NAS

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:

ioSafe 214 NAS Review

The ioSafe 214 NAS was provided to me by ioSafe to check out. I’ve looked at a few NAS units before, but generally low end devices. This unit is far from low end, having both advanced management capabilities and superb physical protection.

diskstation

“Superb” is a big call, but this NAS is fireproof and waterproof. Trevor Pott and Josh Folland tested the fire side of this here (The Register) which is rated at 1550ºF for 1/2 an hour, and the water side is rated at 72 hours with 10 foot depth. There’s a bunch of videos on YouTube too if you want to check those out. I chose not to test these specifications as I really liked the unit.

Full specifications are available here from ioSafe’s website, but here’s a quick rundown. The NAS is dual bay, and will officially take up to two 4TB SATA drives. There are 3 USB interfaces (a single USB2 on the front, and two USB3’s on the back), with the back also containing a single gigabit ethernet port and a power port. The only other item of interest is the copy button on the front which I’ll go into later.

The ioSafe 214 is ‘powered by Synology DSM’ which I think just means it has a Synology 214 inside it… which I was very impressed by. I’d pictured the web interface of the NAS as some unexciting poorly designed experience, but this was similar to using a desktop with shortcuts and programs.

Here’s the ‘desktop’ which you’ll see after logging onto the NAS via HTTP:

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I’m still impressed now after using this for a few weeks. The left hand side contains these highlights:

File Station – This lets you create and manage shares and the files/folders within

Control Panel – This opens the control panel as per the screenshot above. There’s a huge amount of options here, including setting up LDAP/Active Directory connectivity, user management, device updates, index your media located on the drives and so on.

Package Center – this is the Synology App Store. You might think this isn’t exciting, but for starters everything is free. There’s tools like Antivirus and DNS Server, but also Asterisk (want to run your phone system off this?), Mail Server, MediaWiki, RADIUS Server, Tomcat, VPN Server , WordPress and so on. This turns a basic NAS into a server with a multitude of abilities.

One extra application of note is the ‘Download Station’. This will download from a bunch of different protocols: BitTorrent, FTP, HTTP, Newsgroups, eMule (is that still used?) and a few others I haven’t even heard of before. I’m sure a lot of people leave a box on just for downloads, so this would eliminate the need for that.

On the right hand side are ‘Widgets’ – yep, just like the ones from Windows Vista and 7, and were killed off due to vunerabilities. Anyway that doesn’t apply here, these are configurable but I decided to show the connected users, storage use, system health and finally the resource monitor that displays usage of CPU/RAM/LAN.

There’s also a few other important areas a few clicks away, with the most important being ‘Storage Manager’:

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This is where you can create iSCSI LUNs and manage the physical hard drives inside the ioSafe. Creating a LUN was really easy, and they have the ability to thin provision. This means you can over-subscribe the storage – for example, you might have 2tb free like I do above, but you could create a LUN with 2TB of space, and another with 1TB. It only uses the space you actually write to, but you avoid having to guess and lock yourself in to certain LUN sizes early on. The only risk is if you run out of disk space you’ll start to get issues, and you wouldn’t realise it just looking at the LUN from a remote PC.

Personally I created a LUN that took up the whole 2TB available (1.79TB of real space) and then created another small 1GB LUN which I used as a Quorum for clustering.

Also as a quick speed test, I copied the Windows Server 2012 R2 ISO (which weighs in at 3.97GB) from a local machine to the NAS via iSCSI, and it copied over at 33 seconds. The copy averaged 115MB/s.

Copying a file back to the local host was much slower, which would be an indication of the local single spindle of the HDD, and came in at 45 seconds for the copy, averaging around 80MB/s.

The final area worth mentioning is Backup & Replication:

iosafe3

 

Again, there are a lot of options here. This takes away from relying on a remote device such as a PC to do backups, and allowing the NAS to look after itself. You can back up contents from one area on the NAS to another, or plug in an external disk via the USB3 ports and take it away for offsite backup requirements. There’s even Amazon S3 as a backup point – not something I’d use for large amounts of data, but it’s a nice addition.

So what is the end result from all this? It’s a NAS that is easy to set up and maintain from Synology, wrapped up in great armour from ioSafe without having ridiculous pricing. This unit is ideal for a home user or small business that needs 4TB or less data highly secured – and for an extra few hundred vs a non ‘armoured’ NAS, it’s an easy decision.

Note: If you want the same features but need more drives, ioSafe also have an ioSafe 1513+ which has five HDD bays instead of two.