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Tuesday, 24 December 2013 16:38

Our own Cloud

Written by Mike
Western Digital MyCloud EX4 - a neat solution to have everything stored safely and available easily Western Digital MyCloud EX4 - a neat solution to have everything stored safely and available easily

I have a paranoia about losing data - both through carelessness and through system failure.  So I've been looking for a solution to our data storage needs that will keep our precious pictures and videos (and in fact our precious everything else) safe and accessible.

 

So I've been watching how networked disks have been coming down in price and increasing in functionality.  Several manufacturers now produce viable solutions, but the one that took my eye is the recently launched Western Digital MyCloud EX4.

Having now bought one and set it up, every picture I've got in digital format is now available whenever I want it, and they're all as secure as they can be from technical failure.  Operator error is of course another matter...

Background

I'm sure I'm like every other photographer.  You start out using the space on your computer or laptop as your storage area.  And then you overgrow that.  So you buy an external hard drive. Over time, that fills up too. So you buy another.  I ended up with three 1TB drives and one 2TB drive, a total of 5TB of offline storage.  The real world isn't quite like that because even though you buy a 1TB disk, you only actually get about 900MB.  But that's being nit-picking.

The bottom line is there is still a huge amount of data knocking about that could be better organised and could be more accessible if I want to get at it for any reason.

Accessibility

You end up at a situation where your current work is on your computer or laptop's hard drive, and if you're anything like me, you don't bother to move it off your PC onto an external hard drive until you just can't fit one more picture onto your computer's disk.  And then you have a blitz of moving stuff off onto external storage.

All good and fine so far.  Until you want to go back to work you did a while ago that's now on one of your external disks.

I started out very logically, but then one day as I was in a hurry, I just dumped a directory of pictures there and said I'll move it later.  I didn't, and I bet many of you wouldn't go back and move it later either.

What you end up with is a dog's breakfast of files scattered across external hard drives. So of course when you want to find something, it takes an age.  And that's after you've found the disk, found the power adaptor for the disk (why are they always different) and then found a USB cable to plug it in.

In summary, files on external hard drives might be reasonably safe, but they're not easily accessible.

Safe and protected

I used to believe that storage on CD and DVD was a pretty safe bet for longevity.  But then the horror stories started coming out of CD and DVD backups that were found to be blank after just a couple of years.  It happened to Pam a few years ago and she lost some great pictures.  Ouch.

Hence my move to external hard drives.  And then I had one of those fail.  Fortunately I had the data elsewhere and so was able to get it back. If this happens to you, there are places you can take a faulty disk to and they will do an excellent job of getting your data off even a completely corrupt disk.

But if I contrast that situation with some slides I've just been scanning that are over forty years old, we're not really talking longevity when it comes to the storage of digital pictures.

Two needs - accessible and secure

So in searching for my solution, I wanted to fix those two issues.  I wanted all my data on-line and ready to use at a moment's notice, and I wanted to be sure it was as secure as I could make it.

I also had some other objectives that centred around backing my PC up, but that was secondary to having all the data online and having it secure.  And as a final dimension, the solution needed to work for us both - some it has to work with my Windows 8 world and Pam's Apple World.

Solutions

Networked disk arrays have been available for a while now.  And they've steadily been dropping in price and increasing in functionality.

Most of the products available are designed with small business in mind rather than the domestic set-up I was envisioning. That meant they had features I could never see us using, and it also meant a potentially steeper learning curve to be able to use the device effectively because it's documentation would almost certainly assume some level of networking and storage knowledge that frankly I don't have.

Western Digital MyCloud EX4

Western Digital MyCloud EX4

A very neat, network attached storage device

Enter the new Western Digital MyCloud EX4.  It's a consumer level product that is network attached and has all the features we could wish for and more.

The MyCloud plugs into your wireless router so that anybody using your wireless network has access to the MyCloud.  We then set up two areas on the MyCloud, one for me and one for Pam.

The MyCloud then appears on your PC as a networked device, and you can navigate to the files on it in exactly the normal way as you would if they were on the hard disk of your computer or laptop, including from within applications.  Neat...

The MyCloud includes four disk drives - I chose one with four 2TB disks making a total theoretical capacity of 8GB.  Western Digital make variants of the EX4 with up to four 4TB disks giving you a whopping 16TB in total (or presumably about 11.5TB of usable space after RAID5) to play with.

For simplicity I set up a couple of shortcuts that take me directly to specific locations on the MyCloud, just as I might with any other directory or resource on my laptop's hard drive.

Data protection

One of my primary drivers to get the device was data security.  So on the MyCloud we're using RAID5 which is the default setting for the unit as it came out of its box. Note that using RAID5 reduces the effective capacity by about 25% - so my 8TB of theoretical space reduced to about 5.8TB of actually usable space.

What RAID5 does is write the data to the disks in such a way that if a disk were to fail for any reason, the unit will carry on working.  Yes - even with a faulty disk - the MyCloud will continue to function for you.  Clever stuff..

When you then replace the faulty hard drive, the unit will sort itself out again and you're back to normal.  I intend to buy a spare disk for it to cover that eventuality.

For me, that's the best solution I've seen yet to protect our precious pictures, videos and stuff.

Accessibility

The second part of my requirement was accessibility.  Remember those four disks I mentioned at the outset?  I wanted the MyCloud to replace those disks, and I wanted the data on-line and accessible all the time.

The MyCloud sits in the corner of the lounge next to the router.  It's not an attractive unit, but it does have a certain high-tech charm that fits in our world perfectly.  And we leave it on permanently.  When it's not being accessed, it puts itself into a sleep mode.  When you try to access it, it comes back to life virtually instantly, a bit like your PC does when it puts itself into sleep mode.  If it has any 'issues', it even sends me an email to tell me about them.

The result is everything I've ever created is available pretty much instantly.  A very neat solution indeed...

Setting it up

I knew right from the outset that setting the box up wouldn't be simple.  After all, there is about 4TB of data to be moved from its current homes to the MyCloud.  That's no small job in itself.

Given my lack of networking knowledge it took a while to figure out how to configure the permissions for everything to work sweetly.  I had a black day trying to get to the bottom of a number of issues, but eventually got the result I wanted.  Fortunately most of the default settings seemed to work just fine.

The result

We named the box the McCloud - well you would wouldn't you when your surname is McCormac?

It's still early days, but it appears to be more than living up to what we wanted it to do.  What more can you ask?

Mike

Mike

Mike McCormac has been a photographer since about ten years old.  He's a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, and splits his time between living in Olney in the United Kingdom and a village in the hills near Paphos in Cyprus.

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