Our New Home Server Isn’t a Server – The Synology 1813+ NAS Review
Like most of you, our storage requirements have been growing over the years. Our first Jukebox server was built in 2005, mainly to store music files. Then in 2009 Jukebox MkII was born and with it a reduction in power consumption along with a major leap in performance and capacity to cope with high definition video and a RAW photo archive.
So it seems to be a four-and-a-half-year itch as after the same period has elapsed the time has come once more to move to a new storage solution in the Automated Home.
Why a NAS?
We decided a while back our next server wouldn’t be a server, it would be a big hairy NAS. After many weeks of research we ordered up a Synology DiskStation 1813+.
Our pimped out Mac mini runs 24/7 and has lots of spare overhead despite being our main Plex client feeding the AV system, our Plex Server and Indigo Home Automation Controller. So we don’t need another computer running as our server. The Synology sports a Dual Core Intel Atom D2700 CPU meaning it can take on the role of Plex server with an approved package but our i7 mini is unbeatable in that role already, super fast at transcoding videos for streaming or syncing to our mobile devices.
Moving to the 1813+ means reducing our running costs again. Synology quote a power consumption of 75.19W during disk access falling to 34.12W during Hibernation. Their tests were carried out with the unit filled with 8 x Western Digital 3TB drives (WD30EZRS). Even taking the top figure of 75 Watts, that’s a reduction of over 20% on the old servers 95 Watts which equates to a saving of around £25 per year.
The 1813+ is dwarfed beside our old Windows Home Server 4U case. The unit is about as small as you’d imagine you could possibly fit a motherboard, backplane, PSU, I/O and space for all those hard drives (157 mm X 340 mm X 233 mm ~5 kgs empty).
The 8 vertical hot swap bays support 3.5″ and 2.5″ SATA II / III disks including SSDs (the DiskStation 1515+ is available with the same hardware but with 5 bays instead of 8 for around £130 less). You can fit solid state drives to act as a cache to speed up the system too. Each bay has a status light above it and a locking mechanism to protect your full bays from being accidentally ejected. The power button is mounted along the top centre with the 4 LAN activity lights to the right of it and the Status and Alert lights to the left.
Round the back is the standard IEC power socket (the PSU is built-in so no power brick cluttering the floor). The two fans that take up most of the rear real estate are large enough to allow for a slow speed for less noise (120mm x 120mm). If one fan fails the other speeds up to compensate and they are easily removed for cleaning and replacement. The CPU employs passive cooling (a heat-sink) to help maintain the overall low noise levels too. So far the 1813+ has been quiet (and small) enough to remain in the study, rather than make its way out to a shelf in the rack in Node 0. While we’re on that subject there’s no official rack mount kit for the unit, although you can order a custom 19″ Rack shelf and front panel for it (details here).
The unit ships with 2GB of RAM and we ordered this Synology 2GB DDR3 RAM Upgrade Module and fitted it in the remaining empty slot for the recommended 4GB maximum (we’ve read of users fitting up to 8GB but this seems to result in run away CPU processes and long boot times). Note there’s no mention of the 1813+ anywhere on this module but it is the correct one – click the picture below for bigger version.
There are 4 x USB 2.0 sockets and 2 x USB 3.0 on the rear of the DiskStation and these can be used to connect a bluetooth dongle for example to stream music or a Wi-Fi dongle to create a hotspot or a 3G/4G dongle for cellular access.
The unit even supports some USB TV Tuner adaptors that can record to the units hard drive and stream the video around your LAN. But the most common use for the USB’s will be to attach drives for file transfer or backups and the system supports external drives using EXT4, EXT3, FAT, NTFS and HFS+ filesystems.
There are 4 x Gigabit Ethernet ports and these can be employed in a variety of ways. The unit supports link aggregation (if your switch is on the supported list and features 802.3ad). With it enabled the 4 LAN ports merge into one super-fast link with a quoted average read speed of 352.39 MB/sec and an average write 211.88 MB/sec (tested in RAID 5 configuration with Windows). We’ll definitely be enabling this in the future when we upgrade our switch. For now the speed is around 105MB/sec and we can stream multiple HD videos simultaneously.
