Thinking of having your own personal cloud, WD My Cloud may be what you have been waiting for. Marketed as “Save Everything, Access Anywhere”, the My Cloud is available in 2, 3 and 4 TB size. As a single drive setup, the My Cloud targets mostly home users and it is priced accordingly. For instance, the model tested in this review is built around a 2 TB red WD hard drive. The drive itself cost about $100. So, $149 MSRP is not bad at all.
Capacity: 2TB (WDBCTL0020HWT)
Interface: Gigabit Ethernet, USB 3.0
Size: 6.7” x 5.5” x 1.9”
Weight: 2.19 lbs
Compatibility: Windows 8/7/ Vista/XP (SP3) and Mac OS X
DLNA/UPnP devices for streaming
Warranty: 2 years
The case is fairly plain, glossy plastic material and not bad looking. It shared the same design with the My Book line but white. Equipped with one drive, it did not require active cooling, no fan was needed. There are plenty of cuts around the enclosure for the air flow.
On the back features, a Kensington lock, a gigabit ethernet port, power, reset button and one USB 3.0 port. Moving to the front, there is one discret LED providing a status of the device at glance.
Connectivity and Setup
It is a two steps process. Connectivity, I like to connect the network cable first, then the power cord. Next is the software part. There was no installation disc provided. I am fine with that because I hardly ever used the installation disc, I would rather get it online anyway. That way I know that I got the latest version.
Once the software was downloaded and installed, I was prompted to update the firmware. I meant to check for a firmware update anyway. the upgrade process from v03.01.03-127 to v03.01.04-139 was a bit nerve wracking. The whole thing took about 14 mins. What was unsettling was the progress status. As soon the process started, the progress indicator jumped to 10% and it sat there for at least 4 mins. Then it moved to 60%, stayed put at that percentage for 8 mins, then 90% and finally after 2 mins, completed the firmware upgrade.
"THE WD MY CLOUD GUI IS LEAN, EASY TO READ AND SELF EXPLANATORY."
Now, I am presented with “My Cloud Dashboard”. The GUI is lean, easy to read and self explanatory.
Setting up a user requires, a username, a valid email address and a password. Creating a user will automatically create a share, named after the login name, on the NAS. I cringed a little bit after I noticed that, by default, the newly shared is set to “public”, meaning, full access to all users. It should have been set to “private” by default. If there was a need to open up the permissions then so be it.
Also there is no “group” level, only user level. So as long as there are not too many users and the access to the resources are straightforward, it would work.
Keep this in mind. There are two logins. The email format and the non email format one. Here is how and when to use them.
On the local network, when prompted for authentication, use the non-email format one.
Over the internet, the first step is to login in the WD portal with your the email. Once you are authenticated, you must then provide the password that you would use if you were on the local network to access your shares. Basically, it is a two steps process. The first one authenticates into WD My Cloud and the second one grant you access to your resources. That should ease some concerns over the fact that you had to create an account with WD My Cloud.
Another interesting finding was, when a user is deleted, the share folder associated with that user is left untouched.
This is where the folders are created. By default, three shares are available, “Public”, “Smartware” and “TimeMachineBackup”. Once created the share, there are a few settings to work with. “Media Serving” feature could be enabled or not, public or private access. If private access is enabled, assign authorized users to the shared. Fairly simple, be able to limit a disk quota would be nice.
The concept behind “Safepoints” is to setup a dedicated storage, either on the local network or by connecting a USB storage to the device and backup the WD My Cloud content to it via a scheduled task. The options are very basic, daily, weekly, monthly. There are no options to run a daily run every so often hours, like, every 6 or 12 hours for instance. The content of the safepoint, on the destination folder, is just files and folders and not some kind of weird tar, gzip or proprietary format. Which is a positive thing. In case the WD My Cloud hardware is not available, I can still access the “safepoints” content via “Explorer” or “Finder”. Mobile app accesses would be lost though. And no, I would not compare this to a RAID1 which is realtime I/O operations with redundancy. “Safepoints” is just an automated backup of a storage device with a recovery process. That being said, I am glad to see the feature and users should take advantage of it.
