Setup and Operation
We’ve tested a number of Synology products in our labs already, so most of their capabilities should be familiar to you from our earlier reviews. That’s why we won’t give you a lengthy description of the exceptionally long list of features here but will focus instead on the basic things only. You should keep it in mind that the NAS’s functionality scope is mostly based on its firmware and Synology provides firmware updates on a regular basis. We’ll talk about the most recent update in more detail in our upcoming review.
Synology NASes usually come without preinstalled HDDs. The DS212 supports both 3.5- and 2.5-inch disks. Special screws and rubber spacers are used for 3.5-inch devices to reduce vibrations and noise. The plastic frames for HDDs are securely locked in the chassis.
After putting in your HDDs, you need to install the DSM firmware using the DSAssistant utility. We used DSM 4.0-2228 for this review. While installing the OS, the user can change the admin password, specify the NAS’s network name and addresses, and create a disk volume. By the way, you can move HDDs between different Synology devices without losing your data.
The NAS is set up from the exclusive web-interface which is available in several languages and supports HTTPS. You can change the appearance of the start page and specify the port numbers. The interface is quite easy to work with notwithstanding the abundance of various setup options. It has an integrated help system and a few wizards for the most frequently used features. In fact, the interface resembles the GUI of a modern OS with multiple windows, widgets, desktop icons, etc. It works in all popular web-browsers and is also available in mobile versions.
The DS212 connects to a LAN via a Gigabit Ethernet controller that supports Jumbo Frames, WoL, IPv6 and VLAN. It has integrated clients for DDNS (including Synology’s own DDNS service), PPPoE, PPTP and OpenVPN. You can plug in a compatible wireless adapter into the NAS’s USB port to connect to a Wi-Fi network or use the NAS as a wireless access point. The integrated firewall may be helpful if the NAS is used on a public network.
The DS212 can help you set it up for remote access. With some routers it can automatically configure port translation to publish its services. After registering your NAS at myds.synology.com, you can monitor your NAS remotely.
Synology NASes have easy-to-use and functional RAID management options, even though they are not very useful for a dual-disk device. Anyway, you can migrate without data loss, expand the capacity of your RAID, and set up iSCSI. Besides the exclusive SHR mode, the DS212 can work with two single-disk volumes and dual-disk JBOD, RAID0 and RAID1 arrays. You can create iSCSI volumes in file and block access mode. A LUN backup option has been introduced recently. The HDDs can be monitored by means of S.M.A.R.T., including scheduled tests.
The NAS can provide access to its data via every popular protocol and OS. It supports SMB/CIFS for Windows networks, AFP for Mac OS, NFS for Linux and FTP/HTTP/WebDAV for local or remote access from the internet. Access rights are managed using a local user database, Windows domain or LDAP server. User groups and disk quotas are supported. User access can be restricted for particular services. For example, you can allow a user to work with File Station prevent him from using FTP.
When creating network folders for user files, you can specify if they are visible from the network environment, enable encryption, allow Windows ACL, and turn on file indexing for quick search.
The DS212 can automatically check out for firmware updates. Conventional options are available for managing the NAS configuration and set up its integrated clock.
The NAS offers advanced monitoring and logging features. Besides a table with the current status (uptime, firmware version, temperature, etc), it can draw CPU, memory and network connection usage graphs, also as widgets on the desktop. The log files contain detailed information about user activity for Windows protocols and FTP, for File Station and WebDAV and for local and remote backup jobs. The admin can receive notifications from the NAS by means of email, SMS, MSN, Skype and push technology (for mobile gadgets with the DS finder app installed). You can specify event types for each kind of notifications.
Similar to x86-based devices in its power management options, the DS212 can shut down its hard disks (both internal and external) when idle. It supports an operation schedule, UPSes, and WoL technology.
The DS212 has one USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0 ports. They can be used to connect various peripherals: hard disks, printers, UPSes, Wi-Fi adapters and sound cards (for Audio Station). External disk partitions are represented as shared resources on the LAN. You can change their names and access rights. Besides printing, scanning is supported with modern all-in-ones in Windows. The DS212 also supports the AirPrint and Google Cloud Print services. The integrated SD/SDHC card-reader can help you quickly copy data from a digital camera.
With DSM 4.0, most of extra services are implemented as standalone modules whereas the basic firmware only contains a couple of applications: a web server with php and MySQL that can run multiple independent websites and File Station, a functional browser-based file manager. Besides conventional operations with files and folders, File Station can work with archives, mount ISO images and remote network folders, and help you share files quickly by creating temporary links to them. File Station can be used by the admin as well as any user with appropriate access rights.
Backup copying is an important NAS application, so it is retained in the basic firmware. The DS212 can copy data from its shared folders to other folders, on external devices, on rsync servers and to the Amazon S3 service. The remote synchronization can be helpful for distributed data storage systems. Time Machine is supported for Apple computers. The NAS can itself be an rsync server, too.
Currently, there are about 30 applications on the official catalogue. Half of them are provided by Synology and another half, by third-party developers. You can install applications from downloaded packages or connect other application catalogues to your NAS. Besides the well-known applications such as Audio Station, Photo Station, Download Station, Surveillance Station, Mail Station and multimedia server, there are an antivirus (it updates its database via the internet and scans folders for viruses by a schedule), Cloud Station (synchronizes folders on a user’s PC with the NAS locally or via the internet) and a number of system services (DHCP, LDAP, VPN, Syslog).
Installing applications is similar to mobile app stores. You just choose an application in the catalogue, install it, and configure it using its own setup pages added to the NAS’s web-interface. You just have to specify a disk volume for the application and its data. If the volume is later removed, you will have to reinstall the application. If the application gets an update, the admin receives an appropriate notification and can update it from the web-interface without losing the application’s data and settings.
Besides installing software modules as ready-made packages, you can enable console access to the integrated OS via telnet and ssh. This provides unlimited opportunities for experienced users in setting up and expanding the functionality of their NAS.
A modern NAS is supposed to work not only with PCs but also with mobile devices. Synology offers a comprehensive app suite for Android and iOS-based smartphones:
- DS audio is a remote client for the NAS’s Audio Station and allows listening to music.
- DS cam is a remote client for the video surveillance system.
- DS file provides access to files stored on the NAS. You can download them to your smartphone, upload photos to the NAS, send a document as an email link, and synchronize documents via Cloud Station.
- DS finder helps you check out the status of your NAS, accept push messages, turn it off, wake it up (WoL) and reboot it.
- DS photo+ provides access to Photo Station albums for managing your photos, videos and photographs.
This app suite seems to be the most functional among solutions offered by different NAS makers. Synology is going to be the best choice if you’re making wide use of mobile gadgets.