Up Close with the Mirra Personal Server

By Loyd Case  |  Posted 2003-12-08 Print this article Print

The idea of a server "appliance" has been kicked around for years. Silicon Valley start-up Mirra Inc. finally decided to build one. Can a server really be as easy to use as a toaster?

The sheer volume of our personal data is exploding. Digital photography, music, video, and games gobble up hard drive space like Cookie Monster set loose in Mrs. Fields. As we load up our home systems with more storage-consuming media, the value of that media becomes greater than the dollar cost of the underlying hardware. Its one thing to have a box of unsorted family photos sitting in your bookcase. Its quite another to have all those photos on your home PC – and then suffer a drive crash. Traditionally, this would be where wed lecture you about backup. But backup has always been a chore. Sure, you can back up your valuable data, but what if you make some changes and then decide to roll back to the originals? Backup software can handle version restores, but what if you want to keep multiple versions available? Or, if youre tech-savvy enough to take care of these details, what about the rest of your family? Maybe your kids have a PC, or your wife, or your grandmother in Duluth.
Then theres the issue of file-sharing. What if you want to share some of those family pictures with far-flung family members? One solution is to have a family Web site, but then someone has to maintain it. If youre living in a home with a broadband connection, you may be concerned about worms and other security issues, so you need a hardware or software firewall in place. So, the idea of having a shared system that can easily be accessed from the Internet probably makes your teeth itch.
Wouldnt it be great if there was a way to automatically back up your valuable data, share files, and roll back to older versions? Now there is. Its called "Mirra." Mirras product is called the Mirra Personal Server -- a play on the word "mirror" because you are, in effect, mirroring the data on your PC or small network. Calling it a "server" is something of a misnomer because its not one in the traditional sense. Its basically a digital storage device thats capable of keeping multiple versions of files, backing up your system automatically, and sharing specified content locally or over the Internet. The Mirra unit is based on VIAs Mini-ITX platform. Its a compact unit thats not particularly powerful by todays desktop PC standards, but you dont need a lot of horsepower for storing and retrieving files in a home or small office network. All you need is a network connection. Setting up the hardware is about as simple as setting up most home appliances: Just plug in the power cable and an Ethernet cable and power it up. You dont need to connect a monitor, keyboard, mouse, or other peripheral device. In this respect, Mirra is much like a NAS (network attached storage) device, but its smarter and easier to use. To read the full story, click here.
Loyd Case came to computing by way of physical chemistry. He began modestly on a DEC PDP-11 by learning the intricacies of the TROFF text formatter while working on his master's thesis. After a brief, painful stint as an analytical chemist, he took over a laboratory network at Lockheed in the early 80's and never looked back. His first 'real' computer was an HP 1000 RTE-6/VM system.

In 1988, he figured out that building his own PC was vastly more interesting than buying off-the-shelf systems ad he ditched his aging Compaq portable. The Sony 3.5-inch floppy drive from his first homebrew rig is still running today. Since then, he's done some programming, been a systems engineer for Hewlett-Packard, worked in technical marketing in the workstation biz, and even dabbled in 3-D modeling and Web design during the Web's early years.

Loyd was also bitten by the writing bug at a very early age, and even has dim memories of reading his creative efforts to his third grade class. Later, he wrote for various user group magazines, culminating in a near-career ending incident at his employer when a humor-impaired senior manager took exception at one of his more flippant efforts. In 1994, Loyd took on the task of writing the first roundup of PC graphics cards for Computer Gaming World -- the first ever written specifically for computer gamers. A year later, Mike Weksler, then tech editor at Computer Gaming World, twisted his arm and forced him to start writing CGW's tech column. The gaming world -- and Loyd -- has never quite recovered despite repeated efforts to find a normal job. Now he's busy with the whole fatherhood thing, working hard to turn his two daughters into avid gamers. When he doesn't have his head buried inside a PC, he dabbles in downhill skiing, military history and home theater.

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