With low prices and greater demand for “internet connected” devices such as smart TVs, gaming consoles, smart phones, tablets and of course computers, home networks are fast becoming more complex than what you may encounter on a small business network. On a business network, the cornerstone to the network is the file server, a system where all network connected computers can access common files and programs. Often, these can be complex beasts to setup and configure and for the most part, a traditional file server is generally considered overkill for a home network. So, for the home network that craves a centre point to store files such as documents, photos, music and movies and access them from a multitude of devices we turn to a low cost, low complexity solution offered by a NAS.
A NAS (network attached storage) isn’t necessarily just for home networks. NAS’ can be found in many different configurations offering simple things such as file sharing capabilities on a simple network all the way up to services designed for high end production server environments. In this article we are going to explore one of the brands that iBrothers endorses wholeheartedly for small businesses and home users, the entry-level offerings by a company called Synology.
A good NAS essentially should do two things well and that is to safely store your data in a central location and to offer multiple computers and other network ready systems access to it. Some NAS’ will go further offering additional services such as Bittorrent clients (software which enables you to download files off the internet, email services (the NAS will act as an email server) and security (the NAS will connect to network capable security cameras). The entry level Synology NAS’ offer all of this and more for a fraction of what you may expect.
Think of a NAS as a small, low powered device which houses one or more hard drives and shares its contents over a network. NAS’ that use only a single Hard Drive are the cheapest and often have similar, if not all of the bells and whistles that the multiple Hard Drive versions have with the exception that if that one drive fails, you will lose all of your data (or at least spend a lot of money trying to recover it). The two drive models offer the options of redundancy (lose one drive and the other one still has your data). The four bay models go even further.
Synology DS110J houses only one hard drive.
Synology DS212J houses up to two hard drives.
Synology DS411J houses up to four Hard Drives.
The Hard Drives that these units can take are 3.5” SATA drives which are commonly found in any modern PC.
Configuration of the NAS is done through any web browser, which means no need for a monitor, keyboard and mouse. From here you can setup user accounts, setup your shared folders, manage Hard Drives and the various services your NAS provides.
The Synology Diskstation offers users access to files from both Windows and Apple computers. After you have added users to the NAS, create your folder to share and then assign the users you want to be able to access the share. You can enable users just to view files or to add/ change and delete files too which is great when you may have either guests looking at files you wouldn’t want them to alter or kids who may accidently delete a file.
Connecting to Game Consoles, Network media players and Smart TVs
The Synology Diskstation can act as a DLNA/UPnP Media Server which enables easy sharing of music, photos and video to devices such as XBOX 360, Playstation3, media players such as the Boxee Box by d-link as well as newer “internet” connected TVs from Samsung, LG and Sony.
You can also configure the Synology Diskstation to act as an iTunes server to stream music to any iTunes enabled computer or device.
Compatible with Apple’s Time Machine, backing up your MAC to the Synology Diskstation is very simple. For Windows users, Synology provide their own “Data Replicator 3” program.
Backing up the NAS
While having your data stored centrally, even on the DS212j which offers some peace of mind in the event of one drive dying, your data is still susceptible to fire, theft or even having two drives die at the same time. Luckily the Synology Diskstation comes with USB connectivity for connecting a USB external Hard Drive for the purposes of either expanded storage or to facilitate backups.
For those with a cloud storage account with Amazon’s S3 service, the NAS can automatically back itself up there too.
Got an older USB printer that you would like to share on your network? Use one of the USB ports on your Synology NAS and your wish is easily granted.
Accessing the NAS via mobile devices
Synology have provided apps to enable iPhone users the ability to access and upload files to their NAS’. Features are also available for Android and Windows Mobile users although it’s worth checking Synology’s site to determine what kind of access you can get.
I’ve got my eye on you
One of the more exciting aspects of the Synology range is Surveillance Station, which turns your NAS into a camera monitoring solution.
Surveillance Station can be configured to work with a multitude of different IP cameras (cameras which connect to your network via network cable or wirelessly) and record events when the camera detects motion. From expensive Cisco cameras all the way down to cheap cameras sourced from dodgy Hong Kong online retailers, we have been impressed with the level of compatibility we have seen.
The NAS’ usually come with a single license (connecting to one camera) and additional licenses can be purchased. Be aware that if you intend to use more than a few cameras, it is worth looking at the higher end NAS’ offered by Synology as there is a limit to how many a particular NAS can handle.
Synology offer a multitude of additional features with the ability to add third party services. Popular with some is Download Station, which is an integrated Bittorrent client, providing the ability to download files from the internet. For those looking to do more with their NAS Synology offer the ability to turn your NAS into an Email server or FTP server.
For Small Businesses and Home networks, a NAS is almost an essential component for keeping things organised and backed up. There are many brands on the market providing NAS solutions however, their hardware, user interfaces and software offer varying degrees of ease and capability. iBrothers have seen some of the worst examples (looking at you Netgear) and some of the best and can honestly say that Synology have to be one of the best currently on offer.