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Synology Disk Station DS212j review
Posted on 21-Jun-2012 13:51 by M Freitas | Tags Filed under: Reviews

Big data is not only something large enterprise have to deal with. Taken into proportion, the amount of digital content being created and downloaded is, in a certain sense, "big data" for home users and small businesses.

With a couple of smartphones. a laptop, two desktops and a media center PC our home moves a lot of data around. Computer backups, HDTV recordings, digital photos coming out of our cameras and smartphones, digital videos out of small hand cameras, format shifted music CDs, movies downloaded from iTunes, the list goes on and on.

All this needs to be stored, and for some time we were happy running a Windows Home Server. On the downside it was a noisy, power hungry mid-tower PC. On the upside we had 4 TB storage (effectively 2 TB due to duplication to ensure no loss of data in case of a drive failure). But it was not an easy thing to manage and to expand.

Enter today's Network-Attached Storage (NAS) devices, of which Synology is one of the most well-known manufacturers. I have got here a Synology Disk Station DS212j (two bay), a headless (no monitor or keyboard) extremely small storage device (when compared to my mid-tower PC), silent and actually good looking...

The Disk Station DS212j is actually running Synology's own version of a Linux system called DiskStation Manager (DSM), which is entirely managed through a web browser-based interface (although you can also access the box via Telnet or SSH if you are so inclined). A single click on an icon will open the corresponding window inside the browser, with "Control Panel" being where most of the functionality is (except Storage Management which should be there but is accessible through the "Start" button on the top left).

The unit can be managed inside your LAN, or if you forward the appropriate ports on your router, it can be accessed from the Internet for all management tasks, as well as file upload and download. You can even find smartphone apps for most platforms (Apple iOS, Android, Microsoft Windows Phone) that allow you access to those tasks. If you access the web-based management page from a smartphone you will get a mobile-optimized web site instead of the standard pages.

If you do make it available to the Internet there's a pre-installed firewall and an Auto Block feature that allows you to lockout IP addresses after a certain number of failed attempts to login to the web management tool.

This unit is a two bay model, meaning you can have up to two internal HDD - in my case I have a 3TB and 2TB drives. I decided to run this as a Synology Hybrid RAID. With SHR you don't need to know the difference between various RAID types - it will automatically manage volumes in a way to offer the best redundancy with least waste of disk space - important if you have drives of different sizes. This is actually a cool solution, but a lot more useful on a three bay or larger unit. On a two bay unit you will be limited to the amount of space available in the smallest drive for storage.

Even knowing that, I decided to use SHR to create a redundant volume that will guarantee that if one of the two drives suffer a failure I still have my data available. A bit of space wasted, but no fear of losing things due to HDD failures.

Note "redudancy" is not a backup and guarantees against physical failure. If I accidentally delete a file or folder, redundancy won't save my skin. For that I used one of the two USB ports in the back of the unit and plugged an external 1TB drive to be used for scheduled backups, managed through the built-in backup application. If I didn't already have a backup with Crashplan I could easily use a second Synology NAS device to store backups, or use an online service to create backups off-site.

Obviously you can just go for a JBOD configuration and get as much storage space you can get from your HDDs, without redundancy. Your call...

On this note, I have enabled the DS212j as a Time Machine destination, and set the iMac of the house to perform backups to the NAS.

The DSM platform allows a lot of flexibility in terms of new features, through packages you can install - limited only by the amount of memory on this device, 256 MB, which doesn't sound like much, but still allows plenty of space to grow - remember this is the entry level NAS with a 1.2GHz processor.

You can install many of the packages available directly from the Synology repository, or add your own repository with packages supplied by third-parties. Examples of packages available include iTunes Server, VPN Server, Audio Station (for browser-based music streaming), Cloud Station (your own private file syncing solution), Download Station (a fully featured torrent client), and for businesses it even includes Syslog Server, Directory Server and a Mail Station (a webmail client for the built-in email server).

You can easily create PHP and MySQL dynamic websites (those packages come pre-installed), give users their own web address, or even install a custom WordPress package to run your own blog.

I am using one of the two USB ports for an external drive, and plugged my UPS USB interface to the second port, which allows me to set the DS212j actions in case of power failure, and even enable it as an UPS notification server for other devices.

Other power features include a very low power consumption (17 watts in operation), and option to sleep after sometime of inactivity. Resume time will depend on your HDD models, but for me it was around three seconds when accessed from my desktop.

In terms of performance, the DS212j comes with one gigabit ethernet port, and transfer seems snappy indeed - some large files copy reached 40 MB/s or about 320 Mbps, over our LAN with a couple of switches between the DS212j and my desktop, and other devices using the network at the same time.

I have also created an iSCSI LUN allowing me to configure parts of the volume as a local drive on my PC - completely transparent to local applications, and easier to manage than mapped drives.

User and group management is very easy, with the ability to assign access right on a shared folder basis to individual users or groups, including the option to enable individual users web space for their own personal web sites.

- Small unit
- Power savings
- Easy management
- More features than you can list

- SHR should really give me the option to use the unused space on a drive, even in a non-redundant volume, to store those files we really don't need to worry about in case of failure.

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