The OS Quest Trail Log #68: Synology Edition

CloudsJanuary is history and the Southern New England winter has been mild, nothing close to the October blizzard. It’s been over 50° several days in January so mild doesn’t even begin to describe it. Rather than shoveling snow I’ve been able to play with computers.

The year started with a quick install of an Acer Aspire Windows Home Server. That was a straight-forward install and the server moved on to a new home. As far as I know it’s doing well. It was fun to revisit WHS v1 again. It did make me appreciate WHS 2011, even without drive extender, it just looks and feels much more modern.

Then I took a look at my Synology 212j. I bought it over the holiday but only recently got a chance to look at it. I’ve spent most of my time looking at it’s storage capabilities rather than the applications. Considering the number of drive rebuilds and factory resets it didn’t make much sense to put data or apps on it. The DS212j is at the low end of their two-bay product line so I don’t expect turbo performance. Having said that, the performance has been solid. I suspect it would suffer if I start enabling a lot of those apps but that remains to be seen. I’m impressed by it’s list of features and I’m seriously considering pulling the trigger one of their larger units to handle some of my file storage needs.

Cloudberry Backup For Windows Home Server 2011 Issue

Cloudberry for WHS 2011 has given me some issues. The database file on the C: drive has grown to over 25GB in size so I was getting low disk warnings for drive C:. A visit to the Cloudberry forums showed I wasn’t alone, but there wasn’t a solution. So I opened a support ticket. I got a response the next day that there was a new version posted which included the ability to move the database file.  I had updated to the then latest version before opening the ticket so I was a day early. The release notes didn’t make any mention of moving the database so here are the instructions Cloudberry support gave me:

I’d like to inform that we have published a new version (v2.6.2) where you can move the repository file to another location. You can download from our website (www.cloudberrylab.com).

Note: If you are using WHS-family add-in, the upgrade is not supported on WHS servers, you have to uninstall the add-on before installing a new version.

Then follow these steps:

1) Run command line by going to Start | Run: cmd.exe.
2) Make sure you change your current folder to CloudBerry Backup product installation:
cd C:Program FilesCloudBerryLabCloudBerry Online Backup
3) To move the repository file (CBBackup.db), run the following command:
cbb.exe option -databaseLocation path
(where “path” is a new repository file destination)

As a result, the CBBackup.db file will be moved to the new location.
Note: Make sure the CloudBerry Backup is not open and there are no running backup plans before moving.

I ended up deleting the database file and recreating my backup plans. To me the size of the file was a problem, so moving it wasn’t a good solution, it would just avoid the low disk problem. The seems to have gone well and my Cloudberry database file is a more realistic 2 GB so far. I’ll have to see how large this one grows over time and I’ll move it if necessary.

I was also interested to see the comment about WHS not supporting an upgrade and requiring an uninstall/re-install. I learned that the hard way and now routinely do an uninstall/re-install but this is the first time I’ve seen it mentioned by Cloudberry. Guess I don’t look in the right places.

A Short February

February’s a short month and I don’t have any firm plans. I’ll keep looking at the Synology apps and I’m looking to get a NAS or server up and running to handle some storage requirements I have. I plan to use some existing hard drives rather than buying new drives at today’s prices. I last bought a drive back in June and paid $120 for a 3 TB Hitachi drive. Today, even with prices heading back down a bit, that same drive is $230.  So right now Synology is topping my list as my storage choice.

Not much to cover this time around, so I’ll wrap it up here and get back to watching some football.

Synology to Windows Home Server Using iSCSI

Image of Synolog DiskStation 212j

Image of Synolog DeskStation 212jI’ve been looking at the capabilities of the Synology NAS products by looking over the Synology DiskStation 212j. This time around I gave it a spin as an iSCSI target from Windows Home Server 2011. There’s links at the end for more information about iSCSI, but for my purposes here it can be thought of as a way to present a network connected drive as a local drive to the operating system. The Synology NAS will be addressed by WHS 2011 as a local drive. No additional software is needed, it’s all built in to Synology and Windows Home Server.

This was configured using the Synology DiskStation 4 beta software although the DiskStation 3 software is set up the same way based on the information at the Synology website.

iSCSI Target Types

The Synology DiskStation software supports three different configuration types as an iSCSI LUN:

Regular Files – this configures the target on an already created file volume. This allows flexibility in allocating space. It can be increased anytime, as long as there’s space available on the volume.

