Western Digital, long-vaunted purveyors of storage technology, is facing a minor disaster with the outage of its WD2Go service, which powers the cloud portion of such devices as the WD MyBook World Edition, WD My Cloud EX1, EX2, and EX4. Cloud service for these devices have been available scarcely, if at all, since March 26, 2014.
A failure in crisis management 101
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this outage for users of this service is the opaque way in which Western Digital is handling this problem. The official canned response from Western Digital on the issue has been: "WD2Go.com and WDMyCloud.com users in relay mode are reporting that connections to devices are slow or unavailable. WD is actively investigating this issue and is hoping to have the problem resolved soon." This precisely-worded no-fault explanation has been parroted with little variation by Western Digital representatives since the outage crisis began.
No explanation of the nature of the issue, estimation for when cloud services will return, or even a clear explanation that the connectivity problem is on Western Digital's end have been provided. Instead, users have reported that posts on the Western Digital website have spontaneously gone missing throughout the outage. Silencing dissent and criticism is not a great way to garner public goodwill during a major service outage, and the added perception of posts going spontaneously missing during a service outage — that is to say, data loss — is deeply unfortunate for a mass storage company. In the interest of transparency, deleted posts should be stubbed and marked that the post in question somehow violated the terms of service, if indeed that's the case.
When My Cloud does not mean my cloud
The selling point of My Cloud is that users are not dependent on the services of companies such as Google, Amazon, or Dropbox to access their data through the internet. Unfortunately, with the outage, it is evident that while those three big names in cloud are not part of the mix, it still is not a self-contained solution.
In essence, the WD2Go service is a man in the middle for device access, which prevents non-technical home users (generally, the intended audience for this product) from needing to do highly technical things, such as creating firewall exceptions, opening ports, mapping it to a drive, and having to fight changing IP addresses. In theory, this service should be useful — the user would just need to plug in the drive, provide a username and password, and move data to the drive; however, this service outage has awoken users to the fact that this is not intrinsically different from other cloud services. The exception to this is that the physical drive in question is in your possession, and thusly on a much slower (presumably residential) internet connection, instead of a properly outfitted data center.
In addition, this also means that the end-of-life for this product is completely at the whim of Western Digital. The cost of the included cloud service charge is contained in the cost of the product; there is no monthly subscription for the WD2Go service. If Western Digital were decide that the product is too old to continue supporting, or, in the remote possibility that the company was purchased and the new owners abandoned previous product models, owners of these cloud drives would be forced to upgrade to the newest model or simply do without.
Product quality isn't the issue
This isn't to say that Western Digital products, generally, are somehow inferior to the competition. Based on this Ars Technica article, Western Digital products more than hold their own. This fashionable branching out into value-added services with hard drives (and the fun and profitable cloud buzzword) has proven to be somewhat of a mixed bag of reliability.
Cloud storage (particularly devices like this) are new and unproven, and holding them to the same standard as data centers ("five nines", or, "99.999%") might be folly. And yet, weeklong outages without any explanation as to what went wrong are clearly unacceptable.
Have you or people you know been affected by this outage? Have you recommended a cloud service to a friend or colleague to have it spontaneously fail? Share your experiences in the comments section.
James Sanders is a Tokyo-based programmer and technology journalist. Since 2013, he has been a regular contributor to TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research.