Yesterday, Richard's cloud drive article made note of Dropbox and Google Docs and other cloud storage providers. There is a new take on this from a company called Cloud Engines with their Pogoplug service. It combines the typical cloud drive with a piece of hardware. Here is how it works.

You purchase the device, called Pogoplug Mobile for $80. It is about the size of a small paperback, and has ports for SD and USB drives, wired Ethernet and power. Before you hook everything up, you can use either the SD card or a standard USB thumb drive to store backup copies of your files. Next, you connect it to your network and hence to the Internet, register the device and download client software to add other files.

Once you activate your device, it will take some time before you can see the files that are stored on it. This is because Pogoplug is running its equivalent of CHKDSK on the files on your storage media.

Why is it called mobile? That is somewhat confusing, as the device doesn't move about: it remains connected to your broadband Internet home or office network. Nevertheless, the idea is to remove file storage limits that many of the typical cloud drive providers have. Once you set up your account and identify and register the device, you can save as many files as you can fit on your various storage media. The cloud-based drive comes with a free 5 GB of storage, and there are plans to charge for expanding this soon. You can backup what is on the mobile to the cloud drive and you can also stream video and music files from either the cloud or the mobile repository to your desktop too.

There is software for Mac. Linux, Windows, Android and iOS clients as well as running inside the browser itself. Files of common office types can be viewed in the Android and iOS clients (or in the Web browser itself) without loading any additional software: the desktop clients only can download (or upload) them but not view them.

I had some trouble getting the Mobile device to operate properly. When you use their client, you can drag and drop files from your desktop into their interface, and then the files are copied to the cloud drive. Your movies and photos are copied to specific folders, which if you use iTunes/iPhoto aren't the most intuitively named.

Just to make matters more confusing, Drobo is partnering with Pogoplug. Drobo sells a higher-end RAID network-attached storage array. All Drobo users will get a free 10 GB Pogoplug Cloud account. Drobo will also customize the Pogoplug client software. This will make their accounts accessible via any Internet connection. Drobo users can set their cloud to automatically backup to their Drobo device too.

Pogoplug isn't the only cloud drive provider with a hardware option: there are others such as that provide you a drive that you can locate on your own network, and Mozy offers you an external hard drive option that you can make your first backup seed before shipping it to their data center. And Netgear, among others, offers a considerably more expensive network attached storage device that can be accessed from a Web browser.

Pogoplug is in the process of coming out with a new software version and I would recommend waiting until that happens before spending much more time with their service.