Toying with Direct Attached Storage

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For the past week, I have been trying to educate myself to the world of NAS, or Network Attached Storage. I was reading articles on the web, watching Youtube tutorials, unboxing, reviews, you name it just to get up to speed to what NAS is all about. It took me a while to grasp the concept of NAS, as the choices, features and functions are bountiful. And I only realized recently, that my WD My Cloud, somehow resembles a NAS, in a very rudimentary way. And after reading more about it, the WD My Cloud, actually functions just like a NAS, but a very stripped down version, useful for someone who is not as technically inclined in delving further into the world of NAS. It is a simple plug and play device and contains a single 4TB hard drive, where you simply dump all your media files for all in the household to share.

The reason why I started looking up at NAS, was because I was trying to find a practical solution in not only storing my previous photos taken during my numerous photography sessions, but also solutions to provide adequate backup should some hardware fail unexpectedly in a distant future. Those photos that I have are very precious to me, and while I have a Smugmug account that allows you to upload unlimited number of photos, I did not subscribe to their more, premium option of uploading RAW files as well. So while I can upload all my JPEGs to Smugmug with an incredible amount of organizational latitude, I am still limited by the fact that RAW is off limits when it comes to cloud backup (Smugmug functions somewhat this way, with an added bonus of giving you the tools to created compelling websites to showcase your best photography works, all under a single subscription model.) And so, I started toying with the idea of doing a simple backup or redundancy at a local level, like setting up a Raid 1 storage for example.

Photography as a hobby, takes up a lot of digital space, and so it became natural that NAS was under my radar. However, the more I understood what NAS is all about, the more I feel that it is an unnecessary step and possibly an ill fitting direction in choosing how to safely store my photos. What I really needed at the end of the day, was not to share my photos of anyone within the NAS network, or access those photos offsite, but rather just to provide a simple storage and redundancy solution to safely protect -at a local level- all my precious photos.

DAS, or less commonly known as Direct Attached Storage, are simple hard drives connected directly to your PC. It may or may not be connected to a bigger part of the network, but it provided the simplest solution based on my needs. Products like WD My Cloud Duo, features 2 hard drives in which you can install and upgrade in the future and provide Raid 1 settings, meaning one of the drive is served as a redundant drive, mirroring the other one. That is what I need, providing redundancy should one fail. Are they other options available? The Drobos 4-Bay USB3.0 or Drobos 5D, 5-Bay with Thunderbolt connection are some other options that I have found online that suit my needs. The Drobos 5D is prohibitively expensive in my opinion, due to its thunderbolt connectivity which gives you blazing fast speeds in reading and writing data to the hard drive. Drobos 4-Bay is the next best fit. But such DAS regardless of brand, do come at a cost, with some significant investments in good, high capacity hard drives, in order to take advantage of the Raid capabilities and provide adequate redundancy to protect my photos.

My next big IT purchase might just be getting a good DAS to store and protect my photos from hardware failure. I may not need it now, since currently I don’t need that much space that 4-bay DAS can offer. I still have ample of space for my photos in my 2.5 inch 2TB portable hard drive. In other words, I still have time to look around and maybe consider DIYing such things, and make it a weekend project to create my own DAS. Who knows, it could be interesting and all I need is a reliable DAS, without the need of fancy branding or extra features that I may ultimately not use.

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Worst tech buy ever

I consider myself a tech geek. And by tech geek, I mean carefully choosing the kinds of devices or gadgets that would suit my needs. Choosing a piece of technology, be it smartphones, notebooks, hard drives or even a simple computer mouse must be reasonable priced, reliable, trustworthy and that it suit my needs perfectly. I am not an early adopter, however I will choose to buy the latest gadgets, if I really need it, and I will only buy it after very careful consideration of my needs. I research extensively to see just what kinds of gadget would be suitable for me, maximizing cost to performance or utility.

So having said that, I do make blunders every now and then. Sometimes I would buy a gadget that gave me great disappointment, either by not performing to my expectations or just overestimating its added benefits that it would ultimately provide me. Take the WD MyCloud personal NAS for example. It has 4GB of hard drive space. Wow! It simply connects to your router and any devices connected to the same network would be able to access files store in the NAS. Amazing! It is hassle free, simply plug and play. I don’t think so.

The main gripe about the WD MyCloud is that it can be quite difficult to set up the NAS properly, especially when you need to ensure that all your devices in your home are seamlessly connected to it. They have smartphone apps to download so that you can access the files from WD MyCloud, and they even have softwares to make access to the network storage simple and fuss free. But that is not the case. Time and time again I have encountered difficulties in getting access to the network storage either from my computer or from my smartphone. And because you have to connect the network storage via ethernet connection, your upload and download speeds are very dependent on the wireless network afforded by the router. Sure, you can connect the network storage directly to your pc via ethernet if you need to transfer large files quickly, but this hassle of plugging in and out is just not worth the trouble.

The good thing about the network storage is that my smart tv is able to access the files from within. This means, that I can watch and stream any videos I have uploaded from the network storage and watch from my TV. It’s a great way to watch stuff. But I encounter so many intermittent interruptions while watching my videos for no apparent reason. One moment I was enjoying the video and half-way through, it just gets disconnected. I don’t know if I can blame on the corrupted file while transferring to the network storage, or the connection from my TV And network storage is just so poor that I get streaming interruptions from time to time. And for your information, the WD MyCloud is just beside my TV, connected directly via an Ethernet cable.

The back of the WD MyCloud has a USB port, that allows you to connect any portable drives so that you can transfer any files to and from the network storage quickly. This is a great feature. But again, in several instances, the network storage just refuses to recognize that there is actually a portable drive attached to it, and refuses to communicate with it. It can be very frustrating as I have to resort to transferring files via wifi, which is in orders of magnitude slower than a direct connection.

4GB is huge for a personal user like me, but its buggy software, and unreliable and unstable connection really diminishes its true potential. Even if I want to treat this drive as simply a backup drive to store my digital media, is already a hassle setting it up, much less using it as streaming storage device.

So other words, NAS is just not for me at the moment. I’d rather get either a portable drive or a 3.5 drive that would sit nicely on my desktop for all my storage needs. No need for additional networking hassle.