Network Storage Review: LaCie CloudBox

Wednesday Mar 7th 2012 by Joseph Moran
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La Cie provides small business owners with a small, affordable and simple way to backup critical data to the cloud.

To protect small business data from accidental loss, the first step is to make sure you're performing regular backups to some kind of supplemental storage device (external hard drive, NAS, tape, etc.). It isn't necessarily the last step, however. While having such an on-site data backup will save your bacon in the event of something along the lines of a mundane hardware failure (such as a bad hard drive), your data's still vulnerable should a serious calamity (e.g. fire, flood, theft of equipment) befall you.

That's why a comprehensive data backup plan includes not just an on-site (i.e. local) backup, but an off-site (e.g. cloud storage) one as well. The LaCie CloudBox ($199) is a hardware/software combo that kills two birds with one stone, offering both on- and off-site backup in a simple package.

CloudBox Storage Hardware

The CloudBox is a small and nondescript network attached storage box that takes up about as much desktop space as a drink coaster. Only a power button, a Gigabit Ethernet port and a status LED breaks up its glossy black façade. Inside the CloudBox sits a 100GB, 2.5-inch hard drive -- the type used in notebooks -- though the unit emits so little noise, heat or vibration, you might be tempted to think it's an SSD.

Alas, 100 GB is the only size the CloudBox comes in, which isn't a lot of storage in this era of multiple terabyte hard drives. For its part, LaCie says the CloudBox isn't necessarily meant to back up every last bit of data you have, but rather to safeguard a subset of that data consisting of your most critical files.

CloudBox Setup

Getting the CloudBox up and running was quick and painless. After plugging the unit into power and Ethernet, we turned it on and waited two or three minutes for the status LED to switch from flashing to solid blue, indicating that the device had made contact with LaCie's servers. Next, we accessed the CloudBox via Web browser and completed a brief setup wizard that involved creating an administrator username and password and inputting an included 16-character contract number to activate the 100GB of cloud storage. (The CloudBox purchase includes the first year of cloud storage; annual renewals ring up at $129.)

The La Cie CloudBox; network attached storage

Figure 1: The LaCie CloudBox provides both on-site and off-site storage for small businesses.

Upon entering the account verification code that's delivered via email, the CloudBox is ready to go. After the CloudBox has been paired with its online account, further configuration takes place through a browser-based control panel. The CloudBox provides the same clean, modular administrative dashboard found in the company's other storage products; it provides lots of useful information at-a-glance and puts all the unit's configuration options within easy reach.

The CloudBox supports up to 10 user accounts (including the administrator), and it automatically sets up a corresponding data folder for each user account you create. You can apply storage quotas to these user folders to keep their owners from sucking up too much of the CloudBox's capacity. Once users have their CloudBox folders, you can map the folders to drives on Windows or Mac systems and use them as a target for a built-in or third-party file backup utility. The CloudBox comes with file backup software for both Windows and Mac.

Given that the CloudBox is ostensibly for data backup rather than primary storage, one thing you can't do with it is create shared folders that aren't directly associated with a specific user account. In other words, you can have individual private folders for Tom, Fred, and Mary, but you can't create a single folder that Tom, Fred, and Mary have access to (if they all worked with a set of common files, for example).

CloudBox Data Backups

Cloudbox automatically backs up any data you copy to it to the cloud on a daily basis, and LaCie says it encrypts files with 128-bit AES prior to upload to transmit and store the data securely. Our unit's backups went off without a hitch, and we appreciated the fact that the unit sends a daily email reporting the backup status without having to be configured to do so. If a backup fails, the CloudBox's status LED flashes red to alert you.

How long cloud backups take -- particularly the large initial one -- depends greatly on the speed of the upstream Internet connection; our upstream link was capable of 4 Mbps, which the CloudBox reported as able to upload about 7 GB a day. As it happens, our initial backup of about 5 GB took roughly 15 hours.

We have one minor complaint about the CloudBox backup. The daily backup time is automatically set to the time you happen to complete the initial device setup, which may not necessarily be ideal (in our case, it was 12:32 PM).

The CloudBox dashboard; network attached storage

Figure 2: The CloudBox Dashboard provides convenient access to device status and features.

Although you can change the backup time later (or do manual backups at any time), we'd prefer the CloudBox configure its automatic backups for nighttime by default, or at least give you the opportunity to specify the time up front. It would also be nice if you could opt to automatically backup twice a day instead of just once.

If you do choose to upload cloud backups during business hours, you can limit the amount of bandwidth the CloudBox uses to keep it from monopolizing your Internet connection.

CloudBox Data Restores

With any luck you'll never need to restore your data from cloud storage, but if and when you do, the CloudBox makes it a pretty simple process. You can do a selective- or full-file restore to a PC through a CloudBox Online Restore (COR) utility, which is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux. COR, which you must download prior to use and requires the aforementioned contract number to run (you can have the software "remember" this number), lets you restore from any of the last 10 backups.

If the CloudBox unit gives up the ghost, you can initiate a full restore directly from its replacement (the hardware carries a 2-year warranty, incidentally). Of course, restoring an entire Cloudbox could take many days depending on how much data it contained and how speedy the Internet connection, and there's unfortunately no option to avoid this delay by having a replacement unit pre-loaded with your data prior to delivery.

Conclusion

The limited capacity of the CloudBox means it's probably not the right choice if the data you need to protect includes gobs of photos and video. We'd welcome 250 and 500 GB versions of the CloudBox, but even 100 GB should be sufficient if your critical data consists mainly of less porcine files such as documents, spreadsheets, email folders, and the company Quickbooks file.

It's certainly possible to buy more storage (either local or cloud) for less money, but if you want a two-prong backup strategy with minimal hassle, the CloudBox should prove a good choice for small business storage.

Price: $199 (includes one year of cloud-based backup; annual renewals cost $129)

Pros: small, quiet, simple to set up and administer; automatically backs up all data to the cloud daily and provides backup status alerts

Cons: local and cloud storage limited to 100GB; doesn’t support shared folders

Joseph Moran is a veteran technology writer and co-author of Getting StartED with Windows 7, from Friends of ED.

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