IF YOU WANT TO KEEP CONTROL OF YOUR OWN DATA, THERE IS AN ALTERNATIVE TO CLOUD BACKUP – WE PUT TWO “PERSONAL CLOUD” BOXES TO THE TEST
If you’d rather not get tied into a rolling subscription, you can always take the traditional route of backing up your data to a local device. Of course, this means your data will be at risk if (Heaven forfend) your house or oice burns down, but if you buy a NAS appliance you may still have the ability to browse and access your files from anywhere in the world. This is often referred to as a “personal cloud”.
There are other pluses to this approach. Because a NAS appliance lives on your local network, you can browse and restore old files at the full speed of your LAN connection, which will be many times faster than any internet service. There are plenty of options to choose from, with devices from the likes of D-Link, LaCie, Seagate, Synology and Qnap. We’ve gone hands-on with two such products to see how they stack up against pure cloud options.
WD MYCLOUD 4TB
Western Digital offers a range of MyCloud NAS appliances, in capacities stretching up to a mighty 16TB. We tried out the MyCloud 4TB, an unobtrusive unit no bigger than a regular external hard disk – although it naturally plugs into your router, via a wired connection, rather than directly into a client PC.
Alongside backup, you can use the MyCloud for regular file storage. The friendly, webbased setup routine guides you through the process of creating user accounts for everyone in your household, after which you can connect in the usual way (and optionally map a drive letter) in Windows Explorer.
Backup duties are handled by WD’s own SmartWare Pro package: despite the “Pro” moniker, this is lightweight software that backs up your chosen files either continuously or to a schedule. We found the interface fiddly and unclear (thanks to buttons that aren’t obviously clickable until you hover the mouse over them), but you’re not obliged to use it – any backup client worthy of the name will do the job just as well.
And since everything only has to travel on your LAN, backup speeds are vastly quicker than any cloud service: we were able to back up our 5GB test folder in a mere 5mins 56secs.
The MyCloud’s key selling point is its personal cloud capabilities, which allow individual users to access their personal folders (and any others you’ve given them access to) from any computer, smartphone or tablet. Setting this up couldn’t be easier: to connect, you simply generate a userspecific 12-digit access code from the MyCloud web portal, then enter it into the MyCloud mobile app for Android or iOS – or the MyCloud desktop app for Windows and macOS.
By default, your remote connection to the unit is relayed through WD’s central server, so you shouldn’t have any problems with firewalls. If you’re seeking the very fastest transfers, and don’t mind getting stuck into some network settings, enable port forwarding on your router and connect to the MyCloud device directly via your router’s external IP address.
It’s worth noting that not only does the MyCloud lack the reassurance of an of-site backup, it only contains a single drive – so if that disk sufers a mechanical failure, your data is gone for good. We suggest you step up to the twin-drive MyCloud Mirror, which uses RAID 1 mirroring to protect your files from exactly that danger. Inevitably, though, that’s a bigger, more expensive unit, with the 4TB model coming in.
It’s also possible to add a further layer of protection using the MyCloud’s builtin self-backup agent: you can set it to automatically back itself up to a regular external hard disk, connected via the USB 3 socket at the rear of the unit. Or, most interestingly, you can configure it to regularly back up selected folders to a remote NAS device, located anywhere in the world – as long as it accepts remote connections and file transfers over SSH.
The MyCloud isn’t the most fully featured NAS device in the world: the 4TB unit we tested will act as a streaming server for DLNA and iTunes clients, but it doesn’t let you install thirdparty apps like Plex or WordPress. It’s very easy to use, though, and for it’s good value: you can easily pay for a basic USB hard disk in this size, so if you’re looking for remote access, it’s a tempting option.
BUFFALO LINKSTATION LS520D
Where WD’s MyCloud aims for simplicity, Bufalo’s two-bay LinkStation LS520DE feels more techie-friendly. That starts as soon as you open the box: the unit comes unpopulated, so your first job is to screw a pair of 3.5in hard drives into the supplied caddies and clunk them into place. Once you’ve hooked it up to your router, your next port of call is Bufalo’s NAS Navigator utility, which helps you locate the LS520DE on the network and view technical diagnostics.
From here, you can launch the webbased setup wizard, and things get a bit easier. You can choose to configure your two drives in striped, mirrored or JBOD configuration, although for backup purposes we strongly recommend mirroring: the other options let you use the full capacity of both drives, but if either one of the drives should fail you’re almost certain to lose data. With this done, the device opens up its home screen: this looks a lot like a Linux desktop, which shouldn’t be much of a surprise as the LinkStation runs a stripped-down Linux core. You can easily browse your files and shares, but there’s plenty of technical information and advanced settings just a click or two away.
Bufalo’s backup software of choice is NovaBackup 18: the LinkStation comes with a licence for up to five clients, but no entitlement to technical support. It’s an ugly bit of software, but a highly versatile one. You can set up any number of custom backup sets, each running to its own schedule, as well as taking a complete image of your system and creating a bootable CD or USB flash drive for “bare metal” recovery, should the need arise.
Personal cloud functions are provided by Bufalo’s WebAccess feature. This isn’t a hosted service like WD’s, but rather requires your router to forward incoming connections on a specified port to the LinkStation. Setting this up isn’t as daunting as it may sound: if you don’t want to choose a port yourself, and set up forwarding manually, you can enable UPnP and let the router sort it out.
Aside from that, you simply need to come up with a unique name for your LinkStation, such as MyNAS123.
Once you’ve registered this within the LinkStation’s settings page, you can visit bufalonas.com/MyNAS123 from any browser and be forwarded directly to your LinkStation. There are mobile apps for Android and iOS too, so you can browse and download files on the go.
When it comes to backing up the LinkStation LS520DE itself, there’s a built-in backup app, but this will only back up from one local directory to another, or to a USB 3-connected external hard drive; there’s no option to maintain an of-site copy of your files.
What’s more, while the interface is quite technically sophisticated, there’s no way to install additional apps, so you can’t easily install a more versatile backup agent.
All the same, if you’re looking for a capable NAS that will let you get at your files from anywhere in the world, this is a cost-efective option – especially if you already have some suitable drives to populate it with. We’d feel happier if it had some sort of of-site replication option, but RAID mirroring goes a good way to reduce your risk of data loss.
If you seek the very fastest transfers, and don’t mind getting stuck into network settings, enable port forwarding on your router