First 24 Hours: Synology DS212j

Image of Synolog DeskStation 212jThe Synology DS212j NAS is at the low-end of the Synology DiskStation “Personal and Home Office” product line, at least among the models that support RAID. There are less expensive one-bay models. Synology has an interesting product line that is more like a home server than a NAS, thanks to the bundled DiskStation Manager (DSM) software. I decided to give it a look and this is my initial impression, having spent about a day working with it.

Disk Configuration

The DS212j is sold diskless and can handle two internal SATA drives and has two USB ports for external devices. I used two Western Digital WD10EACS 1TB drives which are on Synology’s compatibility list. I had wanted to try two different sized hard drives in order to try out Synology’s Hybrid RAID (SHR) but the spare 3 TB drive I have isn’t on their compatibility list so the SHR test will have to wait until I free up a 2 TB drive or I’m familiar enough the the DiskStation to know if a problem might be HDD compatibility. For now I’ll stick with approved drives.  Synology Hybrid RAID is a Drobo like technology that provides data-redundancy using  different sized drives. The DS212j can also be configured using RAID 0, RAID 1 or JBOD. I configured the DS212j to use SHR even though the drives were the same. I plan to pop in a larger disk once I free one up and see how Synology handles this.

The default installation configured one drive volume, using both drives, with SHR. I decided I wanted to test the DiskStation as a Time Machine destination so I reconfigured drives to be two volumes. The first is 332 GB and will be my working volume for everything except Time Machine. The second will be 600 GB and dedicated as a Time Machine destination. (A 1 TB drive has only 932 GB once formatted and SHR effectively mirrors the two drives.) After creating the Time Machine volume I created a share on it which I then dedicated to Time Machine. The Time Machine share can’t be used for anything else and only one Time Machine share can be created. The Time Machine share can be used by multiple Macs (I’m currently testing with two).

DiskStation Manager 4 Beta

Synology just released the beta for their next DSM version, DSM 4 Beta. Since this is my first Synology box I set up the drives and tested Time Machine and a couple shares using the DSM 3.2 software. I mainly wanted to be sure everything was working before I installed the beta, but once I was comfortable my DS212j was healthy I upgraded to DSM 4 Beta. Downgrading to 3.2 isn’t possible but since this was a new box there wasn’t any risk for me. A search of the Synology forums showed Synology betas are usually pretty stable, and while there were issues mentioned in the forums, none seemed like they would brick my box. So my work since then has been with the DSM 4 beta (DSM 4.0-2166).

First Impressions

I’ve yet to dive deep into anything besides the Time Machine backups but my overall impression of the Synology software and hardware is overwhelmingly positive.  The hardware seems solidly built. Plus, I like manufacturers that do the little things like include extra screws. The DS212j needs 8 hard drive screws, they provide 10. It needs two screws for the case they provide three. While the case is plastic, it is solidly put together. The fan is quiet so no complaints there.

I like the cross platform support. At least on paper, Windows, Mac and Linux clients get almost equal billing, The DSM 4 Beta cloud client is Windows only at the time but Mac support is promised by the final release. Of course, the pessimist in me is skeptical of the promise until I try it. I actually did the install and configuration from my Mac which is promising, The Data Redirector (for backing up PCs) doesn’t have a Linux or Mac version  A case could be made that Time Machine support negates the need for the Data Redirector and rsynch could be used for Linux. The Download Director doesn’t have a Linux version or a version for OS X after 10.6 so this does appear to be the single cross-platform gap.

I haven’t done any real benchmarking, plus the WD drives in the box are not built for speed. Still, file copies between my Windows 7 desktop and the Synology box are about 30% slower than copies to my HP MicroServer running Windows Home Server 2011. This was with the DSM 4 Beta Firmware which may have affected performance. But at this point, speed isn’t a selling point.

Time Machine backups and restores are working fine with the DS212j as the backup destination. I’ve never been a fan of Time Machine over the network. Time Machine backups have always seemed rather brittle to me and backing up over the network seemed to add one more complication. But having said that, it’s been fine for the first day.

DSM 4 doesn’t start the standard packages like DSM 3.2 does. At the time I upgraded I wasn’t using any of them so the previous standard applications needed to be started. Packages include two audio servers – iTunes server and Audio Station. Media Server is a DLNA server and Photo Station is for sharing photos. Download Station allows downloading files such as torrent files. Surveillance Station allows control of wireless cameras.  There’s also a selection of 12 add-on packages that include WordPress, Email Server, and Cloud Station among others.

It wasn’t obvious from the description, but the forums indicate that the “Backup and Restore” package in DSM can backup to Amazon S3 so that could be the backup solution for my critical files. I’ll take a look to see how it compares to Cloudberry on my Windows Home Server and see if it has the features I want.

I look forward to trying out the various applications and seeing where the Synology DS212j fits in my home data center.  I‘m a little afraid I’ll really like it and have to buy a larger model to get the disk space I’d need. Despite being called a NAS, my first impression is that the Synology DiskStations are a viable contender as a home server.

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