Sunday, 26 August 2018 18:11

Synology DS918+ NAS not just storage, but a home server too

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Privately owned network attached storage — or NAS — vendor, Synology, has released its latest DiskStation NAS, the DS 918+, and it’s a truly impressive piece of kit, richly augmented by add-on packages.

The DS918+ fits into Synology’s desktop DiskStation range, as compared to its RackStation rack-mounted NAS units. There’s also a FlashStation for all-flash storage, but speed aside, 3.5” HDDs are still where it’s at for massive amounts of storage. Couple this four-bay NAS with Seagate’s 12TB drives and that’s 48TB of disk in one easy-to-use NAS. (Note the bays also support 2.5” drives.)

Synology’s “Plus” models include extra features, and in the case of the DS918+, its additional space for two M.2 NVMe solid-state drives, as well as an eSATA port and two USB 3.0 ports for even more, external, storage, or for a USB Wi-Fi adapter. The unit provides two fully-configurable Gigabit Ethernet ports and two 120mm fans to keep everything well-cooled. It’s powered by a quad-core 1.5GHz Celeron J3455 with 4GB of DDR3L-1866 RAM, expandable to 8GB with the RAM slots easily reached behind the drive bays. LED indicators give some basic information on disk activity and overall health. The operating system is Synology’s own Linux-based DiskStation Manager, known as DSM.

Setting the machine up is dead simple. Insert some drives - with no screws needed; pull out the bay, clip the drive in, and slide the bay back in – and power it up. You connect via a Web browser, trying either https://diskstation:5000 or https://find.synology.com to locate the device the first time around. After you give it a name of your own choosing you can connect via HTTP to that device name, on port 5000.

The first-run wizard will lead you through specifying network details, administrator details, a server name, and importantly how you want to configure the drives. If you have a specific idea in mind from no RAID through to RAID 10, the DS918+ has you covered. Alternatively, you can let it do the thinking for you, in which case the DiskStation will create a Synology Hybrid RAID, or SHR, volume across all your disks, optimising performance and space. It’s a good, safe default choice. You will also be asked to choose between the Btrfs and ext4 filesystem, with Btrfs the default choice giving support for advanced features like snapshots and replication and data integrity protection.

SynologyDS918DiskSetup1

Once this process is complete, you can give your users access in a wide variety of ways, from shared network folders to an FTP server, to connecting in with various cloud services like Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive, Amazon S3 and more. Everything is set up through the DSM environment within your web browser.

There’s not much more you can ask from a NAS, and the Synology DS918+ offers a rich suite of disk management and network connectivity options.

However, this is only the starting point for the DS918+. Within DSM you can install add-on packages, and it is these that transform the DS918+ from a regular old NAS to what is really a home or small-business server, albeit with barely any effort and maintenance required.

For example, one package is the Plex media server, while another is WordPress. There’s no mucking around with downloading software, assigning folder permissions, creating separate user accounts, configuring databases, or anything else – you literally just install the package and everything is done for you. Within one click you have a Plex server on your network. Or, you have a complete WordPress blog environment.

SynologyDS918Plex

Configure your packages to auto-update and you never have to think about them again. Other packages include business applications, software development tools, video surveillance and even a virtual machine environment. Besides Plex, other multimedia packages exist to make your NAS the home entertainment hub which is ably enhanced by the Celeron J3455’s support for H.265/H.264 4K transcoding and hardware encryption.

SynologyDS918Packages2

In testing, the DS918+ delivered solid disk transfer rates whether formatted as Btrfs or ext4, and whether encryption was enabled or not, undoubtedly the AES-NI hardware support eliminating a great deal of what would otherwise be software overhead.

It is these packages which make the DS918+ a really super machine for not simply storing lots of data, but serving media and applications. Hosting a Wordpress site of your own, for example, would ordinarily mean you have to install MySQL and PHP, unzip WordPress, set folder permissions and more, then vigilantly install updates as they come available to ensure vulnerabilities are patched. Certainly, you would ordinarily use a more traditional computer to install software at all. Having a NAS which truly gives you the power of a fully-featured Linux machine is at the same time radical and a boon, and it makes the DS918+ far more than simply the storage device in a corner you never think about until it runs out of space or a disk fails. It’s what the short-lived Windows Home Server could have been.

SynologyDS918Packages

The Synology DS918+ is a NAS at heart, and it performs this admirably with a wide range of disk set-up, expansion, file sharing and connectivity options.

However, it’s also a Plex server, a personal video recording (PVR) server, a multimedia server, a surveillance server, a blog server, a development server, and anything else you could imagine. While there is no direct video output, you can remote into the device, and you can administer it through a web browser. Through the vast set of add-on packages you can make this device be whatever you want it to be, yet without any of the effort or upkeep typically required for server applications.

It retails for around $799 without any disks.

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David M Williams

David has been computing since 1984 where he instantly gravitated to the family Commodore 64. He completed a Bachelor of Computer Science degree from 1990 to 1992, commencing full-time employment as a systems analyst at the end of that year. David subsequently worked as a UNIX Systems Manager, Asia-Pacific technical specialist for an international software company, Business Analyst, IT Manager, and other roles. David has been the Chief Information Officer for national public companies since 2007, delivering IT knowledge and business acumen, seeking to transform the industries within which he works. David is also involved in the user group community, the Australian Computer Society technical advisory boards, and education.

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