Review: It could be time to bring the cloud home

Review: It could be time to bring the cloud home

Apr 1, 2013

LivDigital Independent takes a closer look at the growing demand for the “personal” cloud, and reviews the Western Digital My Book Live Duo, which takes square aim at this new phenomenon.
If users are working in a company, they may have heard about this cloud thing, where computing “stuff” arcanely happens “out there” in data centres in far-off, remote places. In a personal capacity, however, users may not think it’s something they’re likely to use themselves.

Except if they’re on Facebook, of course. Or Twitter. Or Google+. Or uploading photographs to Flickr or sharing them on Instagram. Or backing data up to Dropbox or SkyDrive. Or watching movies that are streamed to a tablet or smartphone.

Yes, indeed – this thing called cloud is all around, and users have probably been using it for quite some while.

That’s the “public” cloud; but there’s another side to this phenomenon, and it’s called the “personal” cloud.

It’s far closer to home, and it could have a significant impact on how users create and consume content. Other than dabbling with the likes of Instagram, users have probably been doing most of this on a personal computer.

However: “The reign of the personal computer as the sole corporate access device is coming to a close, and by 2014 the personal cloud will replace the personal computer at the centre of users’ digital life,” says research group Gartner.

 

Personal cloud front-runner

WD – as Western Digital seems to prefer being known – has been somewhat of a front-runner in this personal cloud arena.

For WD, the personal cloud is “your content, secure at home and under your control. Unlike public clouds, a personal cloud keeps all your content in one safe place on your home network. Share files, stream media, and access your content anywhere. There is no monthly fee and no mysterious location of your data. Keep your videos, music, photos and files safe at home and always with you.”

WD’s tagline is “all your content in one place, enjoyable anywhere”, and it currently has two network access system (NAS) products targeting this segment of the consumer storage market: the single drive My Book Live, with capacities from 1Tb to 3Tb; and the dual drive My Book Live Duo, with capacities from 4Tb to 8Tb. That’s oodles of storage space to share and consume content.

 

Reviewing the My Book Live Duo

Our review kit is the My Book Live Duo in its 4Tb guise, Other My Book Live Duo specifications include:

*    Gigabit Ethernet – users need fast networking to access larger movie files, and this means they can hide the unit somewhere else in their house or office, away from prying hands.

*    Mac OS X Time Machine compatible;

*    Share files between PC and Mac computers;

*    Automatic backup for unlimited users;

*    Stream to DLNA-compatible devices;

*    Secure remote access from any computer;

*    Mobile apps for tablets and smartphones;

*    RAID 1 enabled for double-safe backup; and

*    User serviceable.

Since we’re testing on a PC, the Time Machine feature doesn’t come into play, but let’s go through other key features.

Setting the My Book Live Duo to be seen by any PC on my network was simple. To start, users connect it to a router; preferably one with WiFi, because then they’ll be able to access it from a tablet or smartphone. And if it’s a wired router, Gigabit Ethernet is better.

In the browser, type in an IP address and users are presented with its dashboard or console. Here they can set up accounts that allow other users to access the My Book Live Duo – they’ll have full access to their private share and to public shares, and limited access to the shares of others.

This functionality also means the unit can be used as an FTP server.

Using WD SmartWare (or the Windows 8 “File History” feature, which I haven’t tested yet), users can automatically and continuously backup data files they have selected from their computer to the My Book Live Duo drive.

Initially, SmartWare categorises the different file types on the drive where the original files reside, which could be a lengthy process, depending on the size of the PC. Users then choose to back up all the different file types or specific files, folders, or categories.

As a DLNA 1.5 and UPnP certified media server, the My Book Live Duo can stream music, photos and movies to DLNA-certified multimedia devices, including the WD TV Live network media player, Blu-ray players, Xbox 360s, PlayStation 3s and connected or smart TVs. Pretty nifty.

It’s also an iTunes server.

Besides the DLNA stuff, if the owner is a PC user, they will see the My Book Live Duo as just another external system on the network, which means users can access it using Windows Explorer and click on media files, drag them to a Media Player, or drag and drop from a PC to the unit and vice versa – all pretty speedily though the Gigabit Ethernet network.

While pretty basic, WD2go and WD Photos have evolved a little since I first played with them a year ago. These apps sit on an iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, Android tablet or Android smartphone. To access, users need an activation code provided within the console. Once the WD2go software installs on a mobile device, it will ask for this code. Enter it and – bam – there’re the remote media and files.

Users can also access everything via the Internet from anywhere in the world, using the WD2go site. Once logged in here, WD2go mounts the My Book Live Duo device to a computer like a local drive, and remote folders are available on any Mac or PC with Internet access.

There’s also public cloud access, as WD2go allows users to upload and download files to Dropbox and SkyDrive accounts.

With WD Photos, users can take photos on a mobile device and send them to their My Book Live Duo – again, no matter where they are.

Uploading photographs from my iPad’s Camera Roll was a snap, if a little slow. Users can use their iPad as a remote photo album, viewing the images on the My Book unit.

For Windows 8 users, WD also launched a new app late last year.

When it is RAID 1 enabled, the My Book Live Duo goes into data protection or mirrored mode. Simply put, it’s split into two – one half being used to store data, and the second half to store an exact replica of that data. The theory here is that if one drive fails, the data is protected because it is duplicated on the other drive.

Clearly, if users have got the 4Tb configuration, this means they’ll only have 2Tb, since the other 2Tb will be used to store the copy.

Fortunately, if 2Tb is not enough, users can always add an extra drive – or drives, using a powered USB hub – through the USB port on the unit. I found this a little fiddly; ironically, plugging in another WD external drive kept hanging the console. A Samsung external drive caused no problems at all.

Interestingly, this port is only USB 2.0 – one would think the far faster USB 3.0 would have been more appropriate for this level of use. Then again, it could be that even the very fast Gigabit Ethernet isn’t up the demands of USB 3.0, so that could all just be academic.

However, if using the My Book Live Duo’s backup functionality – which allows users to copy data to an attached hard drive – USB 3.0 may just be a better option.

And if RAID 1 is something users don’t want to play with, they can set the unit up to its maximum capacity or “spanning”, which combines all the drives in a system into one big volume so that they act like one giant drive.

Finally, if up to the task, the My Book Live Duo is user serviceable, which means that if users are brave enough, they can replace the hard drives in the enclosure. By now, readers have probably gathered that there’s quite a bit going on here for a unit theoretically designed to just sit unobtrusively in the background, doing its job.

As mentioned, set-up is quick and easy, and the My Book Live Duo quietly does what it is supposed to do.

Once users get used to the console – which sometimes took quite a while to open – it’s a friendly and robust consumer-oriented piece of technology.

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