"“SAFEPOINTS” IS JUST AN AUTOMATED BACKUP OF A STORAGE DEVICE WITH A RECOVERY PROCESS."
The last item, Settings, manages the device network configuration and features and there are a lot of options. I am only going to go through the ones I think is worth mentioning.
In the “General” menu, under “Cloud Access”, it would be a good idea to change the default “80” and “443” ports to something else. Those two are well known ports. It does require setting up port forwarding on the router end.
Disk quota can be setup for the “TimeMachineBackup”. I set mine as twice the MacBook Air local storage, 260GB.
In the “Network” menu, if you are familiar with IP schema, you may want to set up a static IP. As a general rule, any appliance on the network that hosts any kind of services should be assigned a static IP address. You can also tie the MAC address to an IP from the router. That was the option I chose in the screenshot below.
It is good to know that SSH and FTP access to the device can be enable.
In the “Media” menu, DLNA and iTunes services can be turned ON (default) or OFF.
In the “Utilities” menu, it is a good practice to backup the configuration at least every now and then.
In the “Notifications” menu, you can set up alerts, so far I have been only getting “restarted” notifications. I am not sure what else would trigger an alert, may be a firmware availability?
In the “Firmware” menu, best option would be to turn on “Auto Update” with a schedule and leave it alone.
Final words, regarding the administrative task of the “WD My Cloud”, the interface is only accessible locally, unless there is a VPN connection to your home network.
Applications and Features
As of for now, there are a total of six downloadable applications. I discussed three of them so far, the “Setup Software”, both mobile apps “WD my Cloud” and “WD Photos”. The three remainings are desktop type software package.
There are three ways to access the My Cloud device from a PC. You can use UNC path, like, //ip_address//share_name and/or mapped the path to a drive letter. The third way is through WD My Cloud (desktop app). It is very simplistic. Truly the only feature worth using is the file sharing. Right click on a file you want to email and it will generate an http link to your My Cloud storage. Other than that I would stick with “Explorer”. The Mac OS version looks and works the same.
Every device that labelled itself as a NAS or external drive, must provide a backup software package. The My Cloud backup solution is “WD SmartWare”. It is available for Windows only. MacOS would use the “TimeMachineBackup” feature.
“WD SmartWare” is a straight up files/folders backup. Other the My Cloud device, Dropbox appeared to be the only online cloud service supported.
Beside the date and time scheduled mode, it offers a “Continuous Backup” mode. In other words, there is a WD service, scanning for new/modified selected files and/or folders every so often for backuping purposes. That was the option I picked.
User can either chose files/folders or “Category” backup. Category would use the file extension to categorize the file type. Extensions .jpg, .png, .gif would be the graphic type for instance. I would rather go with files/folders so I can be selective of what I want to backup.
Although the files/folders can be accessible directly from the My Cloud device, WD SmartWare provide two methods to restore the backup content.
The regular way, is to restore the content “To the Original Places”. Return all retrieved files to their original locations. It is pretty self explanatory. The other is very Linux like, “To a Retrieved Content Folder”. Put all retrieved files into a single folder and let the user to sort it out.
WD SmartWare allows “File History”, up to 25 versions per file.
"OVERALL, I WOULD TRUST MY DATA WITH WD SMARTWARE."
Finally, “WD Quick View” is like an application launch pad, bookmark to the shares path and other settings for the WD My Cloud software package. My feelings is, I wished that all three main applications, the dashboard, my cloud and smartware were bundled into one.
Streaming video or music capability, locally or over the internet is excellent. As long as, one, the player supports the file format, and two, there is enough network bandwidth. Personally, I do not own a DLNA player, such as a Smart TV, Roku, Apple TV, gaming consoles, but I expect the WD My Cloud to worked well with those.
Computer Cloud Access
What I like the most about the cloud concept is that my data is accessible from as much devices as possible as long as there is an internet connection.
There is no client to install, access is web based, via the browser and requires Java (chromebook users are out of luck). There are security concerns using Java, so your best bet is to keep Java up to date. The remote access appears to be using SSL, which means, communication to your WD My Cloud are encrypted just like an HTTPS connection.
I will not comment about performance over the internet since there are too many factors and players involved but the feature is functional, at least on the Windows platform.
