Mirra, as you might have noticed, has launched a major ad campaign for its personal server, and people have started asking me about it. If you haven’t noticed yet, you will: the ads are coming soon to a circular, magazine, or radio station near you. It turns out that the Mirra Personal Server has been around since 2003, but it hasn’t had a very high profile—or not high enough, at least, by Mirra’s standards.
So what is Mirra Personal Server? It’s a form of Network Attached Storage (see the April 8 FileSlinger™ Backup Reminder), a box about the size of a CPU tower which you plug into your router. Mirra bills the Personal Server as “Guaranteed Backup for Multiple PCs,” and not just another NAS appliance. (When I was growing up, an “appliance” was something like a washing machine, but these days the term also refers to computer hardware.)
What’s different about it? Ease of use is one major feature; continuous backup is another. Plus, the Mirra can synchronize documents between different PCs, and you can access your files over the web even if you aren’t connected to the network. As a bonus, Mirra lets you share files over the internet.
In December of 2003, Loyd Case of Extreme Tech wrote: “Wouldn’t 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. It’s called ‘Mirra.’” Despite overall enthusiasm and an 8 out of 10 rating, the reviewer pointed out some drawbacks, a major one being that you can accidentally delete someone else’s backup if you have several machines backed up on your Mirra. “Worse, once deleted, the automatic back up of that deleted version stops. You’ve not only deleted the backup data but essentially removed the auto-backup script for that folder as well.”
By early 2004, reviewers were definitely taking notice. ZDNet’s editors gave the original 80 GB Mirra a 6.3 out of 10, with reader reviews averaging 7 out of 10. In January 2004, CNN headlined its review “painless backup” and concluded “I know no better solution for hassle-free backups in the home.” Small Business Pipeline’s reviewer opines that “Synchronizing Outlook on multiple PCs may just be enough justification to install your own Mirra.” USA Today’s Personal Tech section gave it 3 out of 4 stars for “No fuss backup of PC folders, plus remote access and ability to share those files with friends and colleagues,” though not without observing that it could run faster. (If you work with large files, continuous backups will slow your machine down something chronic.)
Tom’s Networking (part of the fantastically useful Tom’s Hardware site)provides the usual thorough, detailed review, including photos of the inside of the Mirra, dated 3/17/04. Tom points out a pretty significant drawback: the Mirra doesn’t act as a file server in the traditional sense. “You might think that “file sharing” means that Mirra can provide networked, shared storage space for network users, but it can’t. The only files Mirra will hold are those that already exist on one of its client PCs and that are transferred to Mirra via its client application,” he writes. That means that you can’t use it to store files that you don’t have room for on your PC, which in turn means that you might still need an additional external drive in order to store your archives, photos, and software installation packages. Mirra can duplicate the contents of your hard drive, but it won’t free up any space.
Nevertheless, Tom concludes that it provides “robust backup” without interfering too much with ongoing use of your computer, and readers of the review have chimed in with enthusiastic endorsements.
What do real people say about the Mirra Personal Server? In late November of 2004, Marc Orchant provides an illustrated four-part review of the MPS in his Office Weblog. He loves his Mirra, and says it passes the Mom and Dad test: it’s simple enough that his parents could use it. To the hardcore geeks who object that they could build a similar device for far less money (prices start at $399 for a 160 GB drive), he responds “It takes a significant level of technical know-how to craft a secure solution that provides everything the MPS does and, for many, the plug-and-play ease of setup and use will be worth the investment.”
Recent blog posts include such lines as “How Mirra saved my vacation.” The inescapable conclusion is that most people who use the MPS like it. Almost all the negative comments I’ve seen come from hardware geeks who get off on building their own equipment. For home and home office users and small businesses who want something they can rely on but don’t have to think about, and who have more than one Windows XP computer to back up, Mirra seems like a viable solution. It wouldn’t work for the Ur-Guru, but I’m kind of tempted, myself.