Over the years, there have been a number of networked storage products that allow consumers to back up computers on a home network, but these haven't been broadly successful, resulting in many consumers on a home network still failing to back up their files.
Facing the reality that some people insist on living dangerously, and in an effort to move on to hotter markets, a number of companies have switched gears. Instead of focusing on back-up only, they have shifted the marketing and feature sets of the products to the sharing of photos, videos, and other files -- both with friends and family, as well as with themselves when they are away from home
On the plus side, you don't have to upload these files to any service that you may not trust. On the other hand, because accessing these devices relies on your Internet connection, transfer speeds will be slower and the connection could be less reliable. There's a variety of approaches for consumers with different needs and budgets.
PogoPlug ($129) is one of the simplest sharing devices, in part because it relies on external hard drives (or even inexpensive USB flash drives often used as modern-day floppy disks for transferring files) that attach via USB, as opposed to internal hard drives like many other networked storage products.
Seagate sells a version of the PogoPlug called the DockStar that lets you plug in one of its FreeAgent Go hard drives for a cleaner setup.
You access the PogoPlug device, and the hard drives connected to it, with a combination of software and a Web site. The software makes the PogoPlug drives look as though they are connected to your PC or Mac for easy copying of files and now has the option to automatically copy photos from your computer to the PogoPlug's drives, creating a basic backup.
You have to use the PogoPlug Web site to share files, though. After logging in, you click on a folder, click the share icon, and enter the e-mail addresses of the people with whom you want to share documents.
You also can specify whether they can make changes to the folder. There's also a PogoPlug app for the iPhone and Android-based phones that will let you share folders and send photos to the device when you're away from home.
The Netgear Stora ($199) is almost perfectly situated between the PogoPlug and more expensive home server products. The attractive and quiet black cube comes with one 1.5 terabyte hard drive installed and can accommodate another internal one.
Installation is about as simple as shoving the drive into a slot; there are no tools required. Like the PogoPlug, the Stora works with PCs and Macs and relies on a combination of software and a Web site, but the Stora offers a few features that the PogoPlug doesn't.
These range from the frivolous (you can designate any photo to be the background of the Stora Web site) to the serious (you can stop folders from being shared after a certain date).
While the Stora also takes a somewhat hands-off approach to backup, it can integrate with the built-in backup software on Windows 7 or Time Machine on the Mac. However, there's no way to specify how large a Mac backup can become, and it can grow to take up an entire drive if unchecked. Some of the Stora's more advanced features -- such as unlimited accounts -- require a $19/year fee.
In next week's Tech on Deck, we'll look at one of the most sophisticated home network products on the markets and get down to which is the best choice for different kinds of consumers.