With network attached storage (NAS) devices being marketed as personal clouds these days, I decided to take a look at a typical solution, the WD My Cloud EX2. This two-disk appliance offers decent performance and compatibility, data redundancy, and local and cloud-based backup functionality in a cute and somewhat affordable package. Whether you choose such a device, of course, will depend on your own needs.
You may recall that I outline three Thinking About PC Backup Strategies basic principles for any PC backup regimen: Data should be backed up locally (meaning within your home), it should also be backed up remotely (ideally to the cloud), and it should be automatic. As a prosumer-grade NAS (sorry, “personal cloud”), the WD My Cloud EX2 seems to fit the bill rather nicely and would serve many families in this capacity. As it turns out, however, it does more than just provide backup.
The WD My Cloud EX2 is part of WD’s prosumer NAS product line, but it bears more physical resemblance to its consumer-grade My Cloud personal cloud storage solutions than to the other EX products. I chose an EX2 over the similar My Cloud Mirror because it offers slightly better performance thanks to its use of WD Red hard disks, which are designed specifically for NAS. (Both other two internal disks, which I consider a minimum. More on that in a moment.) And it was only slightly more expensive.
In fact, these appliances and the hard disks they contain are on sale right now at Amazon.com, so let’s quickly get through the pricing first.
The base WD My Cloud EX2 model is diskless, so it comes with two empty drive bays. This unit costs just $153 on Amazon.com. But you will need to buy disks, of course, and if you go with the same WD Red disks that WD uses—also on sale at Amazon.com right now—you will spend roughly $70 (for 1 TB) to $280 (for 6 TB) per disk. The most expensive EX2 is a 12 TB version for $624.
I paid $327 for a WD My Cloud EX2 4 TB (the appliance plus two 2 TB WD Red disks). Was this a good deal? To achieve a configuration like the one I purchased pre-built, you would need that diskless WD My Cloud EX2 ($153) plus two 2 TB WD Red hard drives at $96 each, for a total of $345. I saved a little bit of money by buying it all as a bundle.
Honestly, if I was sure I was sticking with this device, I’d have gone bigger on the storage (which, remember, is halved if you use a RAID 1 configuration—the default—for redundancy), and the sweet spot in the lineup appears to be the 6 TB version of the EX2, which costs $380. That’s just $40 more than the 4 TB version I purchased, but the gap to the next one up—8 GB—is another $100 roughly.
If you’re not familiar with NAS, you can think of the EX2 and similar solutions as being a USB hard drive on steroids. Instead of attaching to a PC via USB, however, they connect to your home network using Ethernet—there is no Wi-Fi option. And in doing so they are available to all of the PCs and compatible devices in your home. The EX2 offers two disks, as noted, so if there’s a hardware failure you won’t lose your data. And it’s Internet connected, which means you can configure it to backup itself to a few cloud services (or even another EX2 on your network). And you can even access its contents from outside your home, which is where the personal cloud bit comes in.
As I noted in Thinking About PC Backup Strategies, I’ve been using some form of Windows Server box (“the home server”) for many years now as a central location for storage—and for sharing in the home. And I’ve used software solutions like LogMeIn Hamachi to access the home server’s content while on the road. Such Windows-based solutions are in some ways more powerful than a NAS like the EX2, but they’re also more complex and a lot more expensive. And I’ve been looking for a replacement for some time.
The My Cloud EX2 seems to do the job. And by “the job,” I really mean a wide variety of things.
It’s very compatible with Windows, so once you’ve set it up—a simple process anyone could handle—your PC—and thus any backup solution, including the ones built into Windows—can access its storage natively. You can access its folder shares through File Explorer, copy files back and forth, and play media stored there using the built-in tools in Windows, or third-party applications.
For offsite backup, you can choose between ElephantDrive (which I’d never heard of) and Amazon Web Services. I already have an AWS account, so I will set that up soon. This and other options—the EX2 is quite configurable—are available via a nice, web-based console.
If you have an Xbox 360 or Xbox One, you can use the media player apps on either to browse to the NAS and access any contained videos, music or photos (though videos obviously work best and make the most sense). The EX 2, like other NAS devices, also works with apps (like Roku Media Player) on some set-top boxes.
WD provides free apps for Android, iPhone and iPad, which let you access the files on the NAS and play back any content—again, like videos—that it contains. There’s nothing for Windows Phone, but any DLNA-compatible app should work just fine. (I tested it with something called Smart Player.)
For anyone who wants to access their content from outside the house, of course, the EX2’s “personal cloud functionality” is of interest. This lets you access your documents, videos and other content when you’re on the road. I’ll test this more during a trip to Colorado next week, but it’s easy to enough to test at home: I just disabled Wi-Fi on my iPhone and used the cellular data connection to access the NAS. It worked fine, and the app even warned me that playing a video would use a specific amount of data, a nice touch.
WD offers a ton of other features: an FTP server, a torrent server, expandability via two USB 3.0 ports, integration with other EX2 devices, user management for non-public access rights, and a number CMS apps like WordPress. If you’re a Mac user, it’s Time Machine compatible. I won’t use half of it, but some may find this functionality useful. And it’s really easy to get into, with a tool-less design for anyone needing to add or replace drives. Very nice.
Ultimately, the My Cloud EX2 might not meet my own needs—at the very least, I need a lot more storage—but I’m thinking this will be a great solution for most families. I’ll keep testing to make sure.