Focusing exclusively on the development of Network Attached Storage (NAS) appliances for SOHO and SMBs, Synology is a brand that has been steadily growing in prominence since its founding in 2000. While competing products from storage vendors such as Iomega and even relative newcomer Cisco offer greater brand recognition, none of them can boast of the same laser-like focus on network storage.
I reviewed the two-bay DiskStation DS210+ NAS for SMBs back in 2010, which I praised for its wide-ranging support of various file transport protocols such as FTP, NFS, CIFS and AppleTalk. Today, I take a closer look at the DiskStation DS1511+ NAS server, which was released at the end of last year.
Bigger, Better, Faster
In addition, the DS1511+ sports two Gigabit Ethernet ports with support for IEEE 802.3ad link aggregation. Paired with an HP 2915-8G-PoE switch, it took only a few clicks on the DSM Web interface to enable link aggregation mode for greater throughput. It is also possible to set the dual Ethernet ports in network fault tolerance for non-802.3ad network environments.
The DS1511+ NAS runs quietly even with all five HDD bays filled, an important trait in smaller offices or remote branches without a server closet. Depending on the priorities and usage patterns, the management console offers the ability to toggle between "Cool Mode" and "Quiet Mode." According to Synology, the use of plastic trays for the HDD bays further adds to its noise-dampening qualities.
Another less obvious feature of the DS1511+ is its support for both 3.5-inch and 2.5-inch drives with the same drive bays. Both types of drives are mounted directly using standard screws, a useful trait when installing solid-state drives (SSDs), which are still commonly available in 2.5-inch formats.
The DiskStation Manager Advantage
As with the other Disk Station NAS in its lineup, the DS1511+ runs on the Disk Station Manager (DSM) operating system. Based on Linux, the latest release at the time of writing is DSM 3.2, which uses HTML3 and CSS3 to create an advanced Web-based "desktop" experience complete with drag-and-drop and multi-tasking. Where DSM is concerned, Synology has gained a proven track record of steadily improving upon its capabilities over the years; DSM was only in its version 2.3 when I reviewed the DS210+ last year.
For example, the free Synology Data Replicator has been steadily enhanced and is now in version 3, with the iOS DS Audio App now supporting AirPlay. Time Machine support for the Mac OS has also been updated to include Mac OS X Lion, while creation of Synology Hybrid RAID data volumes is now touted as 95 percent faster. In addition, Synology has also released and maintained a plethora of free mobile Apps for the DiskStation to access music, photos and IP cameras over the Internet. Finally, it is also possible to perform a single-click installation of "rich applications" on the DiskStation such as a Web server software, and CMS modules like WordPress and Drupal. Among the official "DSM Packages" would be an LDAP, Syslog and VPN server.
Personally, I'm convinced that the DSM delivers compelling value and makes the DiskStation line of NAS a worthwhile investment.
One obvious downside from an enterprise point of view is the lack of redundant power supply unit (PSU) in the DS1511+. Of course, proponents will probably argue that most competing NAS in its price category don't come with a redundant PSU either. From a cost perspective, most SMBs will probably be better served investing the additional cost into a UPS.
Also, while Synology Hybrid RAID lives up to its promise of providing seamless upgrade of hard disk capacity, be aware that you can only perform online disk expansion with HDDs that are of the same capacity or larger. Finally, it is not possible to switch the number of disk drive failures that a Synology Hybrid RAID can tolerate without rebuilding the entire volume. These are hardly major issues, though are nevertheless issues that administrators should be made aware of.
The Synology 1511+ is a versatile NAS that offers a compelling range of capabilities. Core abilities such as file transfers and backup run well, while its incredibly rich-feature set puts just about every NAS out there to shame. Furthermore, regular free (so far) upgrades to the DSM platform coupled with the availability of officially supported and third-party DSM packages leave the door open to free upgrades in the future.
The Synology DS1511+ has a MSRP of $899 in the U.S.