Block Level (Single LUN on RAID) – this configures the target on available disks. There can’t be anything else on the disks used and they will be completely allocated. This provides the best performance (according to Synology). The disks can be configured for RAID.

Block Level (Multiple LUNs on RAID) – this configures the target on available disk space. Space already allocated to volumes can’t be used, but the disk(s) can be shared with file volumes.

Configuring iSCSI

The Synology website has good instructions on configuring iSCSI with their software so I won’t repeat it here. But for my simple requirements I was able to run through the wizard and accept the defaults. I didn’t set up any advanced options. When configuring a “Regular Files” LUN the size defaults to 1 GB so I did increase that to a more useful size.

Configuring iSCSI on Windows Home Server 2011 was a bit different than documented by Synology so I’ll run through it here. The configuration is the same for Windows 7 and Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 Essentials. I suspect Windows Server 2008 R2 is also the same along with the other related software such as Small Business Server 2008.

This needs to be done on the server itself so a Remote Desktop connection is needed (assuming the server is headless). Go to Control Panel and select “Set up iSCSI Initiator”. Then answer “Yes” to the prompt to start the iSCSI service.

iSCSI Control Panel iSCSI Service notice

The iSCSI properties dialog will appera – select discovery tab then click the “Discover Portal” button and enter the IP address (or DNS name) of the Synology NAS. Once the info is entered you should see the iSCSI target on the Synology NAS although it will still be listed as inactive. To establish the connection click the “Connect” button. In a strange twist of terminology you want to leave the default “Add this connection to the list of Favorite Targets” in order to make the connection persistent.

iSCSI Discovery Properties dialog Discovered targets list Favorite Connections prompt

At this point the connection is established and the status will change to “Connected”. Once the connection is established you’ll need to switch over the “Disk Management” section of the Computer Management console.

iSCSI properties after connection  Computer Management

When you click on “Disk Management” you’ll be prompted to initialize the disk. If the disk will be larger than 2 TB select “GPT” as the partition table type. Right-click on the newly added disk and select “New Simple Volume” from the context menu. Run through the wizard and when the wizard is done, so are you.

Initialize disk prompt  Create volume menu selection  Drive after formating

Now the disk can be used like any other local disk.

Benchmarks

Performance isn’t a reason for doing iSCSI, at least not with a home network and a low-end Synology DS212j. It’s going to be slower than a local SATA drive, but since I can, I did some benchmarks.

This is Windows Home Server 2011 running on an HP MicroServer with relatively slow Western Digital 1TB Green Drives. It’s a Gigabit network using the MicroServer’s onboard NIC. When running the benchmarks I kept network traffic to a minimum, no streaming video or file copies, but I didn’t turn any devices off, so there was the normal background network traffic. Everything is connected to the same switch.

The DS212j had two 7200 RPM drives in it. One a Western Digital Caviar Black and the other a Hitachi HDT721010SLA360 drive. Both are on Synology’s compatibility list.

The first benchmarks show the local drives, the second shows a “Regular Files” iSCSI target.

Local Drive benchmarks  iSCSI Regular Files benchmarks

I also set up each type of Block Level LUN and benchmarked them. The first is the Single LUN setup which should be the best performer, the second is a Multi LUN setup.

iSCSI single LUN benchmarks  iSCSI Multi LUN connection benchmarks

Wrapping Up

Being able to use the Synology boxes as an iSCSI target is a nice feature. Since it’s accessed over the network it’s not going to out perform a local drive unless you got a data-center class network to run it over. iSCSI doesn’t allow multiple PCs to access the same LUN (except with cluster aware software) since there’s no file locking, so it’s not a suitable replacement for a file share.

The more I explore the Synology software the more I’m considering one of their larger models. While I don’t see any immediate need to swap out anything I use for an iSCSI connected Synology NAS, I do think that an investment in a Synology DiskStation would eventually be used as an iSCSI connected drive somewhere in the future.

Additional Links:

Wikipedia article about iSCSI

Synology iSCSI Best Paractices

Synology iSCSI – How to Use

Synology Data Replicator 3 – Windows Backup

Image of Synolog DeskStation 212jI wrote about using Synology as a Time Machine backup destination in my previous article. This one will be about using the Synology Data Replicator 3 (DR3) software to backup my Windows PCs. Synology has a fairly large list of supported 3rd party backup applications, but DR3 is bundled with the Synology NAS so I’ll give it a try.

