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Tiny Linux device offers free unlimited DropBox alternative

Jul 12, 2013  |  Eric Brown
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[Updated Aug 14] — An OpenWRT Linux-based hardware adapter designed for unifying USB-connected storage met its $69,000 Kickstarter pledge goal in 12 hours. The tiny “Lima” device (initially called “Plug”) eschews cloud storage for a localized approach whereby an app or driver installed on each participating computer or mobile device intercepts filesystem accesses, and redirects data reads and writes to storage drives attached to the user’s Lima device.

Developed by Paris-based startup Cloud Guys Corp. (CGC), the developers of a Gmail app called Forgetbox, the Lima enjoyed one of the fastest fulfillments in Kickstarter history, meeting its goal in 12 hours. The $69 Lima almost doubled that to $118,000 in the first day, and has now soared to over $200,000 in funding (over $850,000, as of Aug 14).



CGC Lima runs OpenWRT Linux
(click image to enlarge)

Despite the presence of “Cloud” in the name of the company, the Lima stores nothing on Cloud-based storage services. Instead, it puts the user in complete control of all storage devices, and, in contrast to services like DropBox, which offer limited amounts of free storage and charge for larger capacities, the Lima device has no ongoing fees associated with its use.

The warm response on Kickstarter perhaps derives in part from its launch in the wake of the revelations about corporate-assisted U.S. government snooping on citizens using programs such as the NSA’s “PRISM.” The Plug press release refers to the device as “PRISM-free storage.”



Three views of the Lima device
(click images to enlarge)

 

The Lima is similar in concept to Marvell’s popular, Linux-based SheevaPlug Plug Computer design, which has been used in numerous third-party products including the PogoPlug (pictured at right, click to enlarge). Like the SheevaPlug designs, the Lima is tiny, lacks internal storage, and is limited to a USB port and an Ethernet port.

While it’s similarly intended to orchestrate storage over the Internet from multiple devices, unlike PogoPlug there’s no cloud service involved. Instead, a Lima app or driver installed on each participating desktop computer or mobile device intercepts filesystem accesses, and redirects data reads and writes to the Lima’s attached USB drive, wherever on the Internet it may be located. As described on the Lima’s Kickstarter page, “when Lima is installed on your computer, our application intercepts all the input/output operations performed on your files, using several patent pending technologies.”



Inside the Lima device
(click images to enlarge)

 

The Lima app or driver installed on the user’s desktop, mobile, or other devices (which may include TV media players) automatically backs up internal storage to the Lima-connected USB drives. It then enables the user to view and access these files spread out over multiple devices, as if they were located on a single local storage device. As a result, a smartphone might appear to have 2TB of storage, claims CGC. The Lima device supports up to eight connected drives via a separately available USB hub.

The Lima is 20 times cheaper and 60 times faster than cloud storage on sites such as DropBox, claims the company. The Lima’s software technology lets users share access to their Lima-connected files with others, without requiring a cloud storage service.

Not mentioned on the Lima’s Kickstarter page, is the method by which a user’s mobile devices can connect to the Lima when they are outside of its subnet, assuming the Lima does not have its own static IP. Typically, products requiring this capability are paired with a web service that acts as a gateway, as in the case of PogoPlug, or they employ a dynamic DNS intermediary, such as DynDNS, which can maintain synchronization to the server’s dynamic IP. The DynDNS dynamic DNS service, which previously had been offered in a free version, now costs $25 per year.

Update on July 14, 2013: We asked the Lima team to clarify the mechanism by which mobile devices or desktop computers communicate with the Lima when they’re outside of the Lima’s subnet, and received the following explanation from Gawen Arab-Laffon, CGC’s Founder and CTO: “Plug, and all devices which use Lima, are connected to a decentralized VPN we created. A little like OpenVPN, but without the star scheme topology. Every node of the system has a name, like a domain name. Every one of the nodes has to announce to a DHT its own IP, so that other nodes can contact it. It’s a little like DNS, but decentralized.”

CGC also claims the device is far more difficult to hack than a PC, and says it will be regularly updated with security patches to meet new threats. Files are protected via a “zero-configuration, private and encrypted VPN” based on asymmetrically encrypted RSA-2048/SHA-1 keys, says the company.

The Lima device itself runs on an OpenWRT-based Linux distribution using an unnamed x86-based processor. The device includes a USB 2.0 port and a 10/100 Ethernet port with an average transfer speed of 30Mbps, and the device comes with a 110/220V power adapter that’s said to be usable in both the U.S. and Europe.

According to its Kickstarter page, the Lima measures 270 x 110 x 20mm, weighs 200 grams, and can withstand temperatures of 0 to 90° F. Since prototype photos on the Lima’s Kickstarter page seem to be of a unit that’s about half the size indicated by its listed dimensions, we asked the Lima team whether there was an error in those numbers. They confirmed that the dimensions as listed are correct, so we presume the production version will be about double the size of what’s shown in the current photos.

Supported filesystems are said to include NTFS, HFS+, Ext3/Ext4, and FAT32, and supported desktop and device operating systems include Mac OS X, Linux, Windows, iOS, and Android, with Windows Phone expected to be added soon.

The Lima is expected to ship by the end of the year or January 2014, and will be built by an unnamed Shenzen, China manufacturer. It is available to Kickstarter backers for a $69 pledge, but retail pricing is estimated at $150. More information may be found at the Plug Kickstarter page, and a video is available (and not much else) at the MeetLima.com website.
 

