What I Use: WD My Cloud EX2

A little under a month ago, I wrote about my first impressions of the WD My Cloud EX2, a prosumer-grade network attached storage (NAS) device that I figured would be a great solution for families especially. But after testing this neat little appliance more extensively, I’m sold: I purchased a larger-capacity unit and will be returning the smaller original unit.

In First Look: WD My Cloud EX2 I discussed how this type of NAS satisfies the three basic principles for any PC backup regimen as described in Thinking About PC Backup Strategies: It provides local (within the home backup), it can be backed up remotely (ideally to the cloud), and it is automatic. But the EX2 also offers other useful benefits. It can be accessed remotely—which I tested during a recent work trip to Colorado—it provides tremendous digital media sharing capabilities, and it can be expanded if needed over USB 3.0.


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I’m impressed with how well it works. The EX2 is simple but powerful, and it performs much better than the micro server it will replace. And you can just jam it full of storage, thanks to recent improvements in hard drive densities. And while it’s barely bigger than an external USB 3.0 drive, it’s also easy to secure the EX2 reliably.

You may recall that as my data storage needs have evolved, so too has the technology. For a long time, I was using various Windows Server-based boxes with internal and external drives for local storage and backup, and my latest—and perhaps last—Windows Server setup is an underpowered micro server with four filled internal drive bays and several external drives. I back it up locally to externally disks, and to the cloud using Crashplan. It works. But it’s slow, and out of date, and I’ve wanted to replace it with something smaller, simpler and less complex for a long time.

HP Micro Server on the right with USB 3.0 external HDDs on the left.
HP Micro Server on the right with USB 3.0 external HDDs on the left.

Concurrently with this, I’ve started storing a lot of my work-related data in OneDrive. Looking at the archives, I made the switchover in December 2012, so about two and a half years ago. Before that date, I archived all my work-related data on the micro server (backing it up locally and to the cloud). But since then, my day-to-day work data has gone to OneDrive instead. This is a more elegant system for a variety of reasons, but the simplest way to think about it is that I can now easily sync whatever I need—maybe the books I’m working on, the latest article series, or whatever—to whatever PC I’m using. It can be my home PC—which syncs a lot of the recent work data—or a laptop I’m taking on the road. OneDrive works well for this.

So what’s the micro server storing?

From a work perspective, it has all of my data pre-December 2012. This dates back over 20 years, and I have a pretty impressive archive. (It’s where a lot of my Throwback Thursday articles are coming from; I save everything.) In practical terms, this archive is almost 1 TB of documents and related data. It’s a lot of stuff.

The micro server also contains all of our digital personal photos and home videos. This includes a number of photo scans—hardly complete—dating back to before my wife and I were born and about 15 years of digital photos and videos. Curiously, it’s not all that big at less than 300 GB. But this data is obviously important, and too important to keep in a single location. So I copy all of it to OneDrive as well, and of course it’s backed up to the cloud (through Crashplan on the server).

Then there is about 2 TB of video files, mostly ripped DVDs. Most of these videos are pre-HD (i.e. are DVD/standard definition quality), as since HD took over I’ve mostly purchased the movies I really want to rewatch from popular services like Amazon Prime, iTunes, Google Play and even Xbox Video. My music collection—much of which I may simply re-rip to ensure it’s in decent AAC quality—takes up less than 100 GB of space. And there is about 220 GB of software on there, though I could can the vast majority of it. That said, I would need space for OS ISOs and the like.

All told, the data on the server takes up about 3.5 TB of space, not accounting for duplication. And I’d add another 1 TB—probably a stretch, but not by much—to account for data that’s on my main PC and needs to be sorted. So whatever NAS solution I get needs to include at least 9 TB of data across two disks to ensure that everything is duplicated.

If you look at the WD My Cloud EX2 on Amazon, you’ll see that two models would meet this need: the 10 TB version (with two 5 TB disks), which costs $580. And the 12 TB version (with two 6 TB disks), for $625. (It’s more expensive to buy the bare unit and two drives separately, I checked.)

I bought with the 12 TB version, which is the largest capacity EX2 that WD sells, and a device expensive enough that it required and received spousal approval. (I had spent $320 on the 4 TB EX2, with two 2 TB disks, so the additional cost was just over $300.) It arrived this morning and I’ll probably spend the next week copying data from the micro server to the NAS and then taking the micro server offline. I will keep the Crashplan backup active until I am sure cloud backup from the NAS is in place and complete.

Beyond that, there is other work to do around data protection, more seamless access from PCs, and so on. I’ll write about that later if I think it might be useful or interesting to others. But first, I have a lot of file copying to do.

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