Setting up a NAS (network-attached storage) box for remote access can be difficult as well as costly. Ctera Networks‘ CloudPlug aims to solve both problems by permitting remote access to your local storage drives via the Internet. CloudPlug ups the ante with an online backup adjunct along with local administration and local network access to your files–capabilities not found in most competing devices.
CloudPlug looks like a bulky AC adapter that you plug into the wall. It has ports for attaching both USB 2.0 and eSATA devices, as well as a gigabit Ethernet port to attach it to your router and in that way to the Internet. You can also pop out the CloudPlug’s AC prongs and replace them with a power cord, which should make connecting to a power outlet easier.
To get started with the CloudPlug, you complete the aforementioned cabling, and the unit shows up automatically under your Safari Bookmarks on the Mac. You can then access the HTML user interface, which resembles what you’d find on a full-blown NAS box. There you get options for such actions as sharing files and creating volumes and folders. When you log on initially, the CloudPlug steps you through the basic configuration process.
Ctera has done a great job with the HTML interface: It’s pleasing to the eyes and easy to get around in, if you understand shared storage and networking concepts. If not, you needn’t worry. For the most part, all you have to do is plug drives into the unit and leave things as they already are. If you like, you may log on locally to the CloudPlug, as you would to any other network storage device or shared folder, and view the files that are on the USB or eSATA devices attached to the unit.
Once you’ve configured the CloudPlug and attached storage devices, accessing the files via the Internet becomes a simple matter of surfing to the Ctera Web site and logging on to the account that you created as part of the configuration process. You then select Remote Access, My files, and you can log on to your CloudPlug with the same local username and password (which is separate from the online account) that you established during the configuration process.
Ctera offers online storage for backing up devices attached to the CloudPlug or to other shared resources on your network. You can try the service (5GB for 30 days) at no charge, but thereafter Ctera imposes a monthly charge of $10 for 10GB, $20 for 25GB, $30 for 50GB, $50 for 100GB, or $100 for 200GB. That’s a bit pricey in view of alternatives such as Mozy and Fabrik. Likewise, the CloudPlug itself is a bit expensive compared to similar devices. The online backup option is a convenient and well-integrated feature, but it’s ancillary–you don’t need to purchase it to use the CloudPlug.
Macworld’s buying advice
I enjoyed my time with the CloudPlug, and it’s a great product for more-advanced users. However, Cloud Engines’ Pogoplug (Macworld rated 4.5 out of 5 mice) and Seagate’s FreeAgent GoFlex Net (Macworld rated 4 out of 5 mice) might be a better match for the average user looking to access and share files online.