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A privacy-centric file sharing and network storage device in the offing has raised $2.6 million from around a 1,000 funders on a crowdfunding platform. It also won an award at CES 2013. Here is a look at it.
At the 12th Annual Storage Visions Conference, a partner programme to the recently concluded Consumer Electronics Show, the winner of the 2013 Art of Storage award was a product that is in the verification stage and hasn’t been launched yet. In a curious contrast, this product is also crowdfunded, with the fundraiser having closed on January 11, 2013. The company received 2.6 times its funding goal of $1 million from over a thousand ‘backers’, having achieved the goal barely 11 days after the fundraiser campaign was launched on Kickstarter.
The ‘Transporter’, an attractively designed black obelisk, “is an online, but off-cloud social storage solution that delivers a completely private way to share, collaborate, access and protect all your files”. The device allows you to back up, store or share your data on your own terms without paying recurring subscription fees for cloud storage services. Companies hosting cloud services are in the position to monitor the data and metadata stored on their servers. By going off the cloud, users can control the level of privacy and data security they require. The company that made Transporter claims that the users’ data is always private. The Transporter uses peer-to-peer (P2P) sharing on the Internet to sync and share data but does not store it on any external server or cloud server. At the most, the data is locally cached on your computer if you choose to do so to improve performance. Your data is always with you except when it is being actively shared with someone else. Transporter devices communicate with each other using the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) protocol.
Now let’s get down to the devil called details: the Transporter contains a standard 2.5-inch HDD, of a capacity of 1TB. The device is connected to the Internet (Ethernet cable or wireless) at your home or office so that your data is accessible to you from anywhere in the world through an Internet-connected device such as a laptop, tablet, or smartphone. Transporter works with Ethernet ports (RJ45), Wi-Fi networks (802.11b/g/n at 2.4 or 5 GHz) and commonly used security protocols such as WPS, WEP 64/128bit, WPA /WAP2 and WPA-PSK/WPA2-PSK. The Transporter is a SATA II device. It is backwards compatible with SATA III drives too and can be used with most laptops, tablets and smartphones. Aroud a hundred devices are under testing and the final solution is intended to work as a hybrid network of Transporters and hard drives. The Transporter could work as a standalone product communicating with one or more Transporters, as also a service that enables data sharing with other types of devices. It is not clear yet if all the privacy and security features of the Transporter would work as purported in the case of direct communication between a Transporter and another device such as a desktop computer.
Screenshot of Transporter's management software (Source: Filetransporter.com)
As your data is always stored in your Transporter or in a linked Transporter owned by someone else, this method offers you better privacy compared to cloud storage services. Additionally, no annual or monthly subscription costs are associated with using the Transporter for the same reason. There is no limit to the duration or frequency of data sharing. Though the entry price is a bit steep – the cost of a single Transporter and the average 1TB 2.5-inch hard drive is around USD 270 plus shipping – Dropbox’s premium 500GB plan is $49.99 a month or a $499 yearly fee.
Though we are not sure exactly how useful it will be for an average home user, small to midsize companies with offices in multiple locations can use this device by installing it in each office. Thus they need not worry about paying monthly charges for cloud storage of critical files as long as they ensure that these devices are always connected to the Internet. The Transporter is small, portable, and easy to configure for the layperson. Although the Transporter is essentially a file sharing solution and not one for backup, the user does not need to put together a manual backup for each device on the P2P network. Through a workgroup sharing system, all the connected devices automatically and continuously sync with each other all the time, ensuring the files stay up-to-date. So if a file stored on one of the Transporters is edited, the new version of the file would reflect on other Transporters connected to it once the file completes syncing over the network. Off-cloud peer-to-peer file sharing features such as the Opera Unite (which is no longer available with the latest version) do not offer the ability for documents to sync automatically.
Through a browser interface, users can access various parameters to control the device, add or remove other Transporter devices, manage access of users to various folders etc. Files can also be shared with those who do not have own a device by sending an email to them, inviting them to access the specified files or folders. These invites can also be sent through the browser interface. Apart from this interface, Transformer also comes with a desktop application that functions a lot like Dropbox’s folder and brings the ease of drag and drop sharing to its users. Users can limit upstream and downstream bandwidths.
The company now plans to roll out its Windows and Mac clients for the device while the iOS app is currently under development. The Silicon Valley-based company plans to ship the Transporter in the US this month against pre-orders placed on Kickstarter. There are no plans to ship internationally yet.