Easy-to-set-up cloud storage for the home

Easy-to-set-up cloud storage for the home

Own a laptop, a tablet or a smartphone? Many of us have all three and more.

Now, multiply this by the number of people in your household and organising all the photos, videos and music on all these devices rapidly becomes a chore, especially if they are shared.

Sure, you can upload your data to cloud services, such as Dropbox, Google Drive or OneDrive, but it will take time if you have years of photos and videos. You may also incur subscription fees for additional storage space. And what if these services become defunct?

One alternative is to create your own cloud and backup solution using a network-attached storage (NAS) device. It may sound complex, but a NAS is basically a computer which is hooked up to a network that is linked to the Web.

There are a few ways to this. You can repurpose an old PC into a NAS (check out the FreeNAS software) because it does not need a powerful CPU or lots of RAM. Even a router can act like a NAS when it has an external storage device plugged into its USB port.

The best option, however, are dedicated NAS devices, which are usually rectangular boxes with hard-drive bays. Using one, you can stream data to devices in your home network, host your own webpage or file server, and download content into an external storage device. Such functions can be accessed on PCs and mobile devices through apps.

IT consultant Kay Ang, 32, has not one, but two NAS devices at home - a two-bay model from Synology to back up data from his Apple computers and another to stream media to his home-theatre system. His wife stores photos on the devices too.

He bought his first NAS around seven years ago. "I just wanted to play with gadgets. At that time, the Netgear NAS was quite affordable," he said.

A two-bay NAS typically costs between $150 and $300. Major consumer NAS vendors, such as Synology and QNAP, sell NAS devices minus hard drives, simply because they are not in the hard-drive business. Some retailers bundle and even install the hard drives for less tech-savvy consumers.

Hard drives usually cost between $100 (1TB) and $400 (6TB), depending on their sizes and brands.

In recent years, Western Digital, Seagate and other storage vendors have jumped onto the consumer bandwagon with NAS that come pre-installed with hard drives. They have also launched special hard drives optimised for NAS usage, such drives are touted to run quieter and consume less power than normal versions.

Market tracker GfK Asia said that about 19,600 consumer NAS devices were sold in Singapore last year, up from 15,600 units in 2012. Of these, 80 per cent were basic, single-bay models which hold just one hard drive. Two-bay models made up 17 per cent of sales.

While two-bay NAS devices can mirror your files on two hard drives in case one fails, a single-bay model is adequate if you just need a repository for all your digital files.

So, the next time you want to catch a movie on your tablet, you do not need to copy it from your PC to an SD card. Just stream it from a NAS.

Western Digital My Cloud EX4100 

This is one of the more expensive NAS devices on the market, but it also happens to have the most features and the largest capacity of such devices.

The review set which was tested is the four-bay 16TB unit, which comes with four 4TB Western Digital Red drives. The whole thing comes assembled, so there is no need to fiddle with screws or insert drives into its bays. But if you need to access a drive, each of the bay doors has a spring-loaded latch that can be opened easily.

Initialisation took a few minutes. Information on the drive is shown on the small LCD display just above the bay doors.

It is easy to link the NAS manually to an existing network. It depends on how much redundancy is required. Though the set comes with one power supply brick, there are two DC input jacks that can be used, in case something trips one of your power points. 

There are also two LAN ports for additional bandwidth with link-aggregation, though users will likely need a network switch that supports this feature, which is less for regular use and more for small businesses or home offices.

The two USB 3.0 ports in the back of the NAS are not meant for direct connection to a computer, but to add external USB drives to expand its storage capacity.

There is a variety of disk management support options here, and everything can be done using the administrative interface via the browser.

To access the unit on your mobile device, simply download and turn on the WD My Cloud app while connected to the same Wi-Fi network as the EX4100. Detection is instantaneous and you can easily link up to the NAS in the future via the mobile app once this initial connection is made.

Otherwise, you can also grant access via the administrative interface by generating one-time codes to connect additional devices.

Transfer speeds hover around 40MBps for writing onto the EX4100. This is decent, though nowhere near the 116MBps write speed Western Digital claims.

The easiest way to transfer content to this NAS is via the front USB 3.0 port, which has a direct copy feature. Simply press a button and the EX4100 will automatically copy over everything from the external storage into a folder.

$699 (no drives included), $1,299 (8TB), $1,799 (16TB), $2,499 (24TB)
Processor: 1.6GHz dual-core
Ports: 2 x USB 3.0 (rear), USB 3.0 with direct copy (front), 2x Gigabit Ethernet
Hard disk configuration: JBOD, Spanning, Raid 0/1/5/10
Maximum disk capacity: 24TB

Features 5/5
Design 3/5
Performance 4/5
Value for money 3/5
Overall 4/5

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