Synology and the state of consumer NAS devices

In modern day, you likely have some disk storage needs. For example:

  • Just regular, important files
  • Family photos and videos
  • Regular backups of everyone’s computer
  • (optional) IP cameras, and a way to record them

Network Attached Storage, or NAS is meant to solve that. It’s a device that plugs into your network which has a whole bunch of disk space. The software then makes that disk space available to your computers and can even run additional software too. But primarily it’s meant as a common storage medium available to everyone in the home, or an office.

After hearing so many other converts, I decided to drink the Kool-aid and get a Synology NAS.

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Below is my story and my path to buying yet another NAS device.

The 1st NAS:
So, a couple of years ago, I bought a NAS. I got a Netgear ReadyNAS 104. It holds 4 disks:

readynas

and the web interface looks like this:

image

This seemed to fine. It has a nice web interface and does all the things you’d expect. I initially set this up with RAID 5 and 4 drives. RAID 5 uses 1 drives worth of space for recovery, meaning that you can lose up to 1 drive, and the you will not have lost your data. Replace the failed drive, it re-syncs, and you never have downtime.

However, I started going through drives pretty quickly – every couple of months. It didn’t seem to be the drives, it seemed to be the ReadyNAS that had the problem. The ReadyNAS would tell me that a drive failed. Even if I reformatted it and re-inserted it – that drive was dead, as far as ReadyNAS was concerned. After the third time, I’d had enough. I had a bunch of other things going on at the time, so I just picked up a different NAS as a stop-gap.

The 2nd NAS:
So the second NAS I got was a Seagate D4. This also holds 4 drives:

Image result for seagate d4

Same deal, it supports RAID, and has a nice web interface:

image

I got four drives, different brand than before but all the same for this NAS. I set up the main volume as RAID 5. Same thing, every few months, I’d get consistency errors or would outright lose a drive. After the 2nd “failed” drive – I was getting pretty annoyed.

What about RAID 10?
After talking with friends who are more on the infrastructure side than me, I was advised that RAID5 and RAID6 – although ideal on paper, are often not reliable. I was advised by multiple people to use RAID10. This is basically RAID 0 (mirroring) with RAID 1 (striping, without parity).

image

This is great, you have striping which makes the disk look like one big chunk of disk space and you have a mirror, or a live, second copy of the data in case of a drive failure. The downside is you lose HALF of your potential disk space.

In this case, I had 4 x 5TB drives. If you set that up with RAID 5, you lose one 1 disk of space, and are left with 15TB usable. With RAID 10, you lose half – so you are left with 10TB usable, even though you physically have 20TB of space!

That’s the price to pay if you want reliable storage, right? Think about it, that is significant. Often, a NAS has so much space that you simply CAN’T back it up any place. It’s a live backup, and it actually MUST be fault-tolerant. So, for these devices, I MUST use RAID 10 because that’s the only reliable option.

image

I still had the ReadyNAS laying around (which holds a 2nd copy of my data) – so I did ultimately set up it, and the Seagate with RAID 10. The result? I didn’t have any more disk “failures”. So, the reliability problem was fixed. So if you have a NAS like this and see drive failures – switch to RAID 10.

Other NAS Features:
Meanwhile, in talking with other techy people, I hear several people rave about Synology. In fact, you can’t really find anything negative about Synology – except that they have pretty expensive equipment.

But what I learned is that the Synology NAS products were much more than just a NAS. The “apps” you can install on them made them into a valuable piece of home or home lab infrastructure!

But wait, the ReadyNAS has “apps” too:

image

and wait a second, so does the Seagate:

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Both of these have similar problems. First, they had a VERY limited number of apps – and most were weird, one-off apps written many years ago. But worse, is they were not updated.

ReadyNAS Apps – you can only install what is available via the web interface, and any “updates” you want to do, you have to do from the web interface too. The problem is they never updated anything. ReadyNAS uses a proprietary Linux distro and there isn’t anything you can do from the command-line (and there is no package manager either).

Seagate Apps – I initially started trying to get OwnCloud to work. You can install this “app”, but it’s extremely old – like from ~2012. It was so old that the mobile app couldn’t even connect to it. Again, you can only “upgrade” it if an upgrade is available in the web interface.

So the Seagate NAS had a VERY old version available. I spent a whole weekend on this at one point. In the end, it turns out that the proprietary NAS OS uses a virtualization technology called “Rainbow”. So even when I was able to SSH into the NAS, and then step into the Rainbow emulation (where OwnCloud was running in a Debian environment) – I couldn’t get past a long list of upgrade errors.

