Synology DS710+ 2-bay All-in-1 NAS Server
"If there's one thing more important than the hardware in a device, its the software on it" - James Napier 16.02.10.
Its true. No matter how much expensive hardware you bung inside a device, whether it be a notebook, mobile phone or a NAS box. If good quality, well written software isn't there to glue the whole experience together, then you might as well have purchased a brick. Thankfully this is one area that Synology quite frankly kick arse in. We've had experience of their NAS boxes dating back to the DS207+ and the range of features included with their entire NAS range is only superseded by the sheer number of settings, options and other tweaks their web based interface gives you access to.
Probably the most intriguing part of the entire NAS setup is that the device doesn't actually come with any firmware installed. This means that when you receive the unit, you can download the very latest firmware direct from the internet and install it onto the NAS without having to go through any messy upgrade procedures. The DS710+ box we received came with Synology's DSM (Disk Station Manager) version 2.2 firmware on a CD, but with version 2.3 just around the corner, Synology NAS users (both existing and new) can expect several new features not shown in these screenshots.
Installing the firmware on the DS710+ took about 10 minutes in total. The install CD gives you two options: Simple or Advanced to guide you through the process. With the latter of the two allowing you to configure settings such as a static IP address and the NAS's network name. Once complete, you can point your browser to the NAS's IP address and login to the system.
The 'Status' tab was my first port of call, and in here we can see useful information such as the system temperature, what hard disks have been detected, how much memory is installed in the NAS and what network settings are being used. You also get a resource monitor graph for monitoring CPU, Memory, Network & Hard Disk utilisation.
The 'System' section allows basic system settings to be changed such as the interface language, networking settings and system time. As well as allowing you to set power saving features such as WOL (Wake on Lan), hard disk hibernation and a scheduled power off (but not on) time. You can also configure email or text message notifications for any system issues.
Before you can start adding shares and granting users access to them, you need to tell the NAS how you'd like the disks installed to be configured. This option is located under the 'Storage > Volume' section and launches a 'Volume Creation Wizard' on first use. To be honest I would have quite liked the wizard to appear immediately after logging into the admin area after installation, as less technically minded users may not realise they need to perform this step before they can start using the NAS.
A wide range of RAID options are listed to chose from, but very little information is given on the advantages/disadvantages of each one. A better approach would have been to briefly tell users what performance and disk space implications each option has along with how resilient to hard disk failure each array would be. Additionally, after configuring our RAID1 array a full sync of the disks needed to be performed. This can take several hours in which time the performance of the disks is degraded. A warning message to this effect would have been nice.
Once you've got a volume up and running you can start adding shares and granting users access to them. Yet again the interface is simple and intuitive, but does give you all the options you could ever need. Folders can have permissions set for both individual users and groups and extended options can also be set for disabling folder browsing, downloading and modification of existing files.
Flicking through the rest of the options is enough to make a grown man giddy at the knee's. There's options to enable FTP access, an AJAX based File Browser, a FULL web server with PHP & MySQL support, Dynamic DNS Support, a Firewall (for protecting the NAS if used on a public IP), a UPnP/DLNA compatible media server, iTunes server, *deep breath*, a media player (for playing music through USB speakers plugged into the NAS!), Torrent Downloader and more!
C'mon - SERIOUSLY! If it could just do the dishes and show me some love at night I could swap the wife for it.
Enabling some of the options adds extra sections to the main homepage screen of the NAS. For example enabling the Audio Station adds a full blown, web based media player to the main DSM screen and allows you to play your music direct to USB speakers without the need for any kind of sound card. Torrent junkies get an interface that they can just copy+paste long lists of torrent links to and leave the NAS to download in the background, and if you just want to grab a few files quickly from your NAS while outside of your home/office network, the File Station gives full access to all of your shares and allows downloading of both files and folders.
To be honest I could easily wax lyrical about the Synology DSM interface all night. There really are so many features included on the NAS that its impossible to cover them all in any reasonable level of detail without this section spewing over onto several pages. If you want to find out for certain just how the interface works and whether its got the features you need, the best place to check out is Synology's live DSM demo. But now, lets get on to the testing...