Up Close with the Mirra Personal Server

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.

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