Here, there, everywhere: 3 personal cloud storage systems

If you don't want to store your important files on Dropbox or Box for security or other reasons, you can create your own cloud storage system.

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My Book Live

Western Digital

Price: No longer available from vendor; $116-261 retail (Amazon price at press time)

If getting to your files from a variety of different devices matters, then My Book Live from Western Digital (WD) should satisfy. It has the widest assortment of remote access apps of the devices reviewed here.

With its rounded front and upright orientation, My Book Live could easily be mistaken for a hardbound book (and can easily be stashed in a bookshelf). At 6.5 x 2.0 x 5.5 in., it is midway between the smaller CloudBox and the larger My Book Live.

Western Digital's My Book Live
Western Digital's My Book Live

It has an easy-to-see LED up front about 2.5-inches from the bottom of the unit that glows green when everything is working. The Ethernet port is in the back.

Inside the dark gray case is a single 1TB hard drive ($140) that yields 992GB of available space for files; there are also models with 2TB ($160) and 3TB ($190). If you want something with RAID functionality, My Book Live Duo comes with a pair of drives that are available with three different capacities: 4TB ($360), 6TB ($460) and 8TB ($610).

According to company representatives, WD is transitioning to a CD-free installation for the My Book Live, but the hardware I looked at required installing software from a disc. After plugging the drive in and running the software it took about 10 minutes for the drive to be ready.

The My Book Live works with PCs and Macs but has no Linux software. The device does include SmartWare for backing up a PC, but not a Mac; you can use the drive to store back-ups from Time Machine and Windows Backup. There's a helpful diagnostic test routine for your network connection, which is great for quickly troubleshooting a connection problem.

It is the only one of the three installation routines that installs a task tray icon. The icon shows how much disk space remains, whether the drive is overheating and if there are software updates to install.

Western Digital's My Book Live
The website WD 2go gives you access to your folders and files; it also gives you the option of opening your files in Windows Explorer.

The WD Dashboard software links with the drive and lets you create a password, set up email alerts and control when the drive goes into power-saving sleep mode. I was able to change its name, go between static and auto-IP addressing and map the drive.

Getting remote access to your files requires first obtaining a 12-digit access code that's generated in the Dashboard program, but you only need to enter it once on each device. The code must be used to set up a machine within three days or it expires.

The drive uses its remote-access software, WD 2go, to give you access to your folders and files via a browser; it also gives you the option of opening your files in Windows Explorer.

You can access your data via a mobile device using the mobile version of WD 2go, which is available for iOS, Android BlackBerry and Windows Phone devices. None of the other drives covered here have as wide a variety of remote access apps.

The WD 2go app is a general-purpose tool that provides a list of files that are available, but no preview of what they look like. When I tried it on my iPad I was able to open image, Word, PDF and MP4 video files. And it lets you tap into files stored on DropBox and SkyDrive online storage accounts.

There's also WD Photos, a mobile app that lets you see your pictures in folder, album or thumbnail formats. You can also search based on when an image was shot or by name, and view photos as a slideshow with a small variety of transitions.

Having two apps -- WD Photos and WD 2go -- is a bit redundant, but the added flexibility of having the dedicated WD Photos app is nice for quickly finding and showing images to friends, family or co-workers.

You can also give friends, family and co-workers access to the actual files. You'll need to create a special folder for the files on the drive and create an account and password for them to use.

Performance

The My Book Live was the slowest of the three devices; when transferring 430MB of files, it ran at a rate of 5.3MBps. Its Crystal DiskMark score of 10.6MBps and 11.7MBps for reading and writing data were slightly faster than the others.

The system displayed an image in 37.3 seconds, nearly 6 seconds faster than the CloudBox but much slower than the ShareCenter.

Bottom line

Although My Book Live may not be the fastest device of the group, its wide range of apps and other software is a strong recommendation for those who need to get access to their data via a variety of ways.

ShareCenter 2-Bay Cloud Storage 2000

D-Link

Price: No longer available from vendor; $180 retail (Amazon price at press time)

D-Link's ShareCenter 2-Bay Cloud Storage 2000 is for digital DIYers who like to customize their equipment and set it up exactly the way they want it.

Unlike the other devices reviewed here, the ShareCenter is a full Network Attached Storage (NAS) system that doesn't come with its own hard drive. Instead, it has two empty drive bays that accommodate 3.5-in. SATA drives. If you fill both bays, you can take advantage of the ability to use RAID 0 or 1 or the JBOD striping method to get peak performance or fail-safe operations.

