Product Synology Diskstation DS411+
System Specifications Intel Atom D510 (1.67GHz), 1GB DDR2 RAM, supports four 3.5/2.5-inch SATA disks, Gigabit Ethernet port, RAID 0/1/5/6/10 support.
Price £495 including VAT
WITH A MIND-BOGGLING range of features, Synology's Diskstation NAS devices have often been favoured by those looking for more than simple network storage. The DS411+ carries on this theme and features a dual-core Intel Atom processor, flexible RAID capabilities and impressively low power usage.
Anyone wanting a snazzy design will be left disappointed since the grey metal chassis gives the DS411+ something of a sombre feel. It's by no means badly-designed, though, with thumbscrews at the rear providing quick access to the drive bays. Disks aren't included in the price, so you'll need to source those separately. They were, though, very easy to install using the plastic carriers provided - screws are also included - with the carriers simply pushed into place at the back.
Four SATA disks can be accommodated altogether, and you can use either 3.5-inch or smaller 2.5-inch drives. Solid state drives aren't supported and would probably be too expensive anyway, so we kitted the appliance out with four 1TB 7200rpm Seagate Barracudas, currently retailing at just under £50 ex-VAT each. Larger capacity disks can be used if preferred, and you don't have to fit four at once. Indeed, you can start with just one and add more as your need for space grows. Plus, they don't all have to be the same size, although it helps if you want to maximise capacity.
Each disk can be shared independently, or you can stripe or mirror data across multiple spindles with RAID 0/1/5/6/10 support built in, together with management tools to create and extend arrays, switch from one RAID level to another and so on. There's also support for hot sparing, where a standby disk automatically takes over should one of the active drives develop a fault. However, the disks aren't hot-swappable which means having to power down to make changes.
Additional external disks can be attached using the two USB ports and an eSATA connector at the back. External disks, however, can't be included in a RAID protected array and are best used to take backups. USB printers can also be attached to the Synology appliance and shared on the local area network (LAN).
Having installed our disks we attached the DS411+ to our network using the Gigabit Ethernet port and cable provided and powered it on. There's no fancy display to tell you what it's up to, just an on/off switch and a set of status LEDs, and, once running, it's configured and managed remotely over the LAN. A utility called Synology Assistant is used here, making light work of locating the appliance then squirting over a copy of the Disk Station Manager (DSM) software. This enables files to be shared by Windows and Mac users, and offers support for Active Directory making it easy to add to our test domain.
Support for SMB/CIFS and NFS protocols also means that Linux clients can get in on the act, added to which the DS411+ can be configured as an iSCSI target and its storage attached to remote servers and virtual machines. A bundled tool to take backups of client PCs is another nice feature, as is the ability to backup the network attached storage (NAS) to external disks, another appliance or the cloud.
It doesn't stop there, with a lot more functionality included in the Synology platform than most other NAS appliances. Some of the options are aimed more at home users than businesses, like an integrated Itunes server for example, while others have clear business uses, including an Apache web server complete with PHP and Mysql database support, enabling us to configure and run a Wordpress blog on our appliance. An SMTP email server is also available and, for users with IP cameras installed, a video surveillance tool to view and record footage centrally.
All these features are accessed using Synology's Diskstation Manager (DSM) software. As delivered, the DS411+ came with DSM 2.3 which is easy enough to use through a conventional Explorer-like interface. However, Synology has now released DSM 3.0, an all-new multi-tasking OS adding extra functionality and a Windows style desktop interface inside a browser. Upgrading took just a few minutes, and we were bowled over by the result. The fast and intuitive desktop interface enabled us to open and switch between multiple applications and drag and drop files around with ease, almost as though we were sitting in front of a Windows desktop.
Other enhancements with DSM 3.0 include Android apps for smartphone access to photos and videos on the Diskstation, plus support for the Linux EXT4 file system, which in theory enables the DSM software to ramp up to 1 Exabyte - 1 million Terabytes - of storage. As with previous updates, the DSM 3 software is free of charge.
Lastly, we just had to check out the performance claims, as NAS appliances are not generally noted for their speed. To this end we configured our drives as a RAID5 array and tested throughput using the open source Iometer utility, recording average disk read rates of just over 100MB/sec and slightly under that figure when writing. Impressive results and pretty close to what Synology claims as a ceiling for the DS411+ hardware.
Other neat features include low 60W power consumption, plus drive hibernation and scheduled power down and up for further savings. Add in simple and secure remote access over the Internet, and you have a very capable piece of network storage equipment that can be put to all manner of uses.
Like other members of the Synology Diskstation family, the DS411+ is a lot more than just a very quick and capable storage appliance. It can also be a web, database and email server, share printers, monitor and manage surveillance cameras and a lot more besides. µ
Fast dual-core processor and server-like storage performance, flexible RAID support, hot sparing, scheduled power off/on, bundled web, database and mail servers, other integrated applications.
No hot swapping of disks.