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Published on March 28th, 2012 | by Greg


Synology DS212: Simplest, Fastest RAID NAS Yet

If the head­line was con­fus­ing, don’t wor­ry. By the end of this ar­ti­cle, we promise that the acronyms will make sense, and you’ll have learned per­haps more about da­ta stor­age than you ev­er want­ed to. First, a brief in­tro­duc­tion: your com­put­er us­es a hard drive to store ev­ery­thing- pic­tures, mu­sic, movies- and hard drives all even­tu­al­ly die. That’s why we (and ev­ery­one else) en­cour­age reg­u­lar da­ta back­up pro­ce­dures. Of course, you can do this with a portable hard drive- we’ve seen and test­ed a lot of them- but it’s of­ten eas­i­est to have a cen­tral serv­er of sorts, called a NAS. NAS stands for net­work at­tached stor­age, and is ba­si­cal­ly a fan­cy name for a more so­phis­ti­cat­ed ex­ter­nal hard drive that you con­nect through your router in­stead of di­rect­ly via USB or Firewire. The ad­van­tages are many. It’s ba­si­cal­ly a small com­put­er, with ca­pa­bil­i­ties like mul­ti­me­dia serv­ing and back­ground down­load­ing, that you can leave run­ning 24 hours a day and not wor­ry much about pow­er con­sump­tion or noise. And mul­ti­ple peo­ple can use it at the same time.

We’ve al­so seen our fair share of sim­i­lar de­vices. QNAP makes some sol­id mod­els that we’ve re­viewed in the past, and Drobo of­fers a so­phis­ti­cat­ed (and ex­pen­sive) se­ries that is the on­ly type that al­lows for the use of dif­fer­ent drive sizes. Most peo­ple, though, want a good out-of-the-box ex­pe­ri­ence, a back­up and stor­age sys­tem that is im­me­di­ate­ly ready to go- and that is pre­cise­ly what Syn­ol­o­gy of­fers with their DS212. Aimed at small busi­ness users, it’s al­so great for more so­phis­ti­cat­ed home users. Tech­ni­cal de­tails fol­low, but don’t wor­ry if they don’t make sense.

The mod­el we tried of­fers 256MB of RAM and a 1.6GHz pro­ces­sor, enough for our pur­pos­es. But you can save some mon­ey with the 212j or spend a bit more on the 212+, which tweak the RAM and pro­ces­sor speed as well as the ad­di­tion­al ports. The in­ter­face and func­tion­al­i­ty, though, are con­sis­tent and in ev­ery case you’re get­ting a two-bay sys­tem with gi­ga­bit eth­er­net and a max­i­mum ca­pac­i­ty of 8GB (two 4TB drives). Ours was out­fit­ted with 2TB in to­tal, with two 1GB drives pre-in­stalled and set­up in a de­fault RAID 1 con­fig­u­ra­tion. And the 212 of­fers two USB 3.0 ports on the rear, a USB 2.0 front port, and even a handy SD card slot which is per­fect for pho­tog­ra­phers.

What does this all mean? Well, think of it this way: most back­up sys­tems of­fer a fea­ture called RAID, which is re­dun­dan­cy that pro­tects against a drive fail­ure or prob­lem. You can set this up on your home sys­tem as well, though it does take some work and doesn’t play well with all drives, op­er­at­ing sys­tems, and se­tups. It’s eas­i­er, though, when you’re just try­ing to keep da­ta pro­tect­ed. Es­sen­tial­ly, ev­ery file you copy is au­to­mat­i­cal­ly mir­rored across both drives. This comes at a price- you on­ly can ac­cess half of your ac­tu­al ca­pac­i­ty, since half of the space is re­served. But drives are cheap now, and it’s al­most al­ways bet­ter to pay a bit more and nev­er have to wor­ry about da­ta loss. Ex­cept in the case of fire or flood dam­age to the unit it­self (or theft of course), the chances of both drives fail­ing at the same time are in­cred­i­bly small.

All of this cov­ers the ba­sics of RAID sys­tems, but the ad­van­tages of a NAS might not be clear yet. Let’s say that you have an iTunes li­brary that you want to share, and you like to use Bit­Tor­rent to down­load files. Even more, you wish you could ac­cess those files when you’re away, on the road or at the of­fice. You could set­up a desk­top serv­er to han­dle this- but most desk­tops are big, fair­ly loud, and con­sume a lot of pow­er- it’s overkill. The al­ter­na­tive is to get a de­vice like the DS212, which al­low easy con­fig­u­ra­tion of var­i­ous apps. The Drobo app sys­tem was hor­ri­bly com­plex for sev­er­al tasks and hasn’t re­al­ly im­proved, and QNAP’s was pret­ty pain­less though a bit dif­fi­cult for novies. Syn­ol­o­gy has clear­ly worked hard on the us­er in­ter­face, and we were im­pressed- it’s func­tion­al, pret­ty, and runs through a brows­er win­dow that looks and feels much like a desk­top. You in­stall a sin­gle pro­gram from the in­clud­ed CD, and though the man­u­al is pal­try (a cou­ple of pages), it should be enough for most peo­ple to get start­ed and con­nect­ed. All you need to do is con­nect pow­er, eth­er­net, and then fol­low the steps from the CD- we were up and go­ing with­in 40 sec­onds on Win7, and had a shared pub­lic fold­er with full guest ac­cess in less than a minute, and a Bit­Tor­rent down­load start­ed about twen­ty sec­onds af­ter that.