D-Link's ShareCenter 2-Bay Cloud Storage 2000
D-Link's ShareCenter 2-Bay Cloud Storage 2000

The ShareCenter is, of course, larger than the others at 7.5 x 3.4 x 5.6 in. Because of its greater capacity, it uses a cooling fan, although while I was using the device, it never got annoyingly loud. It can hold up to 8TB of data with a pair of 4TB drives. There is a USB slot in the back for use with an external drive or a printer.

Its LEDs are the most efficient of the three systems here at showing what's going on. There are four lights that indicate if it is turned on, if the USB is active and if one or both bays are occupied.

Setting up the ShareCenter is a little more involved than the other two personal cloud devices. You need to screw a small red plastic strap onto each drive before inserting it into the bay. Unfortunately, it's easy to put the straps on backwards -- I did it wrong the first time and had to re-attach them. Also, if you use only one drive you have to use the right-hand bay or the system won't recognize it.

Like the WD storage system, you need to run installation software from the included CD to get started. D-Link offers software for Windows, OS X and Linux computers. The system can be used for storing backups made with Time Machine and Windows Backup.

Start to finish, it took me about 10 minutes to get the D-Link online and ready to receive data. Five minutes of that were dedicated to formatting the drive; I used an off-the-shelf 1TB Seagate Barracuda drive, which yielded 915GB of available space.

Once the ShareCenter is set up, you can map the drive, using static or automatic IP addressing. I connected the ShareCenter to my network directly with the router and via a LAN switch; there were no problems.

D-Link's ShareCenter 2-Bay Cloud Storage 2000
The mydlink.com website offers a list of folders and files with details like file type, size and date.

You access your files from either local or remote computers by using the company's mydlink.com website. After entering your password, you are presented with a list of files with details like file type, size and date; however, unlike WD's My Book Live, there are no thumbnail previews. Click to download or upload a file.

I noticed that any other devices I had on the mydlink account showed up as well in the interface if they were registered using the same account name and password -- a real convenience.

Sharing files or folders is little involved. You'll need to create a new public share folder on the drive and set up a special log-in name and password for the recipient. It's a bit awkward and takes a couple of minutes to complete but works well.

If you're using an iOS or Android device, you can use D-Link's mydlink Access-NAS app. (The company doesn't have apps for BlackBerrys or Windows Phones.) The app supports Office, PDF, MP4 and MP3 files, among others; it shows a list that includes file names, when they were saved and their size. Click on the file name for a preview; you can double-click to enlarge it to full screen. At any time you can download an item or view a slideshow of several images.

Performance

I was able to transfer my test 243 files (430MB of data) over an Ethernet connection at the rate of 6.8MBps, midway between the faster CloudBox and the lagging My Book Live.

The system's Crystal DiskMark score was the lowest of the three, however, by a small margin. It was able to read at 10.1MBps while writing at 11.5MBps.

Its ability to grab and show files was extraordinarily fast, due to caching of files when it first gets access to the drive's contents. Using an iPad Mini and the mydlink Access-NAS app, the storage system delivered a 3.2MB image in 8.7 seconds, five times faster than either of the others.

Bottom line

At a list of $200 (about $150 retail), the D-Link ShareCenter is more expensive than the other devices here, especially considering it doesn't actually include a hard drive. The pay-off, however, is the flexibility of being able to use up to two drives and getting the bonus of RAID protection and good performance. If these features are important to you, then the ShareCenter is the one to get.

Conclusions

When it comes to personal cloud storage systems, access is what it is all about. You can use any of these three devices to access your files via a Windows or OS X computer. But, after that, they diverge widely.

While the LaCie CloudBox is the least expensive, it only has an iOS app, which leaves Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone users out in the cold.

The D-Link's ShareCenter was the speediest of the three at serving up files remotely and provides apps for three mobile device families: iOS, Android and BlackBerry. It can also store up to 8TB of data, more than the others, but has the most involved set-up routine; in addition, you need to buy your own drive.

I love things that are small, inexpensive and flexible, and WD's My Book Live satisfies these criteria. With a slender profile, a reasonable price tag and the best variety of online apps for retrieving data remotely, it is my ideal for personal cloud storage. In addition to programs for iOS, Android and BlackBerry, it is the only company to provide Windows Phone access. Add in the bonus of access to files stashed on Dropbox and SkyDrive, and you have a personal cloud that casts a large shadow.

It may not be the fastest and it lacks access for Linux computers, but WD's My Book Live helps me to take it all with me.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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