July 23, 2014

Geoff Barrall is Back with Transporter, a Personal Shared Storage Solution

I’m a hardcore Dropbox user, but I don’t love their limited sharing features or having my personal data in the cloud. I was intrigued by the waves of personal shared storage devices that have appeared, but none are appropriate and complete replacements for Dropbox. But a new product just launched on Kickstarter really has a chance of success!

Transporters work together to create a personal storage cloud shared by your friends and family

Introducing Transporter

A few months ago, I met up with an old friend. Geoff Barrall founded Data Robotics, famed for the Drobo personal storage system. Geoff and his team have been at work at another personal storage solution, this time taking aim at Dropbox and other cloud storage providers.

Geoff introduced me to Transporter and a vision for a peer-group shared storage solution. Transporter includes internal storage, a Mac or Windows client, and a web-based management console today, with mobile applications on the way. Watch their video for Geoff’s more eloquent description.

Rather than a traditional launch, Geoff and company decided to try Kickstarter. This lets them rapidly seed a large market and bring in a jolt of funding to get everything delivered smoothly. It also acts as a PR engine if the Transporter project catches on, as I suspect will happen! Dozens of folks have already signed on, in fact!

My Hands On Transporter Preview

I’m lucky to have received a pair of Transporter engineering samples to beta test, and am quite pleased with the product’s progress.

First, let me assure you that Transporter is very real. This is no vaporware “we’d like to make this” Kickstarter campaign. I have two of these things in my hands, and they store and move data. Both the idea and the device were functional even before the Kickstarter project launched.

The Transporter features Ethernet and USB WiFi connectivity

The hardware is very, very slick too. As expected from Geoff’s team, it’s user-friendly and nice to look at and hold. Each Transporter is a rounded pyramid the size and shape of a juice pouch with a 2-segment LED ring around the middle. The rear has an Ethernet and USB port (for WiFi) as well as the power port.

Give it a gentle twist and the top comes off, revealing a laptop 2.5″ SATA hard drive in a slickly-designed carrier. It reminds me somewhat of a Seagate GoFlex dock but the carrier is much more secure and the drive is completely hidden by the cover. The carrier also includes a nice guide to the various LED light signals, though many customers will never open it up to look.

The LED ring changes color to signal what’s going on inside

Plug the Transporter into your network and AC outlet and it will self-configure and update its software, with the LED ring going from green (starting) to blue (ready) in moments. And that’s about it for the hardware. From no on, it will sit quietly and serve as your own personal storage cloud! Happily, you can turn down the intensity of the LED ring in the software interface, because you’ll never really have to bother with it again.

Transporters will be available with hard disk drives or as bring-your-own-drive, though presumably all come with the driver carrier. And it can house the largest 2.5″ drives, even up to 2 TB today! I haven’t tested my collection of assorted drives, but given Geoff’s history I expect it to work with just about any drive you bring!

Transporter Software Overview

One Transporter is usable, but you can mirror your data between multiple Transporters for redundancy, even over the Internet. In fact, I imagine placing one at home and another at work is an ideal use case! Otherwise you can share data between Transporters owned by multiple users for reliability and local performance.

Transporters can act as simple SMB/CIFS file servers, but that’s not the ideal way to use them. Currently, you can only create two SMB accounts and access control is not at all granular. Perhaps additional functionality will be added if users take to this feature.

All configuration is done through a web portal with no software required. But one is wise to install the desktop client on Mac or Windows to get maximum benefit.

With the desktop software running, the Transporter appears quite like a Dropbox folder, allowing access to your data from anywhere. As I type this, my home Transporter in Ohio is synchronizing the company’s press images with my MacBook Pro in Texas, just as would happen with a Dropbox folder. And this is a shared folder from Jim at Transporter’s office in California!

I haven’t had a chance to try the Transporter mobile device apps, but they promise Dropbox-like functionality as well. In other words, you’ll be able to access your data anywhere even though it’s not stored “in the cloud” but in your own home or office!

Stephen’s Stance

Why is Dropbox so great? It’s hard to describe it until you’ve tried it. I’ve been disappointed by Pogoplug and other attempts at personal shared storage, but it’s just as hard to articulate why. I’m not 100% onboard with Transporter, especially with the somewhat rough beta product in my hands today. But Geoff and his team really understand this market. They have a good chance of getting it right!

I’ll be writing more about Transporter as the product improves and as the Kickstarter campaign comes to fruition. The team expects them to be in end-user hands in the first quarter of 2013, and my experiences with this engineering test unit suggest that really will happen. Head over to the Transporter Kickstarter page to learn more!