The Transporter from Connected Data offers a new generation of network-attached storage (NAS). This technology allows you to connect a hard drive to your router, access it from anywhere and share its stored files.
It is a bring-your-own drive alternative to the cloud. Units cost US$199 for a supply-your-own drive system (the company recommends any major brand 2.5" drive) or ships with 1 TB ($299) or 2TB ($399) ready-to-go drives. The drives sit inside the Transporter enclosure, making the system both compact and clean. Just connect to your Ethernet router and power, and you're ready to rock and roll.
Net-connected drives offer all the cloud-like convenience of data-anywhere without the monthly or yearly costs you'd fork over to Dropbox, Google, Box.net, Amazon or SkyDrive. You supply the disk, so accessible storage expands as much as needed.
What you get is privacy. Many users cannot use Dropbox-style storage due to HIPAA or legal concerns. Sending data to third-party sites in the cloud can contravene security. With NAS, you own and control your data, ensuring you limit who can access it remotely.
There are drawbacks to these systems as well. Because they physically sit near your home computer, they're not really suitable for cloud backup. A fire that destroys your computer will also destroy your Transporter. (You can, of course, buy one for your office and another for your home, sharing data and helping to mitigate this limitation.) And, they don't offer the kind of server-based redundancy guarantees that many online services like Dropbox provide.
That's why I was so disappointed that the feature I was most hoping to use the Transporter for has not yet shipped, specifically buddy-based private offsite backups. Mark Fuccio of Connected Data Marketing told me that while the company is definitely committed to rolling out encrypted folders, the option won't be available for at least three to six months.
With encrypted off-site folders, you'd be able to share, say, half your drive, with a friend. You could then store data there providing the offsite component that's missing from most NAS installs. Right now, if someone physically steals a drive, all bets are off -- the data is readable. What's more, any data you place on a buddy's Transporter is also readable, making you rely on, as Fuccio put it, the "honor system" for the near future.
The Transporter is not meant for use as a Time Machine destination. Its focus is on providing a turnkey solution with a well-controlled sharing experience. If you're looking for an offsite backup solution, you'll probably do better subscribing to one of the dedicated services like Mozy, Crashplan, Carbonite or Backblaze.
In our testing, the Transporter basically did what it promised. We easily shared data locally and remotely, with a dedicated web interface to manage the drive. The software felt a bit first-generation, but that's what you normally expect from early access.
We ran into one major problem when files I shared to Steve Sande initially overwhelmed his network -- but we quickly found the online bandwidth limitation options and restored his network to reasonably working order.
Transporter seemed to measure up well against the NAS field and I particularly liked the unit with the built-in drive enclosure. Anyone looking for this kind of off-site data access should be pleased with the hardware and performance it offers.