Finally on the rear are 2 x eSATA ports. On its own the Synology’s 8 bays bring a potential 32TB of unformatted capacity, but those eSATA ports allow some serious expansion and can keep your DiskStation growing with your needs for years to come. The ports can be used with regular eSATA drives or with Synology’s own DX513 expansion bays. You can attach 2 of these enclosures, each one holding a further 5 drives. That’s a potential of 8+5+5=18 drives giving 72TB total with todays 4TB drives, ignoring the inevitability of bigger drives in the future too.
The Synology Wiki has information on 3rd party bays and towers that have been tested with the system also. The recommendation for external bays seems to be to create new volumes, rather than expand existing ones as a disconnected eSATA cable could lead to a potentially disastrous loss of the entire system.
Setting It All Up
The DiskStation uses the EXT4 filesystem and supports RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, RAID 6, RAID 10, JBOD, and SHR. With RAID 5 your data is protected from a single drive failure. It requires 3 or more disks all the same size, or if you mix drives you’ll get a multiple of the smallest drive only – (number of hard disks – 1) x (smallest hard disk size). RAID 6 has the extra redundancy to allow for 2 drives failing and is calculated as (number of hard disks – 2) x (smallest hard disk size).
SHR (Synology Hybrid RAID) is a Drobo-esque alternative that allows you to mix and match drives of different sizes and minimise wasted space whilst retaining the redundant protection of RAID and the advantages of a large single volume. You can choose an SHR setup with either single or dual drive failure protection.
You can also have a mixture of RAID types across your NAS. For example you might have 3 physical disks merged into a single RAID 5 volume with maybe 2 more disks grouped together to form a second volume in RAID 0. You can also have a global ‘hot spare’ drive with some RAID setups, in a spare slot ready to take over if a disk fails in any of your volumes.
While you can start off with a single (unprotected) hard drive and expand from there, there are some things you need to know. Only certain RAID types are expandable. With SHR, storage can be expanded either by adding more drives in empty bays, or by replacing drives for bigger ones. With the caveat that a new drive must be as big or bigger than the largest drive in your array. As Synology puts it…
If a volume consists of three hard disks that are 4 TB, 3 TB, and 2 TB respectively, then your new, replacement hard disks should be at least 4 TB
When you add a new disk to your array it may take many hours for the system to do its thing. During this time the units performance is reduced and it may slow by as much as two thirds its normal speed during some operations.
Unlike with Drobo where bare drives are slotted straight into the NAS, Synology requires that drives be put into its (plastic) trays first. However it is a tool-less operation using little snap in rails that insert pins where the screws normally go. The trays also mean you can use 2.5″ drives / SSDs (with supplied screws) in the Synology, unlike our Drobo FS. Between the two most popular choices, RAID5 and SHR, it generally it seems RAID 5 will give slightly better performance. However the extra capacity of the mixed drive setup in SHR meant we chose it for our system merging all 8 drives into a single volume.
Luckily all the drives we had in the WHS box were on the Drive Compatibility List for the Synology. We chose 6 of the largest ones and added a couple of new WD 4TB RED drives. Designed specifically for use in a NAS, the RED’s aren’t much more that the Greens we used in the WHS box and have the added advantage of even lower power consumption and a 3 year warranty rather than 2. We’ve read that more than 5 Western Digital RED NAS drives in a single enclosure is a bad idea, something to do with vibration sensors? However plenty of vendors offer the 1813+ pre-populated with 8 of the drives. For now ours is configured with the following mix…
Have a play with the Synology RAID calculator here
We started to copy the data off the WHS box about a week before the NAS arrived. This took several days and employed every spare bare drive we could stick in our USB 3.0 Dock plus all the external USB drives and local disks around our home network.
Once connected between the mains and the Synology NAS we plugged the interface cable into one of the USB 2 ports on the NAS. It was picked up instantly by the system, the model recognised and showed an estimated 36 minutes of runtime. It will shut the NAS down automatically before the battery runs out.
