The Synology product line offers Network Attached Storage (NAS) appliance devices varying from one to twelve drive bays with personal and rack mountable models. While the core feature is NAS, the devices also provide a number of other useful features through the DiskStation Manager operating system such as media sharing (DLNA), iTunes media server, surveillance, SqueezeBox Server, PPTP and OpenVPN servers, built-in media player, BitTorrent server, web server, print server, email server, MySQL server, mobile apps, backups to external drives and Amazon S3, and more.
I chose the DS411+II based on the need for a RAID solution with excellent performance and enough capacity to host several incremental PC backups, IP camera video, and multimedia for use with DLNA and SqueezeBox Server. Based on my needs, I estimated that 5TB should be sufficient for at least the next few years. Using a RAID 5 solution would require approximately 8TB of total hard drive space. Several DiskStation models support volume expansion by adding additional DiskStation units, however, the DS411+II does not support this. Hard drives must typically be purchased separately so I recommend reviewing the list of supported hard drives on Synology's website before purchasing.
Installation requires adding the hard drives to the DiskStation, using the Synology Assistant software on a PC or Mac to upload the operating system, then using a web browser to connect to the DiskStation and format the hard drives. Installing the DiskStation hard drives is simpler than installing hard drives in a PC since it doesn't require any cables. Synology Assistant automatically found the DiskStation and later installed the operating system with no problems. While the provided CD included an older version of the DSM OS, I chose to download the latest OS from www.synology.com before installing the OS. Once the hard disks and OS were installed I configured the DiskStation by using a web browser connected to the built-in DiskStation web server. The system supports a wide range of RAID configurations of which I chose RAID 5 using four 2TB hard drives, resulting in 5.36TB of usable space. RAID 5 provides a good balance of performance and allows for one drive to fail without losing any data. In addition to formatting the drives, I chose to also run a full surface scan. This entire process took approximately eight hours.
The DiskStation user interface is an HTML 5 & CSS3 web site which resembles a familiar computer desktop. While the interface is fairly intuitive to use, the large number of options can sometimes cause you to open several apps before finding what you are looking for. A search box at the top of the user interface does help with this by finding illusive features.
In addition to choosing your RAID configuration, you will need to determine how you would like to access your files via shares. You may want a single share or multiple categorized shares. I was not sure what methodology best suited me (or if it really even mattered), however, the DiskStation made the choice easy after I enabled media sharing support. This automatically created separate dedicated music, photo, and video shares. Creating additional shares is easy once you find the appropriate control panel tool. Each share may be configured for user access, as a hidden folder, encrypted, and whether or not it should use Windows Access Controls List (ACL).
I have been pleased with the reliability and performance of data transfers. File copies normally result in transfer rates of 50MB/s to 80MB/s... that's megabytes per second. To get these speeds you will need a gigabit switch or hub and a gigabit network card on your PC. Using Acronis software to backup 550GB took approximately 5 hours using Acronis's encryption on PC with a Core 2 Duo 3.16GHz CPU.
Using a PlayStation 3 for video playback, the DiskStation Media Server (DLNA) is more reliable than a few PC's on my network. The DiskStation appears quickly, playback is smooth, and rewind/fast forward is quick even using a 10MB/s switch. The DiskStation also includes PhotoStation and AudioStation applications which provide basic photo and video viewing as well as audio listening from a web browser, iOS, and Android apps.
Surveillance Station is a built-in IP camera DVR web application. By configuring the Surveillance Station with one or more IP cameras, the DiskStation will record the camera audio/video and provide a web interface for playback. I was impressed with how much better this solution worked for me than the software included with both Cisco and Panasonic cameras. The software supports over 760 IP cameras, PTZ, motion detection, snapshots, email and SMS notifications, video export, an iOS and Android application, and more. The only disappointing aspect to the software is that adding more than one camera requires purchasing additional camera licenses from Synology.
There are several add-on packages which can be installed using the Package Management tool. The two that I tested were the Squeezebox Server and VPN Center. With DSM 3.1 these must be downloaded from the Synology website and then installed using the Package Management tool. The DSM 3.2 beta documentation on Synology's website indicate support for downloading packages directly from the Package Management tool. The Squeezebox Server package works as expected however the version number seems to trail behind by a few patch versions. For example as of this writing Synology's current Squeezebox Server version is at 7.5.3 while the latest from Logitech is v7.6.1. The VPN Center provides a PPTP and OpenVPN server to your network. I was not able to establish a VPN connection from outside my firewall using PPTP but this may have been a router issue or perhaps my ISP is blocking incoming PPTP connections. I was initially skeptical about setting up the OpenVPN server because it requires installing an OpenVPN client on a PC and configuring it. This turned out to be easier than I had expected and worked the first time. The zip file downloaded from the DiskStation included files to copy to the client PC and a readme file with short instructions. The trickiest part of the setup is editing a configuration file using notepad.
I have been using the Synology DS411+II for several weeks and am happy with the quality, performance, feature set and reliability that the device provides. I would happily recommend this device for those needing similar features and storage space as myself. For users who are looking for a simpler solution with only storage in mind, I would suggest looking for a more affordable alternative. In addition to the DiskStation features that I have reviewed, there are a number of other features such as iSCSI, external hard drive shares, the included Data Replicator 3 backup software, Apple Time Machine support, user and group privileges, quotas, FTP, WebDAV and more. DSM 3.2 was recently released and brings even more features such as ISO mounts, LDAP server, Syslog server, remote folders, and more. Not all features are available on all devices. For a full list of Synology DiskStation models and features please visit www.synology.com.
Reviewed by John Hughes, entrepreneur and software development expert.