ANY TIME TECHNOLOGY fails to impress or just downright refuses to work, I fall back to my pat expression, “If man-made, it can, and likely will break.” In today’s world of extremely dependable systems, we are spoiled with up times so close to 100 percent it’s difficult to calculate the variances. We’ve become so dependent on such stability that we panic when it suddenly vanishes. I have to confess, such an episode is what drove me to this review.
If you frequently visit this column, you know I am generally positive when it comes to the various technologies I’ve reviewed. Just like people, every technology has its wrinkles. I write from this perspective, pointing out weaknesses and trumpeting strengths. Seldom do I straight-up criticize a product or service. Well, there’s a first for everything. Dropbox, you failed me and disappointed me. I can understand an outage—but not one poorly communicated. Because of this service’s handling of their multiday outage in January, I became nervous and started looking for an alternative.
IN SEARCH OF MY CLOUD
As I started my search, with both my readers’ and personal needs in mind, I knew I was hunting for what is known as a “personal cloud.” I was after a service or device that was as easy to use as Dropbox but one over which I had more control. And from overheard conversations at last year’s ABA TECHSHOW, I knew that within the legal community there was strong interest in finding an alternative to traditional cloud storage. Many attorneys wanted the same ease of use they enjoyed with services like Dropbox, Google Docs and OneDrive, but more importantly, they wanted complete control of their documents.
The first stop on my search was a product I’d tested last year. It was an in-home or office storage device with a Web-based interface that was touted to deliver the complete personal cloud experience. It was one of the buzzes at the ABA TECHSHOW 2013 but unfortunately was not ready for prime time. Knowing that interface upgrades had been released, I decided to give it another shot. To my chagrin, I again found it lacking. So I continued my search, and after reading numerous pieces about network-attached storage devices offering pieces of the cloud, I stumbled across a relatively new and promising offering, StoAmigo’s CloudLocker. My first impression was that, through what I describe as reverse engineering, someone had gotten it right.
I apologize for the wordy lead up to the featured technology, but I wanted to give readers a good sense of what led me to
CloudLocker, in short, is a uniquepersonal cloud solution. It’s a plug-and-play device that attaches to your local network, meaning that all of your data resides in your office or home. Access to your data is gained through an online interface. As mentioned, I think of this as reverse engineering. With Dropbox I manage my files through my desktop interface and access them remotely via copies stored on Dropbox’s servers. Using CloudLocker, my files remain on my device and I access them remotely through the StoAmigo Web interface. Sharing works the same way. If I share a file or folder on Dropbox, access is given to the copies shared online, not the files stored on my hard drive. Yes, Dropbox and other cloud services offer comparable Web interfaces, but the key difference is that CloudLocker gives users complete control of their data.
The CloudLocker device is a minicomputer about the size of a paperback book. Currently only a 250-GB model is available. If additional space is needed, any size external hard drive can be attached to the unit via onboard USB ports. To get started, you first visit StoAmigo.com to set up an account. This was extremely easy and free. While setting it up, I noticed that the company offers a traditional cloud service for users who need minimal space but want to take advantage the StoAmigo’s sharing tools. Per-GB pricing is higher than that of other services, but this service does not appear to be the company’s main mission.
The next step is to add your CloudLocker device to your StoAmigo account using the online interface. The interface is cleanly designed and easy to understand and navigate. Once added, the device is visible in the interface’s navigation panel. To add files to your device, you can drag and drop one or more items into the desired folder or use the Add Files feature. Unfortunately, neither option supports the migration of folders and drag-and-drop is not supported in Internet Explorer. You can create new folders through the interface, and once the folders exist you can easily move files between folders. Other built-in features include folder and file deletion, a trash bin, search, sort and list and thumbnail views. Files are presented in the list view by name and icons representing file type—that is, document, spreadsheet, PDF, photo, etc. Next to each file name is a small arrow that, when clicked, loads a preview of the file. I noted that the built-in previewer did not support PowerPoint files. Presentation in thumbnail view is very similar except photos are represented by thumbnail images of the files. Using the quota feature, you can monitor your available disk space.
IT’S NICE TO SHARE
Sharing data with your contacts is the system’s forte. Individual contacts can be added through the Contacts tab on the navigation pane. Groups can be created as well. Individual files and folders can be shared by simply clicking the Share button next to the item. At this point you can add a custom message to the notification email sent to the recipient, control the recipient’s ability to further share the file(s) and control the recipient’s ability to download the file(s). If you want to share multiple files from multiple folders, you can create a custom list and share the list. You have the same control over the list as you do the individual file. The system also creates links that can be shared with non-StoAmigo contacts and on social media sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook. Keeping track of what has been shared is simple. And when it comes time to remove a share or kill a link, it can be done with a click of a button.
Sharing can also be managed from the StoAmigo app available for both iOS and Android devices. Using my iPhone I was able to edit my contact list and share files with ease. The well-designed app includes most of the Web-based interface’s functionality. The one shortfall in this area is the lack of integrations found in other apps for competitor services such as Dropbox and SugarSync. Only time will tell if demand for this device will lead to developing it.
BRINGING IT HOME
StoAmigo’s CloudLocker is currently available only through the company’s website at a cost of $349. For 250 GBs of storage, this price is not a bargain. But for those of us who want the benefit of the cloud and complete control of our files, it may be worth it. And as an added value proposition, the company just announced the addition of two-factor authentication to its service. Even more reason to consider making CloudLocker your own personal cloud.