Clouding my judgment

A backup drive I don't need

By Harold Glicken


My hard disk is bursting at the seams. A sensible person might simply get a portable USB drive and move files onto it and then delete the files on the PC. The price for a terabyte USB drive is right: $50 for a brand-name one on Amazon. But I want more. I want a home-based cloud backup drive (because a friend has one and raves about it). I want to be able to back up to it, even though the drive could be stolen or destroyed by fire.

For the record, I have a cloud backup program, Carbonite, which is creating a mirror image of my hard drive as I write this. It takes  a “snapshot” of my drive once a day. If my hard disk fails – as it is about the do – it will restore its last snapshot, including Windows, programs and files, on a new drive. But ... if my motherboard gets fried, I’m out of luck. Carbonite will restore a snapshot only to the same computer.


I also have the regular version of Carbonite backing up individual files to the cloud. But ... if my motherboard gets fried, it would take days to get those files back.


And yes, I upload sensitive files such as this column (hah!) to SugarSync, another fine cloud program. So I should be fine with that inexpensive USB drive to make yet another backup of my files. But what fun would that be?

It’s been more than three years since I last reviewed the Western Digital My Cloud backup drive. I sent it back because the software was seriously clunky. The software has gotten slicker, but there still are two software components that must be used to make the drive work. They look like they’re intuitive, but after several hours with Western  Digital tech support, I simply was not able to make a  backup of  my bursting hard drive.


Maybe the drive is defective, one tech tells me as I run a diagnostic test. That takes 10 hours, and the disk is found to be healthy. Other techs gruffly teach me how to use the software. As I listen, I wonder why it’s necessary to teach anyone how to operate a backup program. Designate which drive is the source, then designate the backup drive. Not so simple with the My Cloud.

The My Cloud plugs into a router, not to a computer. By setting up users, complete with passwords, several PCs or Macs can back up to the My Cloud drive. Don’t be fooled by the “cloud” part of the name. Instead of backing up to a server somewhere in North Dakota, where it could be vulnerable to hackers, the Western Digital drive is a cloud that can be accessed wherever there’s wifi. This would be especially useful on a phone or tablet on which files and photos can be shared. Those files can be password-protected, or shared files can be set up when you want others to see those files or photos. It’s sort of like Facebook, but in this case, your files aren’t available to a million friends.

If the backups don’t work, as mine didn’t, files can be copied directly onto the cloud drive, but the same thing can be accomplished by copying files onto that $50 portable USB  drive. The My Cloud drive costs $140 for 2 terabytes of storage; an 8 TB drive costs $300. There also is a dual drive model, in which files that are backed up to the primary drive are also backed up to a second drive. Those drive have a maximum capacity of 16 TB and range from $300 to $800. But if those drives get fried, or thieves take them, you’re seriously out of luck as far as backups are concerned. That’s where real cloud backups can be a better choice. Most offsite cloud backup servers have redundant servers.

Now, for a test of the real reason I bought the My Cloud – accessing files on my iPhone. The files were there when I signed in, but they were grayed out; I couldn’t open them.


Back to Western Digital offshore phone support (which is free for only 30 days). More fiddling. And then the line went dead. He hung up on me. Freed of a tech who didn’t know what he was doing, I did some fiddling on my own. Several steps in the manual simply were wrong – I was able to view some – but not all – of my files. When I was able to open a file, its contents popped up right away, as long as they were documents or photos. But any other type of file, including some pdf’s, simply wouldn’t open.

Packaging and returning the My Cloud drive was the easiest part of a mess that took me hours and successive days to troubleshoot. I had to call Western Digital a total of eight times and even then I couldn’t make the drive work. I’m back to copying files on an external hard drive – the $50 solution . That process is reliable and easy.


How do I access my files when I’m away from home? Easy. I take the portable drive – or a thumb drive -- with me and view my backups anytime, anywhere on my laptop. No wifi connection needed. And no more experiences with Western Digital tech support hang-ups.


Fact is, I already can view files that were backed up to my real cloud services, Carbonite and SugarSync.


Sometimes “I gotta have it” should be answered with “no you don’t.”