A few months ago I wrote a guide to backing up one’s important digital assets. In that post, I wrote about my thoughts of moving from Apple’s Time Capsule to the Drobo 5n. My friend Daniel commented on the post and spoke about his setup, and that urged me to think about my NAS idea a bit longer. In the end, after doing some more research and finding many negative comments about the Drobo, I decided to go with Synology, specifically the Synology DiskStation DS916+.
Apart from the negative comments on the Drobo, I had also begun to understand the potential of NAS technology in a deeper way. I realized that I would want to do more things with my NAS box than the Drobo would allow. The Drobo is not really powerful enough or doesn’t have a good enough operating system for doing things like media encoding or handling a home surveillance system.
Some readers might also be familiar with the QNAP brand. They are also highly recommended, but most prosumer users tended to prefer Synology. I’ve also read comments saying that the Synology OS is better and more user-friendly. This might be more important to you depending on what you want to do with your NAS. For example Synology have very good functionality for creating a video surveillance system.
Synology also seems to release more frequent updates to their NAS products. Synology are generally regarded as the most popular NAS choice for Mac users.
Here are links to demos of the OSs that come with Synology and QNAP:
Synology is a very good brand for NAS and they have several products. Which one you go for will depend on your needs. They have a handy RAID calculator to calculate which product you need based on which RAID you want to use and the amount of data you want to store on your NAS.
Apart from the DS916+, many people also opt for the DS416. The 416 is very capable but also has a few limitations, you can not go beyond 4 drives on this model, it doesn’t have an intel architecture, so it won’t run all the third party apps. It has 1GB of memory.
There’s also the DS716+II which is worth looking at:
The 916+ can be expanded to add a 5 bay DX module, totaling the number of drives to 9. This might seem trivial, but keep in mind that a NAS lasts years. Memory is 2GB, upgradable to 8GB, the 916+ is a workhorse, and will run a lot of other packages without any problem, today and in the future. The noise on the DS916+ is also reported as being slightly quieter than the DS416. The quietest is the DS716+II, but it comes at the cost of future-proofing. Given the future-proofing factor, I decided to go with the DS916+ with 2GB RAM, also considering the fact that you can achieve the same amount of storage and RAID capabilities at a much lower price with a 4-bay NAS compared to a 2-bay NAS.
As for hard drives, the best recommendation would be to go for Western Digital as Seagate has a less than stellar reputation, especially in terms of reliability and failure rate. WD drives also tend to be more silent, which is a big factor for me.
The next question is what size of drive to buy. It all boils down to how much storage you need and what your RAID requirements are. The next factor to consider is of course price. Here we need to calculate the price per GB of storage.
For the Western Digital Red drives, the price per GB from Amazon here in Spain is:
- 3TB: €112 – 27c per GB
- 4TB: €145 – 28c per GB
- 6TB: €225 – 27c per GB
- 8TB: €305 – 26c per GB
As we can see the price per GB works out almost the same across the range, with the winner being the 6TB drive. Under these conditions, I would suggest that you choose purely on the amount of storage that you need and the RAID setup. For example, having storage needs of around 4TB and RAID1 you would go for two 6TB drives at a cost of €464. That will give you a usable 6TB and good future-proofing. If you want to save some money could also get a usable 6TB storage with RAID1 on a 3 drive setup with 3TB drives for €336. That’s a saving of €128 which is quite significant, and another great reason to go for the 4-bay NAS versus the 2-bay NAS.
In my case, I was undecided between:
- three WD Reds of 4TB capacity, which with an SHR configuration gives 8TB of storage and 4TB of protection.
- two WD Reds of 6TB capacity, with SHR giving 6TB of storage and 6TB of protection.
I ended up getting two 6TB drives given that the price per GB was pretty similar across the whole range. That amount of space should suit me fine, and if I find that I have miscalculated things in a significant way, adding another 6TB drive will give me 12TB of usable space which would fix any issues.
SHR or RAID?
A very important decision you will have to take is whether to use RAID or SHR when setting up your drives in terms of redundancy. This post does an awesome job at explaining the differences and pros and cons. If you prefer watching a video, this is pretty much the same content as in the post:
The File System
With regards to a file system to use on your Synology drives, you have the option to use BTRFS which is a modern file system developed by multiple parties and now supported by select Synology NAS models. Btrfs was designed to address obstacles often encountered in enterprise storage systems, such as fault tolerance, management, and data protection.
I’ve also decided to go with Btrfs since it was specifically designed for the kind of usage that I need.
The Extras: Virtual Private Network (VPN)
One of the advanced options available is to use Synology as a VPN server or a VPN client. We will focus on how running a VPN client on Synology can benefit you. The first advantage of using a VPN client on Synology is that it will make your connection secure, protecting privacy and personal information. The second reason to do this, is that you will be able to run any plugins you want, regardless of geo-locations restrictions.
While running a VPN Client will affect the speed of your connection, it is a sacrifice worth making in the name of privacy. Besides, if you choose the right provider, you would not notice a big difference.
