Testing and analysis by Tim Higgins
So, we've seen that this little box is flexible enough to play a lot of different roles, but how about the basics? Can it perform the role of a simple home Network Attached Storage (NAS) device with an acceptable level of performance?
I ran our standard Vista SP1 file copy test that copies a directory containing slightly more than 4 GB of files of various sizes. The TonidoPlug was running 0.8.0.11504 firmware using an Iomega UltraMax Pro USB drive configured in RAID 0 and formatted with FAT and NTFS.
Table 1: Performance Test summary
Table 1 pulls together the TonidoPlug results with those from other Marvell "cloudplug" based products: the PogoPlug v2; Iomega iConnect (with Ethernet connection); Seagate Dockstar; and Seagate GoFlex Net. The first three products all used the Iomega UltraMax attached via USB for their tests, while the two Seagate Products used their supplied 2.5" hard drives via docked connection (USB 2.0 for the Dockstar, SATA for the GoFlex Net).
The real takeaway from this summary is the variation in performance obtained from essentially the same hardware. Writes using FAT-formatted drives have an almost 4-to-1 range and reads can double for USB-connected drives and triple for the GoFlex Net's SATA-connected drive.
NTFS write performance shows that Seagate may be using an NTFS optimized driver (similar to QNAP's use of Paragon's driver in its NASes) vs. the open source version. And since many users like to move their drives between direct-connect and "NAS" use, CodeLathe would do well to work on goosing NTFS performance.
We (Jim and I) both wanted to see whether using an EXT2/3 formatted drive would improve these numbers. But, unfortunately, neither of us could readily lay our hands on one. We wanted to see if the TonidoPlug could approach the CTERA Cloudplug's 23 MB/s write and read speeds with a USB-connected drive.
Under The Covers
Hardware-wise the TonidoPlug is composed of a 1.2 GHZ Marvell Sheeva / Kirkwood (88F6182) processor with 512 MB of Flash, 512 MB of RAM, Marvell 88E1116R Gigabit Ethernet and a single USB 2.0 port. In use, the box draws a paltry 3 W of power (not including hard drive consumption) while running silent and fanless.
It's no secret that the TonidoPlug runs Ubuntu Linux, as it's well documented. And there's a SSH server running, so you can log in and see for yourself. Poking around verifies that the Plug has 512 MB of RAM, a 512 MB flash drive and the Linux kernel on the box is a relatively recent 2.6.31.
Having a command-line interface allows you to customize it even further if you want to do things such as tweaking the Windows file-serving parameters in the Samba configuration file or loading new packages.
I wanted a NFS filesystem for sharing, which wasn't installed by default, so I set about doing an install. It should have been a straightforward apt-get, but one required directory wasn't present. To fix that, I executed a quick mkdir -p /var/cache/apt/archives/partial, and then my apt-get ran to completion, giving me NFS capabilities. Of course, once you start making system changes, all bets are off with Tonido capabilities, so tread carefully.
If you want to make changes within the Tonido framework, or even develop your own pluggable app, CodeLathe has a free development kit you can download for building, deploying and even selling your app in their app store.
I enjoyed working with the TonidoPlug. The combination of the TonidoPlug hardware and software brings a flexible and powerful capability to the table, while silently drawing the power of a night light. And since the appliance is easily extendable, using either the provided applications or via the Ubuntu/Debian apt-get package management system, it can be customized to your heart's content.
If you're primarily looking for an easily- managed NAS for file-serving on your home network, this isn't the product I'd recommend, since its NAS features were fairly bare-bones and performance (write, especially) could be better. But if you want to try out this notion of a "personal cloud" to securely share files and collaborate with others, you can't go too far wrong with a $99 investment in the TonidoPlug.