I did not get much luck to access the wd2go.com on my MacBook Air, OS 10.9.1. I can’t really blame WD though, per the error message, it is some kind of Java security settings. I tried to lower it but no success.
Mobile Cloud Access
There is two mobile app products to work with the WD My Cloud NAS. The main app, “WD My Cloud” to manage your files and folders and “WD Photos” to sync media content from your phone to your local WD NAS device.
Prior to setting up the “Cloud access”, a user must be created first. Generate a “code”. Download and install the (iOs or Android) app, during the process the user would be prompted for the code. And that is it.
Additionally, the “WD My Cloud” app also supports “Google Drive”, “Dropbox”, “SkyDrive” and WD “MyCloud.com”. Hardware wise, it also supports other WD NAS series. It is possible to copy files from the cloud services to the WD My Cloud, but oddly enough, I was not able to copy a folder a cloud services to the WD device. Copying a folder from the WD My Cloud to Google drive for instance was possible. How fast the transfer would take really depends on the file size, WiFi/LAN and WAN bandwidth to and/or from your My Cloud device.
The “WD Photos” would sync your mobile media with your WD My Cloud device. Note that only photos and videos recorded from the mobile app would synced, voice recorded files would not. If you already have Dropbox setup, it does the exact same thing. I would not installed it.
To measure performance of a NAS, I will first establish the baseline of a gigabit network throughput.
One gigabit link speed is equal to 1,000,000,000 bit per second or 125MB/s, 1Gb/8.
However, data over ethernet must be divided in frames or packets. There are inside, (TCP, IP, ethernet header, CRC32 checksum) and outside the frame overhead, (preamble, interframe gap) of the packet generating extra bits of data. In other words, when a frame of 1538 bytes is sent across the network not all of it is user data. In summary, the theoretical user data throughput over the a gigabit ethernet network is 118 MB/s. In real word, there are other variables, such as, routers, switches, network cards, network contention, computer host resources to deal with.
Two 4GB RAM Disks were created using RAMDisk from Dataram on two workstations on a gigabit network. By using RAM drive, I ruled out the storage as a potential bottleneck for the network. I could have used SSDs as well.
I opted for DiskBench, which simply, sent the data from a volume A to a volume B, divided the amount of user data by the transfer time.
I chose two sets of data, one is a 2.93 GB folder containing 4,252 files and 106 folders for random I/O. The other is the zipped file of the 2.93 GB folder for sequential access.
The RAM to RAM write showed a throughput of almost 105 MB/s for the ISO file while the files/folders are getting a big performance hit, clocking at 59 MB/s.
What really jumps out here is the low performance when dealing with a lot of small random files size. This is not due to the WD device itself. It is more due to the TCP/IP overhead. More files will generate more packets, which will generate more latency, which will lower the throughput. The illustration below, captured via NetMeter, showed the time difference between writing 4K+ files and one zipped file to the WD My Cloud, while the total amount of data to be transferred is pretty much the same.
In summary, the network layer is the bottleneck. Chances are, I would see a higher performance using jumbo frames with the right equipment.
Cloud services vs. WD My Cloud
No matter how good the WD My Cloud is or any local “cloud” for that matter, I believe it would be a mistake to replace the cloud services, DropBox, GDrive, Box alike with this device. Here are my two reasons. Availability and Offsite storage. Remote access to my local cloud data hosted on the WD My Cloud requires my home internet and equipment to be available. I am not saying that Gdrive, for instance, will never go down but chances are, their connection uptime would be higher than mine. Offsite storage is the ultimate backup solution. It does not matter how many backup systems I have if they are all at the same location. WD should come up with some kind of offer to provide Cloud storage to the WD My Cloud owners.
Looking at the overall features and performance, the WD My Cloud 2TB is a pretty good single drive NAS setup. The storage performs well within the limitation of the TCP/IP protocol, Windows and/or Mac backups are reliable and cloud access is functional, except on Mac OS during my review. “Safepoints” is a creative solution in the absence of RAID1. That is pretty the best one can expect from this type of NAS. Beyond that, the next criteria would be hardware reliability. But that is a “time will tell” situation.