As we’ve said above, the basic functionality of different Synology products is roughly the same. The differences may be due to hardware specifics (like the presence of eSATA, the ability to be started up via the LAN) and general performance level (affects the maximum number of web-cameras supported simultaneously). Thus, the DS211 has no software limitations compared to the top-end model from the same series.
Besides providing network access to files, Synology products offer a lot of extra features out of the box. Although they cannot match regular computers, their functionality is broad enough to cover most users’ needs. Implementing such features in a custom-made NAS would require a lot of time and expertise.
Synology refers to most of the additional modules as “stations”. One of the most popular ones is File Station which allows managing data on the NAS via a web-browser. This module has an individual interface which will come in handy if you have a few users rather than the administrator only. File Station is also present in the NAS’s main web interface as an individual page with settings. Its new version can perform time-consuming operations (like moving large documents between disk volumes) in the background and can do a few of them at a time. Using Java, the NAS adds the user’s local disks into the list of accessible resources. HTTPS can be used for higher security.
Photo Station is a handy and functional album of photographs and video recordings. It has a special interface, supports its own user database, provides commenting and blogging features. You can use Android and Apple-based apps to upload and view photographs in Photo Station.
If you are not satisfied with the functionality of this module, you can build your own website with php and MySQL. Multiple virtual websites and personal user pages are supported.
Audio Station is designed to provide access to audio recordings stored on the NAS via a web-browser. This module can work with audio cards connected to the NAS via USB and with mobile devices based on Android and iOS (iPhone, iPod, iPad). You need to install a free app on your device for that (downloadable from the appropriate apps store). Local files, online radio stations and even DLNA servers on the LAN can act as music sources.
You can stream multimedia content via iTunes and DLNA servers, too. The former supports Apple’s standard formats whereas the latter allows to index most of today’s photo, audio and video formats. For higher compatibility with network players, rare audio formats (like FLAC or APE) can be transcoded into WAV. Unfortunately, each of these servers still works with predefined NAS folders only, which is not always convenient.
It is the integrated file download client that many users find to be the most useful feature in their NASes. Synology’s implementation, called Download Station, is perhaps the most functional of all we’ve seen. Besides supporting FTP/HTTP, BitTorrent, eMule, NBZ, RapidShare and MegaUpload, it features a lot of flexible setup options. You can choose what ports to use, limit the speed of connections, and set up an operation schedule. Downloads can be managed from a web-browser, with the Download Replicator utility or from mobile devices (mobile clients are third-party apps, some of which are not free).
Storing backup copies of data from local computers is among the most popular uses for a NAS. And sometimes you also need to back up data stored on the NAS itself. The DS211’s integrated backup system can ensure data security by copying your information from the NAS to an external disk, another NAS or the Amazon S3 service. You can set up a few backup tasks which will be performed automatically according to a schedule. Files from backup copies can be restored via the admin interface or with any method of accessing the NAS’s files.
The last Station that might be interesting for business and home users alike is the video surveillance system. Each Synology NAS comes with a license for a single webcam connection by default. You have to purchase licenses for more cameras separately. The DS211 supports a maximum of eight cameras. You can choose from a very long compatibility list that includes products with support for MJPEG/MPEG4/H.264, high-resolution matrixes, audio and PTZ. The video surveillance station has all the popular features such as recording based on a schedule or a motion sensor, watching the contents from the cameras live in several modes, searching for recordings and exporting them. The Internet Explorer browser is necessary for full-featured support of this system (it installs IE add-ins). As with some other Stations, this one has its own user database and notification parameters.