Having a VPN installed on your NAS gives you total privacy from your ISP and other third parties. Basically nobody will know what you’re browsing or downloading when using a VPN. Of course it can also be a great idea to use a VPN when working from public WiFi spots such as cafes and libraries.
Some advantages of using a VPN:
- Your search history, online behaviour, user patterns and location of your downloads and uploads are hidden from your Internet service provider
- Gives you the ability to access completely restricted, blocked or censored content and domains that your employer, school internet service provider and government (in the case of China) stop you from accessing
- Access any website and be seen as living in whatever coutry you like. Geo-Spoofing is the ability to hide your true location and access content that is normally restricted to certain countries (i.e U.S. Netflix, UK iPLayer, Japan Playstation network and more)
- Ensure that your data, logins, behaviour and history are hidden from Free WiFi proviers in Public hotspots like Libraries, Starbucks and Public Transport
- Access peer to peer websites to share content (be legal!) without being blocked and monitored against your choice by your internet service
OpenVPN uses open-source technologies like the OpenSSL encryption library and SSL v3/TLS v1 protocols. It can be configured to run on any port, so you could configure a server to work over TCP port 443. The OpenSSL VPN traffic would then be practically indistinguishable from standard HTTPS traffic that occurs when you connect to a secure website. This makes it difficult to block completely.
It’s very configurable, and will be most secure if it’s set to use AES encryption instead of the weaker Blowfish encryption. OpenVPN has become a popular standard. We’ve seen no serious concerns that anyone (including the NSA) has compromised OpenVPN connections.
So which VPN should you use? Here are some of the ones I recommend, specifically for setup with a Synology NAS:
- IP Vanish
Before you go ahead and purchase a VPN subscription, you should also be aware of the biggest two disadvantages:
- Speed degradation
- Prevents connecting to your NAS from the outside
Since your traffic will be passing through the VPN servers, there will always be a speed degradation. If you’re using a good VPN, the speed will not be noticeably slower, so just stick with the good VPNs and avoid the free or scummy ones. The other disadvantage is of course cost. For the good VPNs expect to pay between €5 to €10 a month.
VPNs installed on a NAS are useful to encrypt transmission from the NAS to the exterior. To be able to connect from the outside to the NS connected to a VPN server one needs at least to know the IP address of the NAS within the VPN network. Unfortunately, each time you connect to a VPN server, the server assigns you a different IP number taken from a pool of IPs.
Whether you use a VPN or not is a personal decision. If you don’t really care about protecting all your browsing and downloading activity from third parties, you can skip VPNs. I would still recommend protecting your privacy when using public WiFi, and for those instances you can use the Opera browser’s free VPN service.
Interesting aside: Websites sometimes show different prices based on your IP address. They might use lower pricing for Asian IPs for example compared to European ones. This is of course due to the fact that the average Asian consumer has a lower purchasing power than the average European one. It’s worth a try using a server in Asia when checking out prices such as airline tickets.
The Extras: Home Surveillance
As I mentioned above, my decision to go for the Synology system was my desire for extras beyond the basic NAS function of backups and storage. One of the most important extras for me is the ability to set up a home surveillance system.
Packing four drivebays and a powerful Intel Pentium N3710 processor, it not only has plenty of horsepower, but also plenty of storage capacity as well for 24/7/365 video recording while still retaining additional functionality such as serving documents, video, music, and more.
Furthermore, I also chose the Synology DiskStation DS916+ specifically for its pre-loded Synology DSM and Surveillance Station capabilities. DSM in combination with Surveillance Station will ensure that the system will be easy to setup and use.
Here’s a video series on setting up home surveillance with the Synology products:
Since the Amcrest cameras were not readily available at my local Amazon site, I ended up buying the Reolink C2 camera which is really good too.
The Extras: Backing Up the Synology DiskStation
Having off-site backups is essential for any backup strategy, so one important piece of the puzzle is backing up the DS916+ itself.
As Daniel had indicated in his comment on my previous post, Synology can automatically sync in both directions to Amazon’s Cloud Drive service. For $60 a year you get 1TB of digital storage on Amazon’s cloud. It costs an extra $60 a year for each terabyte on top of this, with a top limit of 30 terabytes. Note that this was previously unlimited, although many had suspected that Amazon would eventually kill it off as it was too good to be true. Anyone signed up for Amazon Prime will still get unlimited photo storage as part of their membership.
I have not yet decided which route to take yet, but apart from Amazon’s Cloud Drive, these are the options I’m considering:
- Hubic Cloud (10TB for €5/month) – some complain that it is too slow.
- Buying and setting up another NAS at another location, and backing up to it.
I also considered Backblaze B2 but it’s too expensive for the amount of data I have, and it’s more comparable to Amazon S3 rather than their Cloud Drive offering.
That’s basically it, I look forward to having all this setup in place and having some fun with all the things the Synology NAS is capable of. Thanks again to Daniel for taking the time to describe his setup when I first posted about backups. This is exactly why I blog; it gives me the opportunity to formulate my thoughts better, reflect on the topic and get other expert opinions.