Most im­por­tant apps are al­ready in­stalled, though not en­abled- en­abling is as sim­ple as click­ing “en­able” for the most part. DDNS sup­port is hid­den through “EZ­Cloud” but is re­mark­ably sim­ple, al­low­ing you to eas­i­ly ac­cess your new file serv­er from any­where in the world. Cre­at­ing a web­site, even an SQL serv­er, that lives on the NAS is al­so a one-click pro­cess from the main con­trol pan­el. Oth­er ap­pli­ca­tions are a bit hard­er to find- they are found un­der “Pack­age Cen­ter”- and in­clude ba­sics like an iTunes serv­er, surveil­lance sta­tion for use with IP cam­eras, a pho­tog­ra­phy al­bum for easy shar­ing, a DL­NA/uP­NP serv­er for me­dia, and the Down­load Sta­tion. The last one is a cus­tom client to han­dle tor­rent, eMule, and oth­er down­loads, and was one of the clean­er im­ple­men­ta­tions that we’ve tried on a NAS. And not in­stalled by de­fault but easy to do from the “Avail­able” tab are things like a DHCP serv­er, a mail serv­er, and VPN.

This is fast be­com­ing one of our wordier posts, but it feels like we’re just get­ting start­ed. Out of the box, our unit in­di­cat­ed that 911 GB was avail­able. Through the web-based in­ter­face, we browsed the op­tions. And though we weren’t prompt­ed to up­date the soft­ware, we no­ticed that the op­tion was avail­able and im­me­di­ate­ly down­load­ed and up­grad­ed to DSM 4.0, the name for their man­age­ment tool. It took on­ly a cou­ple of min­utes to down­load the up­date, and an­oth­er cou­ple to in­stall it- the pro­cess was seam­less, help­ful, and straight­for­ward. We tried trans­fer­ring some large files, and man­aged to trans­fer 1.3GB in a minute, a fair­ly im­pres­sive rate. In­sert­ing an SD card, we could see the files avail­able on the net­work pub­licly. To back­up all of the ex­ist­ing files on ex­ter­nal stor­age, all you have to do is press the front hard­ware but­ton (it works for drives con­nect­ed to the USB ports as well). The SD slow was a a bit wonky- it felt a bit too flush, and we would’ve pre­ferred the card re­main slight­ly pro­tuding so that it would be ob­vi­ous as well as easy to get out. All in all though, it was pret­ty hard for us to find fault with the Syn­ol­o­gy DS212. Pack­aged well and with pret­ty sol­id hard­ware, we ran it for days straight with­out is­sue. At $300 with­out drives or $600 with the 2TB drives ready to go, it’s a great deal- the best val­ue on a NAS that we’ve seen. Not ev­ery­one needs net­work stor­age, but for those who do, look no fur­ther.

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About the Author

Greg dreamed up the idea for the Truly Network while living in Hawaii, which began with a single site called TrulyObscure. In 2010, when advertisers and readers were requesting coverage beyond the scope of that site, TrulyNet was launched, reaching a broader audience over a variety of niche sites. Formerly the head technology correspondent for the Des Moines Register at age 16, he has since lived and worked in five states and two countries, helping a list of organizations and companies that includes the United States Census Bureau, TripAdvisor, Events Photo Group, Berlitz, and Computer Geeks. He also served as the Content Strategy Manager for HearPlanet, a multi-platform app that has reached over a million users and has been featured in the New York Times, Hemispheres Magazine, National Geographic Adventure, Fox Business News, PC Magazine, and even Apple’s own iPhone ads. Greg has written as a restaurant critic and feature journalist for a number of national and international publications, including City Weekend Magazine, Red Egg Magazine, the Newton Daily News, Capital Change Magazine, and an arm of China Daily, Beijing Weekend. In addition, he has served as a consulting editor for the Foreign Language Press of Beijing, as well as a writer and editor for the George Washington University Hatchet, the school newspaper of his alma mater. Originally from Iowa, Greg is currently living in the West Village of Manhattan.

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