|Introduction and Specifications|
|Western Digital’s original My Cloud personal cloud storage solution brought a unique approach to the NAS segment, for individuals and the SOHO crowd, and the subsequent multi-bay My Cloud EX4 offered a beastly amount of storage--8TB, 12TB, or 16TB--via the same “My Cloud” platform.
WD introduced the My Cloud EX2 as something of a ‘tweener' solution, bringing a two-bay option that isn’t as hard on the wallet as the EX4 yet offers a copious amount of storage capacity and more powerful features such as RAID.
Even with a few more choice features on board, the My Cloud EX2 is designed to be as simple to set up and manage as the original single-bay My Cloud.
The My Cloud EX2 comes in capacities of 4TB, 6TB, and 8TB, but you can also order a unit with no drives if you want to use your own. WD ships populated EX2s with WD Red NAS drives in a RAID 1 setup by default. The device also supports RAID 0, spanning, and JBOD configurations, and drives in the two bays are hot-swappable.
The device sports a 1.2GHz CPU with 512MB of system memory, and it’s compatible with Windows and Mac on the desktop as well as iOS, Android, and Windows Phone devices, which we’ll get into more in a bit. You’ll also find that when DLNA/UPnP streaming is enabled, you can stream files--including, for example, your iTunes music library--from the EX2 to a number of other devices, such as a smart TV, Xbox, PS3, Blu-ray players, and more.
The My Cloud EX2 is somewhat unassuming, with looks that evoke many of WD’s other external storage devices. The front has power, Drive 1, and Drive 2 LEDs, while the rear of the device is home to two USB 3.0 ports, gigabit Ethernet, a power port, and a Kensington lock. There’s also a tiny reset button/hole if you need it, and the device has integrated WiFi capabilities.
Those two rear USB ports are handy, as they allow you to expand your storage capacity simply by connecting a USB storage device. Further, you can network with other EX2s and EX4s and give yourself a convenient remote backup and restore option.
You can also back up your EX2 via cloud storage, such as Amazon’s S3 service, making the platform ideal for prosumers and small businesses that want to keep a tight rein on files but also need the peace of mind that comes from having a secondary backup in a different location. You can also snag 100GB of free cloud backup (for one year) from ElephantDrive with your EX2.
Make no mistake; although the EX2 is a good solution with easy management for any individual or family with high storage capacity needs, WD built in a host of tools aimed at small business users too. You can use the EX2 as a simple backup option, but it also comes packing quite a bit of advanced software and capabilities.
You can use it as an FTP, P2P, or web server (WordPress), and it comes with built-in apps that include a torrent downloader, FTP downloader, HTTP Downloader, and Web File viewer. Software includes aMule, Transmission, Icecast, phpBB, phpMyAdmin, Joomla!, SqueezeCenter, NZBGet, and Git, and thanks to WD’s SDK, plenty more are in the offing.
The WD EX2 also offers integrated Apple Time Machine support and 10 user licenses for WD SmartWare Pro, and businesses can connect the EX2 to their company domain as well.
For security, users get 256-bit AES volume encryption and active directory support for Windows Server 2003/2008/2012.
|Software and Setup|
|Setup is quite easy. You plug the EX2 into an outlet, connect the EX2 to your network via the included Ethernet cable, and download and install the WD My Cloud EX2 software.
You can just follow the installation instructions, which include entering your name and email address to “create or expand” your WD My Cloud account, adding more users if you like on the next screen; and then the WD My Cloud application will install.
Next, you run the WD My Cloud software from your desktop. You have three default folders: Public, SmartWare, and TimeMachineBackup; there’s also a Favorites folder thrown in there for convenience. The Public folder has Shared Music, Shared Pictures, and Shared Videos subfolders, and you can add “favorite” folders to a special area, as well. And of course, you can add as many folders and subfolders as you want from there.
To finish setting everything up--including setting a password--and managing the device, you need to use the My Cloud EX2 Dashboard, which has now been conveniently installed on your Desktop. The first time you launch the Dashboard, the username is simply “admin”, and there’s no need to enter a password. (We strongly recommend setting your own actual password as soon as possible; the process requires but a few clicks.) You’ll probably need to update the firmware, and then you’re ready to explore your options.
