Network attached storage (NAS)

Review - Synology DS411j Network Attached Storage (NAS)

The problem with data is that it expands to fill all available space. With all the documents, presentations, videos, movies, TV shows, porn etc you need a big hard drive to save it all.

In the past I made do with several 1Tb drives in USB caddies attached to various computers around the house. So the photos were in \katrena\shared\photos and the TV was in \jsmini\shared\TV and the backups were on the Time Capsule and the blah was on the bling and yada yada. A mess!

I've been on the hunt for a storage solution for some time. At work we play with EMC and squillions of terabytes of space but the cost is a little out of my home budget. One of our team does have a second hand EMC in his garage but he's a (single) looney and "she who must be obeyed" wouldn't stand for that.

My first choice would have been a Drobo. Leo, Cali, Alex and the rest of the TWITs are of course big fans of Drobo. The attraction is that you can add drives of any size at any time and it just figures it all out somehow. Very Mac-like. But in Tasmanian dollars the Drobo is more than $500 before you start buying drives. Ergh.

The friendly and helpful staff at NybbleIT (151a Liverpool St, Hobart) introduced me to the Synology range. In the past I've been highly disappointed with consumer NAS products. I had a Netgear I loathed and a D-Link that sucked badly. The Iomega range isn't too bad but the price is disgraceful at around $2500!!! So I didn't hold much hope for this one I have to say.

Surprisingly the Synology is well made for the money, all steel with nylon slides. I got the DS411j which holds 4 drives. You do have to power it down to add or change them, but what it lacks in 24x7 availability it makes up for in features.

Yes, this is a box that holds up to 4 SATA drives and has a network port. Once configured the drives can be "glued together" to make one (or more) bigger drives that you can see on your network. It does not need any computers to make it go, it is all self contained. So you can place it anywhere you have power and a network cable. I think I'll move ours into the shed just in case the house burns down.

You do need to use drives of the same size. Luckily all of mine are 1Tb so I added 3 of them and set it up as RAID 5, meaning everything is spread across all 3 drives with double up so if one drive dies, my data does not. This gave me about 2Tb of space to use. (3 x 1Tb less 1Tb for backup = 2Tb)

The server side is easy to set up with a simple web browser interface. It supports Windows, Mac, Linux and a bunch of other stuff I'll never use. It streams really well and the TV shows play back smoothly across the network even while other stuff is going on. The Beyonwiz sees it as a network server, the PC sees it as a Windows server and the Macs see it as a Mac server. Its easier to use than it is to describe, trust me.

Security is easy to set up, you can do individual users so the kids and the porn are isolated.

Over the next few weeks I moved all of our data off the mish-mash of drives scattered across our home and consolidated it on the Synology. That freed up another 1Tb drive which I added to the RAID 5 today. With no loss of data, it expanded the RAID and we now have 3Tb of space.

Yes, there are options to expand an existing RAID without destroying the data. You can add hot spare drives and upgrade the RAID level to provide safety in case of a disk failure.

The next move will be difficult as I'll have to back it all up somewhere and add 2 or 4Tb drives, but I figure that day is along way off for now. There are two USB ports on the back and I suspect you can add external drives there if you had to.

So I would recommend the DS411j. If you are an avid downloader and need more space, you could look at the larger models that hold more than 4 drives. But for the average home, this one is great value. With SATA drives so cheap now, its easy to populate it with big drives.