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Western Digital flashes home backup and media server

Don't call it a NAS box

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Using its 1 and 2TB Caviar Green drives Western Digital is introducing a shared home backup system with media serving capabilities.

The My Book World Edition plugs into a router using gigabit Ethernet and can then discover home network-connected PC and Mac desktop and notebook client hard drives. It carries out a full backup of data on those drives and provides a continuous backup thereafter. The client devices need Western Digital's backup software installing on them. The data transfer rate will depend a lot upon the type of network link between the client devices and the router, with slow Wi-Fi being common.

The device is also a network-linked hard drive for client notebooks and desktops. In effect, it is network-attached storage for the home with backup software remote access included. Its backup is separate from Apple's Time Machine, incidentally. Until and if Apple provides Time Machine software for Windows it will remain a private Apple data store and consolidated Windows/Mac storage products will be outside Apple's private Time Machine garden.

Users have browser access to the device's content through the Mionet remote access service. This requires that the router in the home and the My Book World Edition devices are powered up.

There is a single Caviar Green drive inside the hardback book-sized enclosure with a USB 2.0 port providing the means to connect additional external storage if required. This can be used to backup the device itself as, with only a single drive inside, there is no RAID capability. This is a deliberate decision by WD, with Daniel Maurhofer, its senior PR manager for EMEA, saying: "For the consumer 'NAS' and 'RAID' are swear words." Previous WD My Book products did have RAID, though.

The device comes with UPnP (Universal Plug 'n Play) and DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) features and iTunes server software, meaning that it can stream media files such as MP3s, JPEGS and videos, to playing devices such as DLNA-compliant TVs and games consoles.

However, the DLNA standard requires that the media server software in such devices is certified DLNA-compliant and not the actual devices themselves. There are reports of incompatibilities between supposedly DLNA-compliant devices.

Homes are rapidly becoming repositories of digital content with many digital media accessing, consuming, creating and playing devices. The total amount of digital content in the home is rising rapidly, with tens and hundreds of gigabytes being common and terabytes in prospect.

There is a need to safeguard these files and also to provide an efficient means of storing them and accessing them away from the home. It is arguable that multi-drive products will be needed to provide transparent protection against internal hard drive failure.

We might also foresee the time when deduplication becomes a feature of such home storage hubs. Encryption is another potential add-in feature. Then there is the cloud, which could provide another layer of data protection.

WD's new My Book has a snazzy look, and the company has pitched the device as being very easy to use, complete with a single 'on' strip light that functions as a crude capacity gauge. Together with the lack of RAID we might view this as simplifying the device too much, almost dumbing it down', so that it is as simple to operate as a remote control TV.

It may be too simple for users savvy enough to install Windows on a PC and dance around the iPhone's screen functions; they may want more sophistication, even a kind of domestic digital dashboard eventually. We'll have to see how this domestic digital media storage market develops and sub-divides into different sectors.

With Iomega, La Cie, Buffalo, Drobo and others providing home backup and media serving devices as well, generally with multiple drive support, WD's single drive strategy provides a neat division limiting channel conflict between WD and its own OEMs. Whether WD can remain a provider of single drive products in the face of the apparently relentless growth of domestic digital data and the resultant need to centrally protect, manage and secure it remains to be seen.

For now the My Book World Edition seems to be a neat-looking, quiet, economic (in the electrical sense), capacious and very easy to use product. The 1TB version, available now, costs £169 with the 2TB one priced around £370 and becoming available in a couple of weeks or so. (See Hardware Reg's review of it here.) ®

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