Synology Diskstation Overview

After getting an old Synology Diskstation DS1813+ and setting it up, I had Synology reach out to me asking if I’d like to test one of their newer devices and check out it’s Office 365 backup capabilities. I’ll do a separate writeup of how that works, but figured I should start with more of an overview of the Synology Diskstations.

A Synology Diskstation is a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device which depending on the model, takes up to a certain amount of drives in it which are hot swappable, and no tools necessary to add or remove a drive. They’re quite an elegant solution to having a bunch of disks around. Beyond holding disks (hard drive or solid state) it’s also a server (at least the models I’ve been playing with – some of the smaller end devices might not do this).

What might you need a NAS for? Virtual machines, backups, multimedia content, CCTV recordings – the same reason you’d have any storage really, but your requirements going beyond a single disk for size, performance or redundancy purposes.

One of the big selling points of having a Synology Diskstation for me is a special RAID option called Synology Hybrid RAID (SHR). This allows you to have disks of different sizes in your RAID, and still be able to add more disks in the future. Instead of striping the entire disk’s contents across other disks, it breaks it into smaller chunks reducing or eliminating wasted empty space that adding a bigger disk in a standard RAID type would do. Read the link above for a much better explanation than I could give.

The older 8 bay DS1813+ was rather easy to set up; the video at the top of this post walks you through how to do it. The actual interface to perform the setup after the initial configuration is web based, and feels and drives like a mini OS. You have things like control panel, an app store (called the package center) and even docker to run a bunch of third party solutions in containers.

You get great visibility on what the device is doing via the Resource Monitor app:

I’d been slowly migrating data off of two HP Gen8 Microservers that had a bunch of files scattered across several different disks. I’d started with two disks (a 10TB and 6TB) in the DS1813+ in SHR, copied data across, and gradually moved more and more disks in until I had 7 across. I would have had more, but I hit two slight roadblocks: You can’t add a smaller disk than the first smallest disk’s size in a SHR setup (which was 6TB, and I was trying to add a 4TB). I had two of those, but then it turned out one was failing S.M.A.R.T. checks anyway, which I ended up destroying.

Here’s where I’m up to now – adding a 12TB disk in from slot 8 to the current 30TB capacity storage pool (set up as a single volume), which will bump it up to 40TB usable.

Anyway, that was all up and running great. I actually had redundancy, and I didn’t have to commit to a particular disk size. Something I’d never had before at home because I was too tight to build my own box, buy a bunch of disks to see myself OK for the next few years, and find the time to build it all up. The Diskstation despite being given to me secondhand ticked all those boxes, and honestly I was about to buy one with my own money anyway.

Once this was all set up, the new unit from Synology arrived. I set this one up next to the old one for some comparisons – the DS1618+ has more RAM, faster CPU, a USB3 port on the front, an expansion slot for 2x SSDs or 10GB NIC, and 6 disk slots rather than 8, but overall it was pretty similar.

Synology NAS: On the left: Diskstation DS1813+. On the right: Diskstation 1618+

These devices run fairly quiet – they’re about 60cm from my head right now and there’s just the slight hum of the fans.

You might be wondering about the naming convention on what a DS1813+ is compared to a DS1618+ – and I am too, but the DS1813+ is an 8 bay made in 2013, and a DS1618+ is a 6 bay made in 2018. You’ve also got other models like a DS918+ which is actually a 4 bay, but expandable up to 9 with a second unit, also made in 2018. The first 1 or 2 digits is normally what it can scale up to, rather than how many bays are in the model. A full list of models are on Synology’s website.

I thought I’d try something a bit weird on the DS1618+ to start mucking around with – I put two much smaller 320GB HDDs in it, then added a third 4TB drive to the SHR setup. Despite the older, smaller drives being a lot noisier, it worked. I’ve still only got 586GB capacity, but it shows you can start small and work your way up.

Synology have a great website for showing how much space you will get for whatever disk combination you throw at it which is worth playing around with.

I also added a SSD Cache to this setup – the advisor will look at what you have and give a recommended SSD size, but you can use whatever you want. I had a single 60GB SSD spare, so put that in to slot 6.

It worth noting that if you want a read/write SSD Cache setup, you need two SSDs installed. For read only, just 1 is fine. Although I put this SSD into one of the bays, I could have also bought an expansion card and added two M.2 SSDs to not use up any of the bays. Again, Synology have a lot more details on their website.

I’m really happy with my setup now, and I won’t have data loss like I had before without any disk redundancy. It’s worth noting that a very large disk can take a few days to add in, and during that time you’d have no redundancy – but you can have a hot spare option or SHR-2 that has two disks for redundancy rather than 1. For that setup you need at least 4 disks, and you can convert a SHR-1 to a SHR-2.

Next time, I’ll go through the Office 365 Backup features of the Diskstation device (which is free to use!).

Update 3rd August 2020

Lars Klint has a video on setting up his DiskStation 920+ which is incredibly similar to the 1618+ setup, so have a watch at a self proclaimed ‘NAS noob’ going through the initial config:

2 thoughts on “Synology Diskstation Overview

  1. “Despite the older, smaller drives being a lot noisier, it worked.”
    I had not read elsewhere that noisier drives are a problem that can cause them not to work in the Synology? Is this unique to the Synology?

    “I’ve still only got 586GB capacity, but it shows you can start small and work your way up.”
    But didn’t this show that you actually cannot start small and work your way up? You added a new drive but got zero additional capacity, so I don’t understand how you work your way up in this manner?

  2. Adam,
    Thank you for your video and written descriptions.
    Question: you have installed drives that aren’t on the Synology Compatibility List.
    Did you have any issues with the installation of these drives (their website for the 1813 states that if the machine was built before June 2014, then they state not compatible). Mine was built in 2013, as was yours.
    Thank you for your time in putting this together!

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