Buffalo CloudStor Pro NAS server
Remote access over the Internet is generally a desirable feature in a network-attached storage (NAS) server, but the Buffalo CloudStor Pro goes a little too far in that direction. The device is all about the Internet. It's basically the first complete dual-bay server we've seen that's based entirely on the Pogoplug service. That said, the server requires a live Internet connection for the setup process and most of its functions to work, while neglecting features for the local network it's plugged into.
With the street price of just around $240 with one 2TB hard drive included, and offering fast throughput performance, the CloudStor Pro will definitely make any die-hard Pogoplug fans happy. Those who don't want to compromise the local network services, however, will find it painfully lacking. For a balance of the cloud and local network storage, you should also check out the Iomega Home Media Network Hard Drive Cloud Edition.
Design and ease of use
Measuring 8.1 inches by 5.1 inches by 3.4 inches, the Buffalo CloudStor Pro is just slightly larger than two 3.5-inch hard drives put together, which is as compact as a dual-bay server can be. The hard-drive bays are front-accessible, and users can add/remove the hard drive without any tools. On the back the server has one Gigabit Ethernet port and one USB 2.0 port that can be used to host an external hard drive.
With one hard drive included, the CloudStor Pro is super easy to setup, as long as you have a live Internet connection. The server doesn't come with instructions or software, just a small piece of paper that points you to the setup Web site. Here, after a few clicks, the server is set up and you can go there again each time you want to access its Web interface via a browser. You can also download Pogoplug Drive software (available for Windows, Macs, and Linux) if you want to be able to copy files back and forth to the server via drag and drop. Note that without a live Internet connection, it's basically impossible to get the server up and running. This in itself means the server is not meant to work as network-attached server but more of an Internet-attached server.
The server doesn't offer the ability to back up its internal data onto an external hard drive connected to its USB port. This means that for data integrity, you'll have to immediately think about getting a second hard drive and setting it up as the mirror of the first one, in a RAID 1 configuration. This is also the only RAID setup the server supports. For those who want a large amount of storage and don't care about the safety of their data, there's no RAID 0 option. You can set up the second hard drive as a separate volume, however.
Setting up the second hard drive into RAID proved a little tricky in our trials. First off, the server wouldn't recognize a new hard drive until we restarted it. This means the server doesn't support hot-swapping, one major feature of RAID 1. Secondly, the process of creating the RAID was rather buggy. While this process seemed easy enough and can be done via the Web interface, we had to try three times. The first two times, the server would just stop the RAID-building process after about 10 minutes and exited out of it without showing any error messages and without completing the RAID. The third time, we were able to get through the whole process, which took about 16 hours to finish adding another hard drive of 2TB.
(Note that while the RAID setup can be managed via the Web interface, this must be done from a computer that's connected to the same local network as the server. This feature can't be managed remotely via the Internet.)
It's generally normal that RAID building takes a long time, but in the case of the CloudStor Pro, we couldn't access the server during this time. With other servers, the RAID-building process doesn't stop the servers from serving data; it just slows them down. So, make sure you get the RAID setup done during a time you don't need to access your data.
The Buffalo CloudStor Pro doesn't come with instructions in case you want to replace its included hard drive, which contains its operating system, with another. This means that it would be tricky if this hard drive dies (and you don't have a RAID 1 setup), forcing you to install the server from scratch with a brand-new hard drive.
The Buffalo CloudStor Pro works exactly like any Pogoplug device, such as the Pogoplug 2 . You can easily share data stored on the server with anybody just by clicking on the Share button (within the Web interface) at the bottom of each folder that you want to share and send e-mail to that person; you can take away the share capabilities by removing the person's e-mail. You can also publish supported content directly onto social Web sites such as Facebook and Flickr.
Content stored on the server are sorted by types, including Movies, Music, and Photos, which you can quickly access and even view/stream from within the Web interface. This is a very nice feature for those who want to share photos, music, and video. This can also be done via mobile device via the Pogoplug app that's available for Android-, BlackBerry-, iOS-, and WebOS-based mobile devices. We tried it with an iPhone 4 and an iPad and it worked very well. We could not only stream content with the devices but also download and upload photos and video from the mobile devices to the NAS server.
Note that the performance and responsiveness of the remote access depends a great deal on the connection to the internet, both at the server and the remote location. For most regular home broadband connections, expect a long delay in loading time.
Using the Web interface, you can also activate the BitTorrent self-downloading feature. However, we couldn't get this to work. Every time we tried, we were greeted with a "Page not found" error. This, plus the fact that the RAID setup didn't go smoothly, made us feel that the NAS server was a little buggy. Hopefully this will be fixed via a firmware update.
If you choose to use the Pogoplug Drive software, apart from allowing for access to the NAS server via dragging and dropping (similar to accessing a remote server using VPN), it also offers a features called Active Copy. This allows for automatically copying data in folders of your choosing (by default, the folders Music, Photo, and Video in your profile are selected) to the NAS server. This feature, however, only works well via the local network. Over the Internet, it was painfully slow in our trials, even when we had fast connections at both ends. When used locally, the server also supports Time Machine for users to back up their Macs.
Unfortunately, other than that, the CloudStor Pro is lacking as a local network NAS server. The server supports both Macs and PCs and locally can be accessed without any software. However, in this case, you can only access its Public folder, to which everyone has full access. You can't assign it different access privileges. And that's all it has to offer local network users. There are no common features, such as the ability to manage local user accounts, FTP, HTTP servers, or support for an IP camera.
We tested the CloudStor Pro both with the single included 2TB hard drive and with two 2TB hard drives set up in RAID 1, and the server did very well in our throughput test. It consistently topped our charts for single-volume NAS severs. Compared with other recently reviewed multiple-bay NAS servers, such as the Synology DS1511+ , the Buffalo was still noticeably behind, though. Nonetheless, we were very pleased with its performance.
In single-volume tests, the server registered 351.9Mbps for writing and 628.5Mbps for reading. In RAID 1, as expected, the performance was a bit lower, at 344.8Mbps and 525.4Mbps, for writing and reading, respectively. Note that these numbers were achieved via the local network and will reflect the speed of Time Machine backups or accessing the server's Public folder directly. Over the Internet, again, this depends a lot on the broadband connections at both ends. The fact that the server depends so much on the Internet makes its great performance slightly less appealing than other NAS servers'.
Other than a few hiccups with the BitTorrent and RAID setup, the Buffalo worked well in our testing. It's a little noisy, considering how compact it is, but not noisy enough to be a nuisance in a place with normal level of ambient sound. We wouldn't recommend leaving it in a quiet room such as a bedroom, however.
Service and support
Buffalo backs the CloudStor Pro with a one-year warranty, which is short for a storage device. The company's toll-free technical phone support is available 24-7. The company has a dedicated Web site for the CloudStor NAS servers, where users can find information about the device.
We loved the CloudStor Pro's performance but were let down by its lack of support for local networks and the rather buggy firmware. Strictly as a Pogoplug-based cloud server, however, the server is possibly one of the best on the market.