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PLEASE COMMENT BELOW

13 Responses to “Tiny Linux device offers free unlimited DropBox alternative”

  1. jonc says:

    Sounds interesting. But…

    1. The primary purpose of using cloud storage like Dropbox is to get your files to another location. So, you know, if your house or office burns down, you don’t lose everything.

    2. I’m not sure I see the advantage of this over simply making a batch of internal or external drives part of your filesystem.

  2. sjdfbjsd says:

    It’s obviously a scam.

  3. Brian Rupe says:

    I already have a pretty big file server at home that I use for “mass storage”, is there a way to interface Plug with that storage? I’d rather not buy (or use my retired) USB drives and then still have to copy data back and forth to my file server (where I have drive redundancy for data safety).

  4. MeetPlug says:

    Hello there,

    Thank you for this post on your blog. This is an exhaustive list of what we do, and you describe our product quite well.

    I wanted to take the opportunity to answer your questions.

    @jonc: we’re not aimed to replace the Cloud. We’re aimed to provide another way to store your data, cheaper, faster. Storing your data on hard-drives, in your home, looks like more dangerous than the Cloud. Indeed, it is! We’re not telling you that you won’t loose your data, we’re just providing a solution which will give you the 90% of what people actually really need for a fair price: back up, history, synchronization, replication (RAID) and torrent-like file access.

    We also provide solutions to avoid hard-drives failures: connecting two hard-drives of the same size can be used for replication, a little like RAID. Also, you can use two Plugs, installed in two locations (ie home and work), to make them replicate your data (so that, if your house burns, at least you won’t loose your data).

    Finally you can use remotely backup solutions like Blackbaze or CrashPlan which can backup for $5/month your files no matter there size.

    So we are a complementary solution to the Cloud

    sjdfbjsd & Dan: we are not a scam. Challenge us anytime! We have nothing to hide.

    The hardware is built by a company (our partner) in Shenzen for years. At the beginning, it had been created to be a NAS. It has been sold a lot on the Internet, as your link to Amazon shows.

    We decided to transform this little piece of hardware to boost it and programmed it with our own firmware, powered by OpenWRT. We are hackers, we transform things which already exist to make them do something else.

    So yes, this is the same shape and almost the same hardware (a little pimped), but with our own firmware to do what we want to do.

    Feel free to ask me anything, I will answer. If you want a fast answer, feel free to ask on the Kickstarter page.

    Regards,

  5. dennis says:

    lol what is this? There are hundreds of NAS devices on the market. You can put them in your basement in a private network or if you are an idiot right on “the cloud’. What is the big deal or unique about this. You can buy a second hand ASUS 802.11g router with a a USB plug and put DD-WRT on it, or any of those ARM MK808/809 deals and get an HDMI media player that is powered by your TV’s 5V USB as well. I just dont get what this gives anyone that is not available already cheaply. I agree with an above poster, either this is a scam, or the developers (and people willing to give them money) are incredibly niave.

  6. Simon says:

    The hardware looks very much like a bifferboard http://bifferos.co.uk/

    Which is now being sold by …
    http://www.mrt-communications.com/WANSER-R.html who indeed are a chinese outfit.

    But even then, late model bifferboards have dual usb
    http://www.omnima.co.uk/store/product.php?productid=16194&cat=0&page=1

    So the secret sauce is the software, not the hardware.

    You say you’ve upgraded the hardware a little mind telling us the specs?
    I can’t see how different it would be to this; Perhaps more flash perhaps?

    150MHz CPU, Intel 486SX instruction set, MMU.
    1 watt power consumption (200mA @5v)
    68mm x 28mm x 21mm (weight 28g)
    32MB SDRAM/8MB Flash
    OHCI/EHCI USB 2.0
    10/100 ethernet
    Serial console 115200 baud (can be used as 2 GPIO)
    4-pin JTAG (can be used as GPIO)
    2 permanent GPIO (1 LED, 1 button)
    Linux 2.6.37.6
    Supplied pre-flashed with OpenWrt

  7. Pko says:

    This is absurd. Why do anyone buy these? it is just a very small, reasonably cheap, excruciatingly slow NAS!!!! the video in Kickstarter just shows the “magic” (!!!) of a network mapped drive. I saw that just 20 years ago in a computer running DOS+Novell. I suppose most of the buyers are apple users that usually lack any useful technical knowledge outside their walled garden and have money to spend in their good quality but extremely overpriced gadgets. I also think this is a scam, although the people that paid will receive the product and it will work as advertised since this is decades old tech. But anyone who tries to watch their HD movies on the go, with a flaky 3G mobile connection on the phone and a paltry 300kbps-outbound ADSL at home will have a really painful “experience”

    • Simon says:

      I’m assuming the secret sauce (after looking at the site) is some kind of point to point VPN much like “back to my mac” (which uses firewall wizardry wide area bonjour and port redirection) to do things. That bit IS interesting but is going to be very slow as consumer upstream isn’t all that

  8. Zarmanto says:

    It’s interesting and all… but there are indeed other NAS options out there which do pretty well. One option which I’ve investigated recently is Tonido.com … they sell a Linux gizmo much like this little NAS, and (more importantly to me) they also have a free software option which you can install on a full fledged computer, to accomplish much the same thing. (I primarily use it to stream my iTunes music collection from my home computer while I’m at work.)

  9. glofx says:

    For me the most interesting thing is the mapping of the files into an existing directory structure which is not only having those data on the remote storage but also with the possibility to save a local copy in the same directory still having it in sync with the remote directory.
    Does anyone know whether there is an open source alternative to do such things?

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