A colleague once told me that building your own storage-server is way too much work. “Just order one,” he used to say, “it’s not worth the time and the trouble. Just unbox, pop in the disks, install and you are good to go”. That was seven years ago and I remember arguing about SOHO use-cases where a small NAS would have been too little and a rack-mounted storage would have been too much. “Just get two smaller units,” he laughed at me.
As it turns out he was right. While I was busy replacing obscure hardware, sniffing through HCLs and tinkering with different OpenSolaris’ upgrade paths (side note to myself: Never again upgrade to Solaris Express, go with OpenIndiana!), he called the manufacturer’s tech-support and was good to go.
Almost a decade later I am older and (arguably) a little wiser now. To replace my patchwork Solaris file-server I decided to go with something pre-made: The Synology DiskStation 2313+.
On paper it does everything I need:
- Comes with 12 hot-swappable 3.5″ SATA disk bays
- Small, non-rackmounted form factor suitable for storage in offices
- Supports growing the total volume by replacing a number of disks (combination of lvm/md)
- Supports encryption (Note: Only via SMB, no support for encryption via NFS!)
- 2x 1GB Ethernet ports (LACP supported)
- Support for Infiniband-based expansion with a second unit, giving me a [theoretical] total of 24 bays
- Intel x86 architecture system with 2GB of memory (can be upgraded to 4GB)
The base unit without any disks set me back 1200 EUR. Instead of continuing the tragic history of getting the largest consumer hard-disk I could find, I opted for longevity by choosing 12x Seagate Constellation CS 2TB drives, giving me 18GB of usable storage in a SHR2 RAID6 configuration. The disks set me back another 1200 EUR, an investment well worth it (I hope?).
So the first conclusion we can draw here: If you want to fully use the DS2413+, it’s not a very cheap device.
The build-quality of the device is pretty nice with no cheapo plastic parts on the exterior. The disk trays are well made, have no splinters, rough edges or deformations so disks slide right in and sit on a nicely padded base.
Synology ships the DS2413+ with a number of stuff; the only noteworthy being the included ethernet cable: A 2m CAT5e cable – haven’t seen one of those in years.
The disk bay can be locked with one of the two included keys. There is no way to lock individual disks, only the entire bay.
After starting the DS2413+ for the first time it needs to install the operating system, Synology’s Linux-based “DSM”. Installation is simple, browse to the DS2413+’s IP-address and follow the web-based wizard which will download the newest DSM automatically. About 10 minutes later the device was online.
You can configure the entire device through a nice-looking web-interface. DSM takes some strong cues from OSX in terms of it’s UI design. If you have ever used a Macintosh with OSX you should have no problems finding the options you want.
Synology gives you the option to install additional packages to extend the functionality of your NAS. Unfortunately all packages get installed onto your storage pool, so when you swap all disks, the packages will be gone. This is a major problem for me, the DS2413+ does not have a dedicated system drive.
The packages range from useless stuff like cloud-backup or media-streaming to Python, Perl or Java. You can install a LAMPP stack on your NAS if you wish to do so. Honestly, this looks more like a gimmick than a really useful feature, especially considering the Linux flavour on the DS runs a bare busybox with a few additional binaries.
The volume management is where things get interesting. Since this is a Linux system, there is no ZFS. Surprisingly, the only file-system supported by DSM is ext4. There are some HFS tools installed as well but they are useless for my use-case and I did not spot any option to create HFS+ volumes.
The DS2413+ supports all common RAID levels and sports it’s own lvm/md-based “SHR” RAID level which allows for dynamic growing of volumes.
I hope that the introduction of DSM5 in January 2014 will bring the option to migrate to btrfs. I enjoyed the option to snapshot file-system states and it has come in handy several times before.
Network performance is okay. LACP works, the setup is a little bit weird and throws away the first ports configuration instead of using it as the aggregated adapter’s configuration, though. It may just be a Linux thing.
SMB2 performance seems to suffer quite a bit when the device is busy, FTP and/or WebDAV do work fine in these cases. NFS works – except on encrypted folders. There are no SMB-to-NFS permission problems.
When changing SMB or NFS options, the DSM will restart all sharing services, meaning that if you change an SMB option and have a client connected via NFS, the client will be disconnected as well. Meh.
So, am I happy to have this device or would I recommend to roll your own build? Simply put: I am happy. There is much to see and tinker with, I have not mentioned any of the energy-saving options or the sound-levels of the device. Both are great.
There are a few nitpicks but the overall build-quality and software is fantastic, making the device easily usable for all target-groups. The option to extend the DS2413+ with another unit via Infiniband is a great idea and hopefully the extension unit will still be for sale in a few years.
Whether you are a passionate home-user with hunger for storage or a small business unwilling to get a rack, the DS2413+ is worth your attention. Otherwise there are plenty of great rack-mounted options for the same price that do the same.