Districts that invested tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in centralized data storage will feel cheated when they see Western Digital’s My Cloud Business Series DL4100. Small enough to stash in a closet or on a shelf, the inexpensive DL4100 can not only hold up to 48TB and keep student data safe, but can be set up to never lose a bit of precious data.
Aimed at small businesses, the DL4100 can hold up to 24TGB of capacity and fit right into a school’s data infrastructure as an alternative to a centralized rack of server blades. If that’s not enough, you can gang two DL4100s together to open up 48TB of data potential. In a school with 250 students and teachers, that adds up to nearly 50GB a year per user for four years.
In spite of its capacity, the network attached storage system is surprisingly small. At 7.5- by 6.7- by 9.2-inches, the sturdy steel case holds four 3.5-inch SATA hard drives. You can get it without drives for $530 and with 8TB capacity for $850, but I looked at the $1,530 24TB version that came with four 6TB Western Digital Red drives that run at 5,400rpm; it has a raw capacity of 24TB. On the downside, there’re no high-performance drives available as an upgrade, but the system can use just about any WD network drive.
As powerful as a tablet computer, the DL4100 has a 1.7 GHz Intel Atom C2338 dual-core processor and 2GB of RAM; it maxes out at 6GB of memory. The back has a pair of wired Ethernet connectors and power supply inputs for redundancy, but comes with only one AC adapter; an extra costs $100. There’s also a recessed reset button.
Upfront, the DL4100 has a USB 3.0 slot, for transferring the contents of a memory key or digital camera; the system can be set to automatically move and delete or copy the data after the device is inserted. The drive case also has a pair USB ports in the back.
In addition to activity lights below the drives, the system has a 2.4- by 0.6-inch monochrome status screen that shows what’s going on inside. It displays the device’s name, temperature of the drives, capacity, IP address, fan speed and firmware version. You can cycle through the options with up- and down-buttons to the right.
To get the DL4100 started, you need to let it take 2 minutes to warm up after plugging it in. Once you’ve set a password and checked for software updates, aim a connected browser to its IP address or just “wdmyclouddl4100” and the system’s management window appears. It shows the available capacity in large characters as well as major categories of data in a pie chart format. At a glance, you can see the firmware version, if the drives are healthy and what’s connected. It has an informative fever chart of network activity as well as indicators for memory and processor usage.
Dig a little deeper and you can change its name, set the system to static or automatic IP addressing and establish IP version 6 addresses. I used it to set the system to be a file transfer protocol server for serving up large files. At any point you can run a system-wide diagnostic, disk check and save the DL4100’s configuration so that every drive in a district has the same settings.
The software also lets you look at each drive’s temperature and its SMART operational data, like spin up time and error rates. It can even send email or text-message alerts in the event of a drive failure or overheating issue.
Along the top there are tabs for assigning shares, adding (or deleting users), managing back-ups, software and changing the system’s settings. Everything is well laid out with large icons, but there’s no place to look inside the drives to see a file list.
It can not only encrypt all the data on its drives with 256 AES security coding, but can be set up with the right balance of performance and data redundancy. In addition to setting the DL4100 up with simple disk spanning using the JBOD technique or by striping the data using RAID 0, a school that doesn’t want to lose a bit of data can go a step further. You can choose among RAID 1 (where each drive is mirrored), RAID 5 (striping with data to rebuild a lost drive) or RAID 10 (stripping, mirroring and the ability to rebuild lost data).
The beauty of the DL4100 is that if you build your in-house data infrastructure around RAID 5 or 10 and a drive goes bad, the system will rebuild the lost data while the storage system is still operating. If that’s the case, just pull on the bad drive’s lever, remove it and slide a new one in. Replacement drives cost $280 and it’s impossible to put them in incorrectly. After setting the software to rebuild the lost data, sit back and relax because it can take hours to rebuild a drive’s contents.
To be on the safe side, you can install the DL4100 with an off-the-shelf UPS back-up power source. But, if the system does lose power, it can take an annoying 8 to 10 minutes for its contents to become available.
In addition to being able to house Time Machine back-ups and operate as an iTunes server, the DL4100 works with a DropBox online storage account. In addition to a Web File viewer, there’re a slew of cloud apps, including ones for working with WordPress Web sites and streaming media. Western Digital adds WD Photos iPad and Android apps for viewing images, but the most useful programs are the My Cloud tablet and phone apps that allow you to look at the files and download just about anything the DL4100 holds.
Using RAID 5, the DL4100 takes 5 seconds to wake up from standby mode, when all the data becomes available. The 24GB DL4100 model yielded 17.9GB of usable storage space when set up in RAID 5, but that drops to 11.8GB by using the extra protection that RAID 10 adds. It was able to read data at 111.3MBps and write at 97.9MBps, according to Crystal DiskMark’s Sequential data tests. That’s more than twice as fast as WD’s MyBook Live using the same network. In real world use, the DL4100 was surprisingly good at distributing data quickly and worked with a wide variety of systems, old and new. I set it up to play HD videos on 10 separate clients and all played back smoothly with good audio synchronization.
All told, the DL4100 consumed 35.1 watts while operating and 12.5 watts in sleep mode. Assuming it’s used pretty heavily during an 8-hour school day and then asleep the rest of the time, it has estimated operating expenses of $17.50 per year. This is based on electricity costs 12 cents per kilowatt-hour and a 200-day school year. It’s a lot less than the typical blade storage server that districts are using.
Western Digital has freed schools from having to store their data in off-campus repositories by making the DL4100 secure-enough, fast-enough and – above all – cheap-enough to put one or more in every building.
$1,530 with 24TB capacity
+ 4-drive storage enclosure
+ Works with RAID 0, 1, 5, 10
+ Three-year warranty
+ 256-bit encryption
+ USB port in front for memory key
- No option for high-speed drives