Whilst we’ve moved from a ‘proper computer’ to a NAS, this is far from a dumb box. One of the things that sets the Synology apart from the competition is its Disk Station Manager. DSM is a desktop-like user interface to the system that runs in a browser window and provides a class-leading user experience. Windows, Mac and Linux users will all be familiar with the UI which makes managing the NAS a trivial task.
Another great plus point is its Synology’s Apps store called ‘Package Center‘, which includes one click installs of many useful add-ons like an Anti-Virus Scanner, Plex , Mail, Print, DHCP, DNS, VPN and iTunes / Audio / Video / Media Servers too. You can access your DiskStation remotely, even if you have a dynamic IP (IPv6 supported), without any port forwarding using Synology’s ‘QuickConnect’ service. The system provides you with a unique reference number and you can customise your ID to something like “BobsNAS” to make it easier to remember.
The ‘Cloud Station’ package is another useful add-on that creates your own DropBox-like private cloud for syncing files and folders to your computers and devices. You’ll need to forward port 6690 for this one (here’s a useful list of all the ports used by the Synology). There’s also a uPnP setup to help get through your firewall / router although we chose to forward ports manually instead.
Surveillance Station is an excellent CCTV Server addon that supports many different IP camera models. With a few clicks you can add your camera’s url, username / password and have your NAS record based on movement etc. The downside is the system ships with just one included license for a single camera and every camera after that (to a maximum of 20) requires an additional license costing around £50.
Another great feature is the ability to setup a recycle bin for each share and restrict its access to the administrator. This was an issue with the old Windows Home Server where files accidental deleted were gone for good.
There are so many other features we’ve not even got into here and there are more TLA’s than you can shake a stick at – FTP, SMB / CIFS, AFP, NFS.
In the enterprise world the 1813+ supports LDAP, iSCSI LUNs, VMware, Citrix, Microsoft Hyper-V and can provide an alternative to a SAN. It can also be used as a High Availability Cluster with a pair of units working together in failover mode.
There’s a range of free mobile apps for iOS iPhone / iPad, Android and Windows Phone including mobile versions of DS Cloud,DS Download, DS File and DS Cam. Used along with the previously mentioned quick connect service you can monitor and manage your DiskStation remotely from your phone.
On top of all this a major update to DSM is waiting in the wings and is currently in open beta. v5.0 will bring a raft of further enhancements including a touch-friendly UI (administer your NAS from your iPad anyone?), 4K ready desktop and support for streaming audio and video to Google’s Chromecast.
Backup There A Minute
It’s been said before, but it’s worth reiterating, a NAS is not a backup. While we (unfortunately) don’t have a second 1813+ to use, we are taking nightly backups to our old Drobo. It has enough capacity to hold all our important stuff and media can be re-ripped if there’s ever a total loss of data. If the worst does come to the worst and your DiskStation fails you’ll need to attach all the drives from your array to a PC and follow these instructions to retrieve your data. Mac users can create a Time Machine account complete with a quota to stop the Apple backup system taking over the entire volume. We do some extra off-site backups too.
This new setup has given us the capacity to store disk images of all our machines as well as providing off site backups for a few family members too. We’re doing this manually for now, however with a bit of Telnet / SSH command line it looks like you can install a headless version of CrashPlan too.
The more appliance like nature of the Synology means less time messing around maintaining an OS and more time enjoying our media. This section of the Home Server Show sums up our situation well as one of the hosts makes exactly the same move from WHS to the Synology…
We talked to Synology’s UK PR about reviewing this unit before we bought one and they told us the 1813+ is “not aimed at home users”. While it’s certainly a high-end NAS we reckon there are plenty of prosumer’s out there that would be very interested in having one in their home.
The Synology falls into that category of special products that we love to use. It’s one of those quality pieces of tech that you never regret investing in.
The superb combination of its build quality, performance, flexibility, ease of use and expandability means the 1813+ gains the coveted Automated Home ‘Top Tech’ award. Only the fifth device in our 18 years on the web to do so. Enough said.