I’m running Synology DiskStation Manager 4 beta (DSM4) on the Synology DS212j. There isn’t a new Data Replicator software version for the DSM 4 beta so I’m using the version that was on the DSM 3 DVD that shipped with my NAS. I also checked the Synology website and it’s the latest version. For testing I have my Windows 7 Professional (64-bit) PC and a Windows 7 Home Premium (32-bit) virtual machine.

The software installation is straight-forward and uncomplicated so I won’t post screenshots. The only issue I had was that the DVD menu (spawned by autorun) didn’t have the privileges necessary to run the install and rather than generate a error or other message it just ignored the click. Running the install directly presented the expected UAC prompt and all was well. The software is in the WindowData Replicator 3 directory on the DVD.

When I started DR3 the first time I was prompted by the Windows 7 prompt to let Data Replicator 4 through the Windows firewall. Between this pop-up and the program itself there was a jumble of dialog boxes, one of which that said DR3 would have a problem because opening up the firewall failed. I cleared that warning and dug through the windows to find the firewall prompt and OK’d it. Everything ran fine after that.

The main program screen is shown below (click for full size):Data Replicator 3 main screen

Clicking the “Select” button runs through a series of dialog boxes to select the target Synology server and then the shared folder on that server. I selected my home folder on the server although you can choose any share the ID has access to.

Once the folder is selected I’d suggest going into options before doing any backup. The options are shown below:

Synology Data Replicator 3 options screen

The screenshot shows the default options. I decided to enable 3 file versions and 30 restore points. I also enabled deleting the backed up files when the local file is deleted.

The restore point option is similar to Apple’s Time Machine. It’s a point in time that has a copy of all backup files as they existed at that time. According to the docs these are not unique copies in each restore point, only one copy of each file is kept. This linking is well hidden but appears to be true. File properties through both Windows and Synology’s own File Station software show unique files and in fact show size totals for the backup directory tree as if they were unique files. But when disk space used is viewed through Storage Manager it’s obvious there’s only one copy per file. File Stations and Windows show over 27 GB of files in my backup folder but there’s less than 10 GB of space used on the entire disk (and that 10 GB is more than the backups).

File Structure On Synology NAS

Each PC and user combination gets a unique directory name that contains the backups for that user/PC combination. For example, my two PCs are:

Data Replicator 3 directory structure

The backups, snapshots and versions are in sub-directories of those directories.

Backups

The first screenshot at the top shows the main screen where the files to be backed up can be selected. It’s pretty standard file selection stuff. Even though some mail can be backed up, it’s mail that resides in files on the PC. I didn’t test any mail backup since I don’t use the supported apps.

Backups can be done three ways:

Immediate – the backup runs when you click the button

Sync – the files will be monitored and any changes will be replicated. You’ll be prompted to do a immediate incremental backup when you select sync. This is to catch and changes when files weren’t being monitored.

Schedule – Like the name says. Schedule a daily, weekly or monthly backup

Restores

Restores are wizard based and can be done by restore point. Any in progress backups, including sync monitoring, must be stopped before doing a restore. You can also simply browse the backed up files and pull out the one you want.

Using DR3 and Impressions

Data Replicator 3 isn’t the slickest interface out there, nor the quickest, nor feature rich. But as a file based backup program it’s not bad. The strongest features are the immediate syn and file versions.

DR3 does have some annoyances. Assuming syncing is enabled and set to start when windows boots, there will be a prompt to do a backup and then the backup progress will be on screen and can’t be closed until the backup is done. Turning off the consistency check avoids this, but at the risk of missing changes unless there’s a manual or scheduled backup done. This consistency check can take awhile for what seems like little data.

Cancelling an in progress backup causes the next backup to do a cleanup as it removes a temporary folder. This also takes awhile.

The restore points only seem to occur for the incremental backup. My DR3 restore points are all when I restarted DR3. Maybe when I run it longer and leave it undisturbed it will create a restore point. But I doubt it and it it does it’s undocumented.

The default backup selections cover the standard location for data files. If you save data in non-standard locations you’ll have to manually select them. The same if you want to back up programs. There’s no concept of file sets – such as a files of a certain type anywhere on the disk.