There are several tabs across the top of the Dashboard window: Home, Users, Shares, Cloud Access, Backups, Storage, Apps, and Settings.
Under the Home tab, you can get an overall view of the device, including available capacity, the firmware status, network activity, users and devices, and any apps you’re using. Note that because the EX2 comes pre-configured in RAID1 (which mirrors your data across the two drives), our available capacity here is effectively 2TB even though we have two 2TB drives inside.
You can add more users and manage them--including creating groups of users--on the next tab, and the Shares tab is where you create or remove folders and manage access and other settings.
Under the Cloud Access tab, you can register devices such as smartphones and tablets to give them access to the bounty stored on your EX2. Note that you’ll need those respective devices’ mobile WD My Cloud apps installed, as well.
The Backups tab is (obviously) where you manage all your backup jobs and devices. These can include attached USB storage, remote backups, regular internal storage backups, and backups to the cloud sources (which presently consists of the aforementioned ElephantDrive or Amazon S3).
If you want to change your RAID configuration, check the health of your disks, and create and manage iSCSI targets and virtual volumes, you can do so under the Storage tab. Under Apps, you have HTTP Downloads, FTP Downloads, P2P Downloads, and Web File Viewer built in, but you can easily add more by clicking the add button, ticking the boxes of the apps you want to install, and clicking Install.
The Settings tab contains quite a few important features. These include your run-of-the-mill items such as the device name, language, and clock, but it’s here that you can also keep tabs on and adjust myriad network settings; adjust streaming media settings; choose how you receive notifications; and update the firmware. There are also numerous utilities, such as diagnostic tools, system restore points, system configuration, disk formatting, and more.
One of the key features of the My Cloud EX2 is the ability to access your files remotely from any of your devices. WD makes this process relatively painless. If you want to connect a PC or Mac, download and install the platform-appropriate My Cloud desktop app. When you open the application, you’ll log in as the admin or an approved user. There your files will be.
For mobile devices, there’s a bit more to it, but not much. First, download and install the appropriate free mobile app for iOS, Android, or Windows Phone. Then, under the Cloud Access tab in the My Cloud Dashboard, you can generate a code that you enter into your phone or tablet when you add the EX2 as a device. And that’s it--you’re connected to all the files stashed on the EX2.
For security, you can add a passcode within the My Cloud mobile app so that if your smartphone or tablet is lost or stolen, your My Cloud access is safe.
|Measuring performance on a device such as the My Cloud EX2 that communicates over an Internet connection is a bit dicey. And because the EX2 operates over a network instead of a local storage interface, we aren’t able to run our normal spate of benchmarks.
However, we want to give you a sense of how My Cloud performs, so we conducted timed file transfer tests and also used versions of ATTO and CrystalDiskMark that can run on mapped network drives.
For comparison purposes, we clocked several file transfers of different sizes from an external hard drive to our test PC, and then we repeated the process by moving those same files from the PC to the My Cloud and recorded the time each one took. Thus, we got a sense of how transfer times of local storage via a USB 3.0 interface compared to those of the My Cloud EX2 from a PC.
WD My Cloud (Original)
WD My Cloud EX2
Here we're looking at how the original My Cloud (top) performed compared to the new My Cloud EX2 (bottom). Just like the original, as file sizes increase, so does the percentage of the gap between how long it takes the PC to transfer data to the My Cloud EX2 versus an external HDD to a PC. What is perhaps a bit odd, though, is that the My Cloud EX2 takes longer to perform the transfers that the original My Cloud. This likely has to do with the fact that the EX2 was configured in RAID 1 and there is a bit more latency with respect to mirroring and parity checks in this configuration, versus a single drive setup.
ATTO is a "quick and dirty" type of disk benchmark that measures transfer speeds across a specific volume length. It measures transfer rates for both reads and writes and graphs them out in an easily interpreted chart. We chose .5kb through 8192kb transfer sizes and a queue depth of 6 over a total max volume length of 256MB. ATTO's workloads are sequential in nature and measure bandwidth, rather than I/O response time, access latency, etc.
