The five minute guide to network storage

Western Digital My Book World Edition
Stream music, share photos and back up devices with NAS devices like the My Book World Edition

Backup is finally becoming big business, but there's still a long way to go. While many appreciate the benefits of an external hard drive, few consumers have yet taken the plunge into network storage.

However, since many of us use multiple PCs and other devices, our data is spread across several different machines, hard drives, DVDs and USB memory sticks without much thought for protecting it all.

As such, the Western Digital My Book World NAS device is entering a confusing market. Network storage drives aren't fully understood by many consumers, despite the advantages of storing files centrally.

There are benefits in pooling photos, for example, so you can access them from any machine. It's not hard to see the advantage of centralising music, either; like most NAS devices, the My Book World Edition includes a built-in iTunes Server so you can access your music on any of your PCs. Built-in BitTorrent clients are also popular, although this model doesn't have one.

The box is also DLNA-compliant, which along with the iTunes Server is a must-have for any NAS device. DLNA stands for the Digital Living Network Alliance standard, which is essentially a standard for media streaming between living room devices, such as gaming consoles and media streaming boxes.

Microsoft is one of the big exponents of the technology, and a huge amount of newly launched home entertainment kit from the likes of Sony and Panasonic is also observing the standard.

Owning a NAS device that's DLNA-compliant means that it can be easily incorporated into a living-room setup. For example, a DLNA-compliant Panasonic Viera TV can stream media directly from the My Book without compatibility issues.

There are some limitations, however, such as video format. The Panasonic Viera Cast technology will only stream H.264 and DivX on selected models, for example.

Taking a step up

As well as basic NAS devices, such as the My Book, there is also a class of NAS kit called 'storage appliances', including Windows Home Server kit. But although Windows Home Server is one of the best solutions to enable multiple PC backups, it comes with a hefty price attached.

For instance, the top of the line Tranquil SQA-5H-2000 will set you back £500. It comes with 2GB of memory and offers a 1TB hard drive for that rather high outlay (and additional hard drives are also available in sub-£50 increments).

So while Windows Home Server can completely automate your backup, the price makes it prohibitive to many. And any backup solution always has a weak point – the user. The Western Digital approach is to provide its own back-up software, which is called WD Anywhere Backup.

As we know, however, users can easily disable or remove software-based solutions – or choose not to install them in the first place. As such, it doesn't yet provide the kind of robust network-wide backup we're looking for. It's certainly a good start, though, particularly if you can prevent the other users of your machines from configuring the software or removing it via their access privileges.

Software remains an easy and flexible backup solution for a multiple-PC household, though there's certainly merit in the Home Server approach too. In particular, it enables you to configure backups for all your machines from a centralised console, even if it is still reliant on software installed on each machine.

The rest of us are catered for with a NAS-based approach: a flexible back-up solution with remote access for an appropriate cost.


First published in PC Plus Issue 281

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