I save data on my Windows Home Server and have very little on my PC, so I have little need for the sync and version features. My existing Windows Home Server backup provides a bare metal restore along with file versions so I’ll stick with that even though it limited to once a day (or manual backups).

Considering Synology isn’t in the business of making backup software I expected the typical bundled software half-effort so a feature check box could be ticked. Instead I found Synology’s Data Replicator 3 to be a good (not great) software package that can do the job of protecting data files.

Time Machine Backups To A Synology NAS

Image of Synolog DeskStation 212jI recently installed a Synology DS212j NAS and one of the first things I tested was using the Synology for Time Machine backups. Setting it up was easy and so far it’s been working fine. I set things up initially using Synology DiskStation Manager (DSM) 3.2 although the screen shots below are from DSM 4 Beta. The upgrade from DSM 3.2 to DSM 4 beta didn’t require any changes.

Apple’s Time Machine will continue to fill up a disk as long as there’s data to be backed up and space to put it. Only when it runs out of space will it delete the oldest backups. While it is optional, my first step was for me to create two volumes on the DS212j. One for Time Machine and one for everything else. Dedicating a disk volume to Time Machine is not required, but I wanted a way to limit the space used by Time Machine. Because it made more sense in my mind I used Volume 1 for everything except Time Machine and dedicated Volume 2 to a Time Machine share. Since I was setting up a new NAS I simply started fresh with two volumes. A user’s disk usage across an entire volume can also be limited using a quota, which would include Time Machine usage so this would be another way to go, but it wasn’t my choice. The screenshot below shows my volume configuration (click for full size).

Synology Volume Manager screenshot

I probably would have been better off starting with a smaller volume, leave some free space, and expand if I needed the space. This is because shrinking the volumes isn’t possible and I may not need all that space for Time Machine. But I can also put other files on that volumes. Plus, I suspect I’ll be rebuilding this test box a few times,

Once I have a place for the the Time Machine share it’s time to create it. This is done through the “Shared Folder” selection in Control Panel.

Screenshot of the Synology Control Panel

Then just fill in the information for the share. You can call the share anything you want and the description is optional.

Setup of the Time Machine share

Encryption and hiding the share are optional and I don’t use them myself. While Time Machine can encrypt local backups it won’t encrypt network backups so you may want to use this encryption. Click OK to create the share. Then select the new share and click the “Privileges Setup” button.

The Synology Share Screen

Select the user(s) you want to have access to the Time Machine share. You can use the admin account if that’s what you want. But I create an ID for each person accessing the Synology NAS. The same ID can be used from multiple PCs

Screenshot of shre permissions screen

Now it’s just a matter of going to the Macs and selecting the share as the destination. It will automatically appear as a possible destination, just select it and go.

 Time Machine Drive Selection

I’ve been running Time Machine backups from  to Macs, both running the latest version of OS X Lion.

Sending Synology System Email Using GMail or Google Apps Mail

I recently added a Synology DS212j NAS to the home data center and wanted to be able to send the Synology system emails through my Google Apps account. This should also work for GMail but I’ve only used Google Apps. These screenshots are from the Synology DiskStation Manager 4 beta (DSM4) but the setup is the same in DSM 3.2.

Optionally setup a user in Google Apps to use for sending emails. I have a dedicated account for sending these sort of system emails. You can use any account. You’ll need the email address and password.

Open the Synology DiskStation Manager, go to Control Panel (in DSM, not your PC), open “Notifications” and select the “E-mail” tab. The screen, with sample values, is shown below(Double-click for full size).

Synology Email Notification configuration

 

  1. This is the SMTP server and port and is the same for both GMail and Google Apps Email. The server is smtp.gmail.com and the port is 587. Some users may find port 25 should be used although I’ve found 587 always works.
  2. The username and password is the logon information for you Google email account and can be GMail or a Google Apps account.
  3. The third section configures where the notification are sent. Two addresses can be specified. Since I use this email account for notifications on multiple computers I specify Synology 212j as the subject prefix so I know which computer sent the email. Using the same email as your logon as the primary email is often recommended but I haven’t had any issues using a different destination email in any situation.
  4. Click the “Send a test email” to make sure everything is working.

If you’re on DMS 4 you can click the Advanced tab to select which notification emails get sent. By default, every possible notification will go through email.

 

 

 

First 24 Hours: Synology DS212j

Image of Synolog DiskStation 212j

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.