder, and even prevent people you share with from downloading the file.
Sort of like Dropbox, you can automatically sync files from your computer to your Pogoplug drive(s) and access them securely from anywhere in the world. However, Pogoplug’s Active Copy is one-way only. It mostly just makes it really easy to upload files, since you just have to drop them in one of your Active Copy folders. Or you could make your client files folder an Active Copy folder, in which case you would always have a synced copy on your Pogoplug drive for rudimentary backup (just remember, sync is not backup).
And unlike Dropbox, you can use your Pogoplug to do incremental backups with your regular backup software. Since you are using your own drives, storage is essentially limitless. Hook up a 2 TB external drive, and you’ll probably never run out of storage. (Okay, so at the moment, four external hard drives are effectively limited to 8 terabytes, but as far as my storage needs—real and imagined—are concerned, that is essentially limitless.)
You can even sync files between Pogoplugs, so you could send a Pogoplug to live with your sister in Venezuela, just in case your office in Boston burns to the ground.
What Pogoplug can’t do
First, and most obviously, Pogoplug requires an internet connection to work. This is true for most things, these days, but that can be a serious problem for lawyers, because courthouses are notorious internet connection killjoys. Few have public wi-fi available, and many are in thick-walled buildings that kill wireless radios and make mobile networks worthless (plus, you won’t save money over Dropbox if you have to pay $30 per month for a mobile internet plan for your laptop or mobile device).
There are ways around this, but it definitely is not as easy as having access to all your files, all the time.
Second, Pogoplug does not have any built-in file access control or check-in/check-out control, so if two people are working on the same file, they risk wiping out one another’s changes. This is a problem with Dropbox, too, but since Dropbox saves version history, it is not too difficult to recover both copies to reconcile manually. With Pogoplug, if you overwrite the file before you do a backup, you are SOL.
Both these “can’ts” highlight what Pogoplug is not: a file sync utility. I’ve grown used to the file sync approach to file sharing. But Pogoplug is a fresh approach to the traditional file server—a job it performs much better than a traditional file server. But if you are already sold on sync, look elsewhere.
Unlike more traditional cloud storage systems, Pogoplug does not store your data. Think of it as a switchboard that serves to connect you with your data. The Pogoplug servers provide an encrypted connection between you and your data, but all they do is feed the data through. The only time your data sits on Pogoplug’s servers at all is when you want to view a file in your browser. Then, the file is uploaded to Pogoplug’s servers while you look at it. When you close the file, it is wiped from the server.
Because your data remains on your hardware—except while in transit—Pogoplug is probably more secure than Dropbox, so long as your hardware is in a secure location and backed up frequently. You can force users to access your Pogoplug over a secure connection, just as Dropbox does.
It also means you do not have multiple copies of your files to keep track of. With Dropbox, your employees probably have files scattered across laptops, desktops, and smartphones, and the loss of any one device could cause a firm-wide information catastrophe. With Pogoplug, the files remain safely in your server room (or under your desk or wherever you keep your Pogoplug), and when your employees close their laptops, there are no files to lose (okay, except perhaps in the cache or something). If they lose a laptop, change their Pogoplug password, and you are good to go.
However, it could be more secure. Your data may be transmitted over a secure connection, but the data itself is not encrypted for the journey. You don’t get this with most cloud storage providers (including Dropbox), either, but encrypting your data before it leaves your computer is probably as secure as you can make your data, and Pogoplug does not go that far.
Should you use Pogoplug?
Yes. At a minimum, Pogoplug is a great remote backup option. It is also a great option for a home file server for all your family’s music, photos, and other stuff you want to share with family.
As a business tool, whether you should use the Pogoplug depends on how you want to manage files. If you want people to be able to work on the file locally, on their computer, and tote those files around, you may be happier with a file sync tool like Dropbox. If you want to centralize data for enhanced security and ease of access from any computer—not just the few you approve—then Pogoplug is the superior option.
I am on the fence. Dropbox has been an outstanding file server replacement for my firm for the last few years, but I do not think it scales well beyond a few employees, and those employees must be tech-savvy to be trusted taking so much client information out of the office. Pogoplug is a great, IT-less option for a growing firm that wants extra security, but is not ready for more-expensive remote access solutions. It is also relatively cost-effective. Dropbox starts at $99 per year, and a “real” file server costs hundreds or thousands to maintain. By comparison, Pogoplug pays for itself pretty quickly. For all these reasons, chances are good we will adopt Pogoplug—or something like it—in the near future.