WD My Cloud (original)
My Cloud EX2
First of all, look at the above charts carefully to see that the MB/sec numbers along the bottom are different, and thus the graphs are different unless you focus on the numbers. But when you do, you'll see that the EX2 blew away the original My Cloud. The former delivered over 70MBps write and 105MBps read while the latter managed 49MBps and 74 MBps, respectively.
CrystalDiskMark is a synthetic benchmark that tests both sequential and random small and mid-sized file transfers. It provides a quick look at best and worst case scenarios with regard to drive performance, best case being larger sequential transfers and worse case being small, random transfers.
WD My Cloud (original)
WD My Cloud EX2
In CrystalDiskMark, you can see that the My Cloud and the EX2 posted quite similar write scores, while the latter delivered a far more impressive read score.
Performance Note: In addition to the raw numbers above, we felt it appropriate to mention some anecdotal performance information. We installed the WD My Cloud mobile app on a Samsung Galaxy S2 and opened different file types to see what it’s like to try and handle files in real-life situations. We found that smaller files, such as PDFs, opened in seconds, and MP3s will launch and play in the My Cloud app’s built-in music player with surprisingly little lag, as well. Larger photos took much longer to open, and if you want to watch videos, well, you probably should be on a WiFi connection. On a newer-model Nokia Lumia device, we found performance to be essentially the same, and note that you have to have a third-party viewer or player for most file types.
Thus, on mobile devices, the convenience of being able to access certain files is limited, but you’ll still be able to pull up that one photo you wanted to show someone or play a friend a few tracks of your favorite album. And of course, you’ll thank your lucky stars that you have everything stashed on My Cloud that one time you have to retrieve that incredibly important file right before some big presentation.
|Summary and Conclusion|
|Performance Summary: All things considered, the WD My Cloud EX2 performed as expected. It’s not as fast as directly-attached external storage, but over a local network, it’s not too shabby. And of course, you have to keep in mind that you’ll spend a lot of time accessing files remotely, with another desktop or with a mobile device, and thus the performance bottleneck will often lie with the Internet connection you have available as opposed to the device itself.
Like the original My Cloud, the EX2 is indeed (as WD claims) quite simple to set up and manage. Yes, it’s more complex than a typical external USB storage solution, but this device is more than just hard drive space. It offers RAID capabilities and functions as multiple types of file server, and there are numerous applications that you can employ with the EX2 to give it more features and add value.
What the My Cloud platform in general and the EX2 specifically offers is exactly as advertised: It’s a (relatively) headache-free way to create a personal private cloud that serves virtually all of you, your family’s, or your small business’ devices and users. It doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, and it works right out of the box.
In a small way, the EX2 also solves one of the only issues we found with the original My Cloud, which is that you still need to back up your EX2’s contents elsewhere--most preferably in the cloud. WD’s deal with Elephant Drive is small potatoes compared to the actual storage capacity you’ll likely be employing, and although the built-in access to Amazon’s S3 cloud storage is convenient, you still have to pay for it separately.
However, you can always remotely connect multiple My Cloud EX2 or EX4 devices and create your own geographically separated disaster recovery backup. All you need is a second My Cloud unit and a trusted friend or family member in a different location with whom you can park the device.
The EX2 might be a bit overkill for individuals or families, but it’s perfect for many small businesses. For that matter, even individual users who have a lot of data--which could be music or video libraries, family videos, and so on--and want to both maintain access to all of those files while keeping a centralized backup (and obviating the need for much local storage on many of their devices), the My Cloud EX2 may be a better solution than the original single-bay My Cloud.
Remember, the My Cloud had a single 2TB WD Red NAS HDD, but the EX2 has twice the storage as well as the ability to better protect data with a RAID1 configuration. The My Cloud costs quite a bit less, but some of the EX2’s extra features will be enough to sway plenty of customers.
For comparison’s sake, the original 2TB WD My Cloud cost $149.99, whereas this 4TB WD My Cloud EX2 we’ve reviewed lands at $369.99. The 4TB version of the original My Cloud is only $219.99, so if you just want the extra capacity it makes a lot more sense to go that route, but for those who want those more powerful prosumer features and plenty of capacity--without splurging on the EX4 and all it offers--the 4TB WD My Cloud EX2 hits the sweet spot.