Caption by: Mary Branscombe
These days, we want access to our data wherever we are. Portable hard drives are easy to use, but the capacity is limited and you don't always want to carry one in your pocket. Cloud storage is accessible everywhere, but the capacity is very limited and both the cost and the access speeds don't compare to network drives. But network storage is too complicated for many individuals and small businesses, and getting remote access can mean complex network changes or compromising security. Dane-Elec's MyDitto looks like any other two-drive Network Attached Storage (NAS) unit, but it has interesting ways of addressing both those issues.
Installation & setup
Unlike competing products, which walk you through changing network settings and registering with an online service to make the connection, setup is simplicity itself. You plug the MyDitto into your router or switch (and into a power socket) and it's accessible from any PC with one of the supplied USB keys in. These USB keys are the secret of MyDitto's simplicity and security for remote access: although it acts as a standard SMB network drive locally, it uses a patented peer-to-peer protocol to connect remotely, even across the NAT firewalls and routers common in homes and small businesses. The two USB keys that come with the MyDitto have been pre-paired with the server.
You need a MyDitto USB key to access the MyDitto unit remotely or over your local network — alternatively, you can install the MyDitto app on your remote clients
You need to put the key into your PC or Mac (MyDitto works with Windows XP, Vista and 7, Mac OS X 10.5 and several Linux distributions including Fedora, Ubuntu and RedHat) while you're on your own network, and run the MyDitto app to connect the first time. This lets you create your username and password, and records your external IP address on the Dane-Elec server.
When you want to connect remotely, you use the USB key again: run the MyDitto app and it automatically finds and connects to your MyDitto unit (even if you don't have a static IP address — Dane-Elec says the free service monitors the address for changes). This doesn't bypass network proxies or user authentication systems, so there's minimal security risk, although you can save proxy information to access a MyDitto behind a business firewall and the MyDitto app doesn't enforce strong passwords. Removing the USB key doesn't close the MyDitto app, but it breaks the connection and you're prompted to close the app. You can also install the app on your computer, which transfers the authentication so you don't need to carry the USB key (you do still need to type the password every time though).
Remote access is simple; you won't need to fill in any settings unless your network uses a proxy
In most cases (90 percent according to Dane-Elec's testing) the MyDitto protocol is able to do direct NAT traversal to make the connection. Otherwise the Dane-Elec server acts as a relay, both for connection and file transfer. In our tests this worked well, even on mobile broadband (although the initial remote connection took some time). Copying files over the local network is at standard SMB 1 speed (about half the speed of an SMB 2 connection to a Windows 2008 Server), but transferring files remotely is impressively fast because of the peer-to-peer protocol (which flags itself as a voice call to get priority on DSL lines — something internet providers may not be happy about). Transferring a 5MB file From a Wi-Fi hotspot took less than 30 seconds; on a 3G connection it took 90 seconds.
The MyDitto server comes with two 2GB USB keys, both pre-paired with the server. One is the master key, which lets you perform basic administration like deleting and deactivating users or changing user passwords. Each user needs their own USB key and you can have up to 30 users per MyDitto, although Dane-Elec doesn't recommend more than ten users and only six can be connected at once.
The MyDitto app lets you manage user accounts if you have the admin USB key
Rather than paying the £40 for the official four-pack of extra keys, you can use any USB key and pair it by putting it in the MyDitto server and pressing the copy button on the front. You can reset a forgotten password by re-pairing the USB key, and if you lose them you can revoke individual keys from the admin key. Alternatively, you can revoke the admin key by pressing and holding both buttons on the front of the MyDitto; the next USB key you put in the MyDitto then becomes the admin key.
To access MyDitto from smartphones, you can generate a secure code in the MyDitto desktop app and enter that in the MyDitto app on the phone to connect. Apple iPhone and Windows Mobile are already supported, with apps for Android, BlackBerry, Symbian and Maemo/Meego in the pipeline (the long alphanumeric string isn't easy to type in on a touchscreen, so Dane-Elec plans to allow usernames and passwords for mobile access instead).
Access to the MyDitto unit from smartphones is via the MyDitto app (for iPhone and Windows Mobile initially) and your secret key
This is a reasonably straightforward approach to two-factor authentication — simple enough for home users and secure enough for basic business use (although Windows Home Server and Small Business Server give admins a lot more control over remote access without adding much complexity for users). Giving access to a remote user currently means sending them a USB key; Dane-Elec says there will be a way to distribute the key digitally, but this may reduce the security of the system.
When you're on the same network as the MyDitto, you can access it as an SMB network drive and map it as a drive, but you still have to have the USB key in your system (or to have transferred the key). When you connect remotely, it's currently only visible through the MyDitto application, which means you can't save files directly to it from applications or use it as the target for your own backup or sync applications when you're away. However, you can double-click files on the MyDitto to open them with whatever app is associated with them, and you can drag and drop files directly from Explorer (or the Finder) even when you're connected — you just have to do it into or out of the MyDitto app rather than another Explorer window.
The app has two panes; one for the MyDitto unit and one for your PC. On the MyDitto you can access files in your own folder and in the MyDitto public folder; on the PC you can access local, external and network drives, but not file shares without a drive mapping. Also, you can only navigate up and down — there's no tree of folders to speed things up (although you can search for files by name). That makes it faster to open the folder you want in Explorer and drag and drop to or from the MyDitto app (you can also right-click to copy, paste and delete files; it doesn't store multiple versions of files but there is a recycle bin). An August update will add what Dane-Elec calls a 'virtual disk' mode that will allow you to see MyDitto in Explorer on a remote connection.
The prompt won't go away, but simple backup is a good idea
You can use MyDitto to back up multiple computers even on a remote connection. In fact, the MyDitto app prompts you to enable backup every time you run it, and you can only accept or postpone the dialogue. This will be more attractive with the promised update in August that will back up only a single copy of duplicate files, even if they're on different computers. You can also back up external USB drives directly, by connecting them and pressing the Copy button.
The MyDitto is a competent media server that lets you stream MP3s to a computer or phone, or access pictures and video via ITunes or DLNA
The MyDitto is a UPnP and DLNA device and an iTunes server. That means media software like Windows Media Player and iTunes can play files from it over your local network (and if you have a DLNA-aware TV, an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 or any other DLNA device, like a digital photo frame, you'll be able to view photos and play music from the MyDitto), but it only works with media stored in the Public folder on MyDitto. It can also stream MP3 files to remote devices — including phones. A future model with a more powerful processor will stream video too.
The 1TB MyDitto model is available with a single 1TB drive for expansion (it supports up to 4TB) or with two 500GB drives, mirrored with RAID 1. If you plan to add a second drive and want to use RAID you should fit the drive before storing any data as building the RAID array erases any files. You can also plug an external USB drive into the back of the MyDitto, but this will only be available over your local network, not remotely. That means increasing the storage on MyDitto isn't particularly convenient.
At £169 for the single-drive version, MyDitto is competitive with other 1TB NAS offerings; it doesn't have common features like FTP and BitTorrent, but the simplicity of remote access more than makes up for it.
Caption by: Mary Branscombe
Caption by: Mary Branscombe