Checking out the Synology DiskStation DS210+ NAS for SMBs

Paul Mah
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The Must-Have Features of NAS

Our Paul Mah looks at the necessary elements of any NAS deployment.

I first wrote about the Synology DiskStation DS210+, a high-performance network-attached storage (NAS) catered for SMBs last month. Unlike other brands such as HP or Buffalo, Synology stands out in that the company is extremely focused on the task of making storage appliances for this segment of the market - and has a comprehensive lineup of storage products to show for it.


Here is my review of the DiskStation DS210+.


Installation and performance


Installing the Synology DS210+ was simple and involves snapping open the chassis to insert two 3.5-inch SATA hard disk drives (HDD). For obvious reasons, this step isn't necessary if you opt to purchase the DS210+ with HDDs preinstalled. Next, connect the power cord and network cable, and press the power stud to start the NAS.


Setting up the device for the first time involves installing the Synology Assistant client software included on the installation CD. This is a boon for novice users, and it is clear that the company wants to make installation as easy as possible, avoiding the usual need to include the default IP address information.


Overall data transfer was brisk; sending a 2.2GB file via FTP via the gigabit Ethernet took less than 35 seconds on average, on par with the advertised 58+ MB/sec write speed. Performing the same test with Windows file sharing reduces the speed to half, owing to its notorious protocol overhead, while file transfers via FTP with disk encryption enabled took three times as long.




Beyond the initial setup, administrators can opt to use the Synology Assistant as a central console to manage multiple appliances from Synology, albeit for a very limited number of management tasks. There is also a Resource Monitor tab within the software, however, that can be configured to view real-time performance and usage statistics pertaining to CPU, memory, bandwidth and disk capacity - just about everything else is done from the Web interface from the appliance.


In spite of the myriad configuration and management options, the Web interface is surprisingly clean and uncluttered, with the major components laid out in a relatively intuitive tree menu. Important system information such as uptime and system temperature is available, as well as S.M.A.R.T. status of HDDs and current space allocation.


While the device is probably not suitable for management by end users without IT knowledge, system administrators will find device management to be easy - not too complex, yet with sufficient configurable options and the ability to manage users either individually or as part of a group. To further reduce clutter, administrators have the ability to disable (or not enable) features such as FTP or its Web server capability.


Given the sheer features supported by the DS210+, the tight integration of the various controls is impressive. There are limits, though, and certain management aspects are not so fine-grained. For example, you cannot allow a user to access a folder via FTP and not Windows file sharing - not without disabling the Windows file sharing service on the whole. Overall, however, I felt that the interface affords the right amount of balance between meaningful control and usability. Storage quota is set per user at the storage volume level.


What I like about it


As you would expect, the Synology DS210+ supports all the standard file transfer protocols such as FTP, NFS, CIFS (Windows file service) and AppleTalk. The capacity of the DS210+ can also be expanded, albeit with the use of external storage devices via its two USB or sole eSATA ports.


Some users will like how the DS210+ is packed with features not directly related to data storage. For one, the NAS can be configured to host user websites with its built-in Apache Web server running PHP and supporting MySQL database engine. Among a plethora of other features, the NAS can also be configured to link to a number of popular IP-based surveillance cameras. To preempt against a prolonged power outage, simply connect your UPS via USB to initiate a timely shutdown; supported USB Wi-Fi adapters are can be used to give the appliance Wi-Fi capabilities.


The D210+ runs on the Synology's DSM 2.3 operating system, which appears to be based on Linux. One of the strengths of DSM 2.3 is what the company calls hybrid RAID, which allows storage volumes of varying sizes to be carved out onto the internal HDDs in both protected and non-protected configurations. In fact, parts of its capacity could also be assigned as a valid block-based iSCSI target; hardware supported AES 256-bit folder encryption can be enabled on a volume level to protect data.


I specifically liked the ability to schedule periodic backups to the cloud, though that is limited at the moment to Amazon S3. Creating a task to back up to S3 was easy, and done in the same control panel used for backing up to external hard disk drive or a remote DS210+. In a nutshell, I think the features concerning its core competency - that of protecting and managing data, are robust and done very well.


The downside


One concern that I had while evaluating the DS210+ is the persistent feel that it has been created for more than just businesses in mind. For example, its ability to run as a DLNA media server, iTunes or eMule download support appears to be more targeted at power users in the home. Thankfully, these features can all be disabled by the administrator as necessary.


Regardless, security pundits are likely to point out that it's not necessarily a good idea to cram so many features into a single device. This might well be a moot point, though, given the ability to disable many of these services completely. Also, as part of its "eating its own dog food" approach and in a clear vote of confidence in its hardware, Synology says it uses four of its own RS409+ to host its official website, forum and firmware download site. Other appliances power its public FTP site and surveillance server. You can read more about how various products are being used at Synology here.


Some administrators might also be uncomfortable with the fact that the DS210+ comes with only a single Gigabit LAN port and its HDD bays are not hot swappable. This appears to be a deliberate strategy to segment the product range from the higher-end DS1010+.




Overall, nowhere during my testing did I encounter any hint of instability in the Web management interface, or any kind of errors. More importantly, a look through the Synology support forums shows an active community of users and a company that is receptive to feedback and suggestions for new features, and the operating firmware for the product appears to be actively developed. In conclusion, I would say that the Synology DS210+ gives excellent value for small and branch offices.


According to Synology, the current list price of the DS210+ is $399.99 and is available to end users from major online retailers such as Newegg and Amazon, as well as via VARS and system integrator channels. Versions of the DS210+ with preinstalled HDDs are also available.

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