Why virtualise your NAS environment?
WD My Cloud EX4 NAS device
WD's 4-bay NAS device for small business users has a cloud feature, which, when it works, is simple and effective for accessing files remotely
- Dual Gigabit Ethernet ports
- Dual USB 3.0 ports
- Toolless, caddyless drive bays
- The cloud feature didn't work properly for us all the time
- WD doesn't have much in the way of support when connections need troubleshooting
WD's My Cloud EX4 is a network attached storage device that offers good features and build quality for a small office or home office environment, and it's quite easy to use. However, it took us a few goes before the cloud feature worked for us.
Price$ 1,200.00 (AUD)
WD's My Cloud EX4 is a 4-bay, network attached storage (NAS) device that's aimed at those of you who work in a small office or home office environment, and, specifically, at those of you who might not have otherwise considered getting a NAS device.
It's designed to be an easy-to-use product, it's built with some redundancy in mind, and it's available in a capacity up to 16TB. You may have also noticed the word 'cloud' in the product name. This refers to the drive's ability to be your own 'personal cloud' storage.
Solidly built, easy to use
Physically, the My Cloud EX4 is a strongly built enclosure that can house up to four drives. It can be purchased either on its own, or with drives installed. If you get it with drives installed, then they will be of the WD Red variety, which are designed for NAS usage. WD has re-designed the way drives fit into the enclosure. Rather than using caddies to mount drives, the EX4 simply has four slots into which SATA drives can be slid into place. You then secure them by closing the release lever once the drives are in their properly in their slot. It's very easy to use and, most importantly, it doesn't require any tools.
With up to four drives installed, the EX4 can supply a storage capacity up to 16TB, but it depends on the type of RAID configuration that you use to set up the drives. By default, they are set up in a RAID 5 array, which provides a good compromise between a high capacity and data security. The formatted capacity of our 8TB array (using four drives) was 5.9TB. The performance of the NAS device in this configuration was more than adequate, recording a transfer rate of 76.13 megabytes per second when writing data to a PC on our network using Gigabit Ethernet, and 35.92MBps when writing from that same PC over the same connection.
On the rear of the EX4, you'll notice there is a double-up of ports. You get two Gigabit Ethernet ports, and two power ports. Since the EX4 doesn't have built in power supplies, the power ports are for power supply bricks that reside externally of the enclosure, and only one is provided in the box. The dual Ethernet ports can provide link aggregation and load balancing, in addition to redundancy. Two USB ports are also present, through which you can attach another NAS drive to back up the EX4, or simply attach USB drives to share their data on your network.
You don't really need to know a lot about how to use a NAS in order to make the most of the WD My Cloud EX4. It has a small LCD screen on the front that provides information on the status of the drive, including its temperature, and it also shows the IP address that your router has given the drive. You can type this IP address into your browser to access the drive's Web interface. It's an interface with a neat layout, some graphics, and we found it to be a cinch to navigate and change settings.
Primarily, what you'll want to do is add users to your NAS device, especially if you work in a small office, which will allow you to set them their own private space on the NAS. Of course, you could just store all your data in the public folders and use the admin account if you're the single user of the drive, so it all depends on your scenario. Either way, the potential is there for multi-user accounts and storage quotas to be set up.
Using the 'cloud' feature
The other thing you'll want to do is enable the cloud feature, which will allow you to access stored data from almost any device on the Internet. To do this, you'll have to register an account with WD's My Cloud service (formerly WD2go), using your name and an email address. This service will track your NAS device's IP address so that you don't have to set it up with a dynamic IP address as a server, and it will make it visible to you when you use WD's My Cloud desktop and mobile apps with your My Cloud account. (You can use your account to create accounts for other users who need to access the drive remotely, too).
It should be noted that in the past, WD cloud-capable drives used the WebDAV service for file browsing and management, which allowed the drives to appear as regular network folders on your computer. This time around, WD said it's moving away from WebDAV, which can be a slow experience. It has disabled the service in the drive, and each time you try to access the EX4 from the WD Web site (www.wd2go.com), you are redirected to the page for the app downloads. In any case, we think the Desktop app for remote access is solid, easy to use, and provides a much better overall experience than WebDAV did.
File access from the EX4 over the Internet can be slow depending on the type of Internet connection that you have at home or in the office. Not only will your download speed affect the speed of file transfers when accessing data remotely on your end, but so will the upload speed of the connection to which the EX4 is attached. On our iiNet ADSL2+ connections, the fastest download speeds we achieved from a remote connection were around 83 kilobytes per second (KBps), which is around about the limit for uploads for that connection. Basically, accessing large files from this drive from a remote connection could be a frustrating experience. We recommend it more for smaller files such as documents, photos, and presentations (unless you already have the NBN and an upload speed that can be measured in megabits per second, rather than kilobits). Think of it as your own personal Dropbox of sorts.
While the drive requires hardly any user interaction to become accessible over the Internet (save for the WD Cloud account that we mentioned earlier), we should point out that we did experience some problems with this unit that lead us to believe pot luck is involved in whether it works or not.
After setting up our WD My CLoud account, our first couple of attempts to access the EX4 remotely failed, and for no specified reason other than 'Unable to access device (0)' on the mobile app, and 'Can't connect to this device' on the desktop app, even though the device had been found and added without any issues. The Web interface reported that the drive forwarded the required ports, and our router's UPnP page showed that the ports from the drive were indeed forwarded, but we still couldn't see the drive through our remote Internet connection.
It took a system restore of the drive and removing it and re-adding it to our WD Cloud account (using a PIN generated by the drive rather than our WD Cloud account details) before we finally got it going. However, by using a PIN to access the drive on our laptop and smartphone, the drive wasn't added to our WD My Cloud account. This meant we were out of luck when we wanted to access the drive from other remote computers, because the drive was not listed in our My Cloud account and we couldn't generate a PIN as we were off site.
Update: The day after we published this review, the EX4 showed up as a device in My Cloud again, and therefore a PIN wasn't needed to connect further remote devices.
We're hoping that this problem using the My Cloud service with the EX4 isn't typical of the user experience for this device (let us know in the comments or user reviews of your own experience if you own this drive) because the error messages and support documentation on WD's Web site don't offer much in the way of helping you resolve connectivity issues.
Other features that you should know about regarding the EX4 are that it supports remote backups using Amazon S3, internal backups to local destinations (including USB), it can be used to serve media, and it has app support that allows you to do things such as directly undertake HTTP and BitTorrent downloads on the drive itself, bypassing a computer.
It's a good NAS device all up, and we particularly like its design, build quality, and the user interface. However, we did have problems accessing the drive over the Internet the first couple of times we tried, and since this is one of the device's core features, we had to deduct some marks.
In New Zealand, the 8TB version costs $1300.
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