In any discussion about big data, it's not long before the conversation turns to the question of storage, particularly for smaller businesses. Cloud storage is almost always offered as a possible solution, but there are the very real costs and privacy issues to consider.
One company with a background in open source storage has introduced a solution that flips the storage as a service model around in a novel way, and could be the start of an intriguing new way for smaller businesses to get a foot in the big data door.
First, here's the news on the actual product: Pogoplug Team is a new hosted storage service announced today that lets users access their data from their own local systems.
Yeah, you read that right.
This may sound confusing, but here's how this works: users (who just pay $15 per user annually) download a pice of client software that sits on their PC, Mac, or Linux machine. A manager or administrator can then configure which folders on that machine can be accessed by certain users. Those users can then directly access the data on those folders, wherever it actually sits, either through a web interface, a mobile app, or using their native file manager to access a mapped or mounted server drive.
The cool thing about this approach is that no data actually leaves the local devices, to be uploaded on a hosted storage service, explained Pogoplug CEO Dan Putterman. Because of this, access to the data is done at LAN speeds, he explained, not Internet.
If this sounds familiar to open source aficionados, it should: ownCloud is a similar open source project that launched as a commercial vendor of the same name last month.
But while Putterman has deep respect for the ownCloud service, he was also quick to point out some of the key differences, most notably that ownCloud requires a local server to be installed that enables similar access to local data, which Putterman described as a "non-trivial" operation for a small business' IT staff. Pogoplug Team, on the other hand, needs no local server installation.
Putterman and his team are, naturally, emphasizing some of the known bugaboos of the cloud: notably, speed and cost. Indeed, Pogoplug offered up its own cost breakdown for a 4-TB cloud storage infrastructure accessed by 10 people:
- Pogoplug Team: $150/year
- Google Drive: $2400/year
- Box.net: $1800/year
- Dropbox Teams: $1447/year
- Egnyte: $539.88/year
ownCloud's Community Edition, it should be noted, is free and open source, while the next-tier-up product, ownCloud Business Edition, is $999/year.
What is intriguing to me about this kind of service is the potential it might have for the conundrum of big data for smaller businesses. There are lots of obstacles for SMBs to use big data, the chief one being a serious lack of data expertise. But somewhere on that list of things to tackle is the problem of good, old-fashioned storage of data.
While it is obvious that as it is structured now, a service like Pogoplug Team is not completely suited for the hyper-fast access and distributed storage capabilities that big data needs (which solutions like Hadoop were created to solve), it would be interesting to see if this notion of "local cloud" could be expanded a bit further to eventually enable small businesses store and access enough data to run big-data-class analyses when needed.
Pogoplug and similar services might be an early precursor to a new kind of big data, that's stored and used locally without the need for specialized storage systems, or the costs and limitations of using a public cloud.
Something to bounce around when pondering big data in small business.
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