So I have a huge file collection. Mostly movies that I stream to my TV. In the old days everything fit on my C: drive. When I ran out of room I added a 2TB data drive. Then it started getting full… If you are like many people you keep much of your file collection on an external USB drive. BAD! External drives are great for backups and Sneaker Net’ting large files but horrible for storage as (at least in my experience) their failure rate is quite high.
I bit the bullet and bought a Synology NAS (Network Attached Storage). This little box is actually a computer or file server that attaches to your home network. The model I chose is the Synology DiskStation 4-Bay (Diskless) Network Attached Storage DS413j. This is Synology’s entry level 4-disk model. This little box can do a ton of different things such as: Web Server, Mail Server, Media Server, Video Surveillance, VPN Server, iTunes Server, Voice Communications Server, and a ton more. You just click and install any of the packages (mostly free) to enable the service. Popular software that is available includes: WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, Asterisk, Magento, Plex, to name a few. You can even install a lot of software that isn’t an official Synology package. Many people have installed my favorite media streaming software PyTivo on the Synology. For the rest of this article I will focus on using this NAS as a file server which is what I am using mine for.
The Synoloy 413j hold up to 4 hard disks up to 4TB is size each. It will take me a while to fill that much space. This NAS utilizes RAID technology. RAID is quite geeky and you can Google it for more. Suffice to say that by using it any one hard drive in your NAS can fail and you won’t loose any data. The cost is that you give up some storage capacity (one of your hard drives worth). Typical RAID setups require you to use all identical disks which can be a pain for repairing or upgrading down the road. Synology offers their own Synology Hybrid RAID (SHR) which is an extension to standard raid which allows you to use different drives (as long as they are on their approved drive list). You can even mix 2.5 and 3.5 inch drives. You can easily upgrade to larger drives down road as you need the space and drive prices come down. I started with 2 Western Digital Red 3TB Drives and two 500GB Western Digital Green drives I had laying around. If I were to do it again I think I would leave the Green drives out because I think they slow the system down. I have a total of 2,781GB of space along with the safety that all my data will be safe if any one drive fails. In the future I will replace the Green drives with either 3TB or 4TB Red drives as I need more storage. The one caveat with SHR is that any replacement drive must be the same size or larger than the drive being replaced.
When I was shopping I looked at Synology, Drobo, Qnap, Netgear ReadyNAS and generic RAID boxes. Drobo has horrible reviews! They use a proprietary RAID and if you have a failure it is near impossible to recover. Qnap is very highly rated and I only choose Synology over Qnap because their appears to be better community support for Synology. Netgear ReadyNAS also looks to be a great product but I felt you get better bang-for-the-buck from Synology. The generic RAID boxes are cheap BUT…you get what you pay for. If you have a hardware failure you are screwed. If my Synology box fails I can easily get a replacement. I can even move my drives to a different model Synology NAS and I am told they will work.
CD’s and DVD’s are now mostly a thing of the past. I rip everything onto my NAS for easy access. I use PyTivo to stream all my DVD collection from my NAS to my TV. I can back up every computer in my home to the NAS easily.
As I mentioned the Synology NAS is a little computer. It even has its own desktop as shown below. It is very Windows like and can be used to setup and monitor your NAS. The OS and Apps (Packages) are frequently updated by Synology.
The only downside to this setup is that it is a little expensive. I paid $379.00 for the NAS without any hard drives. Add 4 large drives to the order and your are spending close to a grand for storage. I suggest you buy just the drives you need and add more down the road as you need more space. I must also point out that even though RAID allows for a failed disk it is not the same as having a backup!!! If two drives fail your screwed! Also, it is possible for your file system to get corrupted beyond repair. Synology has a great track record for fixing file system problems but that is no guarantee. If your data is really important to you have a backup plan. Some people use the Cloud while others have two NAS boxes in different locations that they keep sync’ed.
Finally you can only move files as fast as your network allows. The Synology has a Gigabit network port. You should upgrade your network to Gigabit speeds. For most people that just means getting a Gigabit router. If you have an old 10/100 Fast Ethernet router you won’t be happy waiting for files to move to/from your NAS.
I’m cheap and it hurt paying as much as I did for a box just to store my files/videos/music/backups but now that I have it I am very glad I did.