Meanwhile, the other “problem” I had was that for my IP cameras, I’ve been using ZoneMinder. It is Free and Open Source (FOSS), but it’s not a very good product. The Seagate NAS has a “surveillance manager” app, but I couldn’t get any of my IP cameras working with it.

The move to Synology:
At this point, I have two NAS’s that are now reliable – but I can’t use a parity-based RAID level with either. I can’t use either for an OwnCloud type setup (where I can get to my files from anywhere), nor can I take advantage of the disk space for IP camera recording. It’s just a plain NAS.

So, I ended up getting a Synology DS916+ which holds 4 drives and is upgradeable with an expansion unit which holds an additional 5 drives, if needed.

First, the OS and web interface is pretty impressive. The Disk Station Manager (DSM) web interface is like a full-on windowing application and everything runs right in the browser:

image

So what problems does this solve for me?

  • Reliability – I can use SHR, which is just like RAID 5, and the new Btrfs file system which specifically helps with data integrity when spanned across multiple disks
  • IP cameras – using the Surveillance Station app, I now have a very robust tool for recording and archiving my IP cameras, and using my NAS storage for that (I wasn’t before)
  • Apps – Synology has a VERY rich and engaged app store with many useful apps which seem to be maintained.
  • Remote access – I’d need to research this more, but it seems like they have a pretty mature way to remotely access all of your files while you are away. This includes matching mobile apps as well.

In short, all the things I thought I was getting when I got my first NAS.

Bottom Line:
The Synology devices aren’t really consumer-class NAS’s, they are more for the “hobbyist” and “small business”. That said, they are also significantly more expensive than other consumer-grade NAS devices. However, is it really a “bargain” if the cheaper NAS’s aren’t reliable and don’t do all the things you want it to do?

What’s next for me is I need to finish migrating my data over to the Synology – I’ll wipe the drives on the other two NAS’s and sell those. Meanwhile, I need to finish setting up the rest of my IP cameras, and will research more into how secure the whole “remote access” thing is.

Bottom line, if you are in the market for a good quality NAS for your home, home lab, or small business – I see now why Synology gets such high marks. It’s a bit more expensive, but you are really getting the best thing on the market, right now. Also, it’s a significant step-up, in many ways, from a consumer-grade NAS.

Posted in Computers and Internet, General, Infrastructure, New Technology, Organization will set you free, Security, Uncategorized
4 comments on “Synology and the state of consumer NAS devices
  1. Binoj Daniel says:

    Thanks for an excellent write up. It was perfect timing for me as my ReadyNAS is due upgrade for a long time. I was still running my ReadyNAS Duo and i had hard time doing auto backups and the read/write speed was really bad. Although i did not get much drive failures with this. But again, i was just running RAID 0 which is by default on these models.

    So did you buy the DS916+ 8GB model? And where did you find the best pricing? Amazon or B&H?

    And what drives did you get? I have WD, Seagate and Hitachi and i have found Hitachi to be most reliable of all.

    Like

    • Robert Seder says:

      Yes, I got the 8GB model because I wanted to run some apps on it. For example, you can run IP camera DVR or Docker… or a website.. or many, many other apps!

      For drives, I’ve used Seagate and Toshiba. However, what I learned is that you should REALLY get NAS drives. More importantly, get a drive that is on the Synology compatibility list: https://www.synology.com/en-us/compatibility?search_by=products&category=hdds&p=1&product_bays=4&product_name=DS916%2B&not_recommend_mode=false

      Problem is, NAS and Enterprise NAS drives are more expensive. Stephen explained that consumer-grade drives have different error-correction that often isn’t compatible with a NAS RAID controller. So, it will erroneously report errors. So, if you are building something from new, even though it will cost more, I would say spend the extra (maybe $50+ extra per drive) to get a supported NAS drive so that you don’t run into any troubles.

      Like

  2. Binoj Daniel says:

    Totally agree. In fact i was looking at the Seagate IronWolf Drives which are in the Synology list too.

    Did you find better pricing on amazon?

    Like

    • Robert Seder says:

      No, I didn’t find better prices. I scoured: NewEgg, PriceGrabber, Ebay, Alibaba (to buy in bulk), and AliExpress.com – and Amazon had the best prices.

      Like

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