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A load of Tosh: External hard drives the new 'personal clouds'

New STOR.E Cloud 3.5in disk is a NAS disguised as a bandwagon

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Calling an external hard drive on a desk at home "a personal cloud" is a bit of a stretch - but that is exactly what Toshiba is doing with its latest 3.5in disk product, the STORE.E CLOUD.

After announcing internal-fitting 3.5in drives using technology acquired from Western Digital, Tosh has quickly followed up with 2TB and 3TB external drives aimed at performing backups over an Ethernet network. One might otherwise call this a NAS box.

Control software is installed on a home computer, and then libraries of music, videos and pictures are backed up to the device automatically from connected Windows computers and Android and Apple iOS devices using Canvio software. It can also stream movies to a smart TV.

Like similar products from Seagate and WD, punters can log into it over the internet once the box is hooked up to a router.

It's a personal cloud just like a piggy bank under the bed is a real bank. You can argue it's a neat marketing idea, but cloud storage implies having your data stored off-site, away from the home in this case, in a remote data centre, like Apple's iCloud and similar facilities from Google, Carbonite, Microsoft and many other service providers.

It's an internet-accessible external hard drive sharable between domestic smart systems; that's all. It's got some disadvantages, such as only having a single drive inside: the thing doesn't even have space for two drives to provide protection against a disk failure. There is no automatic uplink to a real cloud storage service to provide that kind of protection.

The box only holds 3TB - soon a handful of USB sticks will hold more and you can carry them in your pocket. Toshiba is late to the domestic fat shared disk drive party, and this is its very first product. It has first-generation written all over it and for sure version 2 and 3 products will come out with multiple spindles, some kind of RAID protection, better backup, and more connectivity options. They might even head in a Drobo direction with multiple bays for users to populate.

What's needed is a drive vendor-built home storage hub with half-decent compute power and functionality to protect and deliver data - but simpler to run than a PC. You want to plug it in, set it up and leave it alone. That's the seam Toshiba is mining with this STORE.E CLOUD product. Even Apple sees a need for a separate box to link its Mac desktops and notebooks to the TV as well as providing shared external Time Machine backup systems.

Will home users want to keep a local copy of their files, bringing "islands of content" together as Toshiba puts it, instead of choosing to dump everything into an off-site cloud and stream stuff from it to their playing devices? That is unknown, and Toshiba, like other home storage hub vendors, is betting that consumers' distrust of cloud storage service providers will predispose them to keep their data close by for fast easy assured access. That seems a reasonable position to take.

The STOR.E CLOUD product will be available in October. Can Toshiba develop its new product and catch up with Apple, Seagate and WD? Expect STORE.E CLOUD to develop fast, even if you think calling it a "personal cloud" is marketing bilge. ®

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