It's easy to write off on-premises IT deployments in a heavily BYOD and cloud-centric world as nothing more than dated technology on its last legs. Indeed, it's entirely possible to set up a new business using only cloud services, as the reliability and affordability of cloud services mean that few organizations bother to use their own hardware for services such as email and website hosting these days.
The picture gets a bit more muddled when it comes to storage, however. Internet speeds have increased over the years, but it still takes far too long to transfer large volumes of data through the Internet. Businesses that have to work with large files have no option but to continuing deploying network attached storage (NAS) appliances on the local area network for maximum productivity.
It's with this in mind that CIO.com takes a closer look at the Synology RS3614RPxs, a new 2U storage appliance with 12 drive bays that supports both 3.5-inch and 2.5-inch SATA hard disk drives (HDDs). Specifically, we want to explore how this modern NAS can be set up to offer core storage and private cloud capabilities for your small business.
Getting to Know Synology DiskStation Manager
Before moving on, it's important to understand the role of the Synology DiskStation Manager (DSM), which is the operating software that powers all Synology storage appliances -- from the smallest 2-bay NAS to the 12-bay RS3614RPxs. The open source DSM uses a Web-based front end to access and configure the long list of sophisticated storage features that it supports.
Synology regularly updates the DSM platform and periodically releases new versions when there are major updates. The most recent version, DSM 5.0, came out in March. It touts a revamped user interface with support for ultra-high definition displays, a new QuickConnect service (more on that later) better storage performance and an improved administrative interface. According to Synology, all DiskStation and RackStation NAS appliances released in 2010 and later work with DSM 5.0.
DSM updates have been free to date, and can be initiated directly from the Web interface. You will need to purchase additional licenses if you intend to connect more than two IP cameras to a Synology NAS.
Setting Up the Synology NAS Appliance
First, here's a quick roundup of the key hardware specifications of the Synology RS3614RPxs:
Processor: Intel Core i3 (Dual Core 3.4GHz)
Memory: 4 GB DDR3 ECC (installed as two 2GB drives, with four slots total)
Storage: 12 bays (can increase to 36 bays via expansion units)
Network: 4 Gigabit with link aggregation support (with the option to add two dual-port 10GbE add-on cards)
Our review unit in this case came with DSM 5.0 preinstalled and preconfigured on the supplied HDDs. This let us access it from a Web browser by typing find.synology.com into the URL bar. Users who purchase HDDs elsewhere can install DSM by running the Synology Assistant app on a desktop to scan for a new NAS appliance on the local network and relying on the wizard to automate the installation process and configure parameters such as the admin user and IP addresses.
Of course, HDDs have to be mounted with the use of screws onto the removable drive bays before being inserted into the storage appliance. Both 3.5-inch and 2.5-inch HDDs are supported, including SSDs that can be used as a cache to significantly boost reading and writing throughput. (We won't be evaluating this aspect of the NAS.)
After initial installation, you need to configure the NAS for use as a storage destination from the Storage Manager. Like a typical NAS, HDDs can be grouped into different volumes with support for JBOD as well as standard RAID configurations such as RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, RAID 6, RAID 10 (also known as RAID 1+0).
If you don't care about the intricacies of the traditional RAID system, or you want to mix and match HDDs of varying capacities, you may be interested in Synology Hybrid RAID. The versatility this management system offers can reduce the capacity wasted when mixing HDDs and can be configured for one- or two-disk redundancy. You can use the RAID calculator here to compare it to various RAID configurations and to find the right mix of disk drives and disk capacity for maximum storage capability.
On the flip side, you should know that using fewer standard implementations may mean having fewer data recovery options in the event of a disastrous system failure -- though RAID is really about availability, not backup.
Connecting Synology NAS to Servers, Workstations
When it comes to expanding the capacity of an on-premises server, Synology recommends setting up its NAS as an iSCSI target and connecting via iSCSI from the server for the best performance. This works best for servers, but workstations and desktop PCs where performance is paramount will benefit, too --you just need to set it up manually for each computer.
Once an iSCSI connection is established, the storage volume can be initialized and managed from Disk Manager on Windows, where it appears as a locally attached storage volume that can be formatted with the file system of your choice. (To be clear, iSCSI works best for wired devices with at least Gigabit Ethernet speed.)
Obviously, DSM also supports the usual file services to work with Windows, Mac and Linux devices. You can create users directly on the DSM or synchronize them with an existing directory service such as Active Directory and a LDAP server. You can also create groups to manage access rights to storage volumes and active services.
The Synology Package Center and Cloud Support
When Synology created DSM, the company left the hooks in place for external packages that can be installed to bolster its functionality. Packages can be downloaded and enabled on demand via the Package Center, which can be accessed by clicking on Package Center from the Main Menu icon located on the top left corner of the DSM desktop.
Packages include business-centric CRM systems as well as WordPress, Joomla and Drupal. Synology has built a number of packages as well, providing capabilities that users can install as needed, thus leaving the main UI uncluttered by frivolous services.
Another important aspect of the DSM is its capability to integrate with the cloud once the requisite Synology packages are installed. Here are the key cloud capabilities and the packages that deliver them.
Cloud Station allows the NAS to function as a private cloud service to support synchronization between PCs and mobile devices.
Install Cloud Station Client on a second NAS that you want to sync with a primary NAS that's already running Cloud Station.
Cloud Sync lets you sync with public cloud services such as Google Drive, Dropbox and Baidu Cloud.
Glacier Backup backs up your data to the Amazon Glacier service. This can be used to create offsite backups to avoid data loss in the event of a disaster. (Separate Amazon Glacier charges apply.)
High Availability allows two Synology NAS devices to establish a high-availability cluster. One appliance is pegged as the "active" device, and data is continuously replicated to the "passive" device, which takes over upon the failure of the first NAS.
Other Interesting Synology NAS Features
Introduced in DSM 5.0, QuickConnect serves as a dynamic domain name system designed to work just with the DSM. Users must register for a free account at myds.synology.com and enable it from the QuickConnect applet found in the Control Panel of their NAS hardware. This lets you facilitate remote access to the NAS device over the Internet -- just type the URL http://QuickConnect.to/ followed by the chosen QuickConnect name. (Information from the Synology's official blog shows that just two relay sites serve all users, so don't rely on this for mission-critical access.)
Finally, Synology has developed mobile apps for the Android, iOS and Windows Phone platforms; many use QuickConnect to quickly access a Synology NAS device. These aren't necessarily useful for businesses, but they do reflect a commitment to developing a seamless user experience.