Merry ChristNAS to Me

[dropcap]Wifey[/dropcap]never buys me geek toys for Christmas anymore. We learned the hard way that, somehow, she zaps every electronic gadget she gift-wraps. Like she’s got magnetic fingers, or something. Besides, it’s tough to give a geek gift: we nerds are very specific about what’s “good” technology and what’s “bad.” So we have a new Christmas tradition: Wifey gives Michael a great new shirt for Christmas, then Michael buys himself a geek toy in the new year.

I’ve already bought “part one” of a two-part gift (I’ve been particularly “nice” this year): a Sonology DS710+ NAS. It’s a Network Attached Storage device.

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Why every 21st century family needs one of these things

With this black box I’ll access my music, family photos and videos anywhere in the world or at home via iPhone, iPod Touch, PC or Mac. It works with iTunes. Wifey can plug-in her digital camera to it to automagically copy files to the Photos folder. It backs up files on the fly, saving up to 20 revisions of that Microsoft Word document the moment I hit “save.” And that goes for any file — for any program.

It’s surprisingly powerful

It’s not the 1.6ghz chip or the Gigabit Ethernet that makes it powerful — that’s what makes it fast. After investigating devices from D-Link, NetGear, Iomega (they’re still around?) and others, the Synology line is substantially more well-polished.

I’m looking to future-proof a home network so I’m running CAT6 cables throughout the house, giving me gigabit Ethernet for whole-house media centers and HDTV (I figure my next one will likely be Internet-connected).

But not only does the DS710+ give me high-speed streaming video and file transfers, it also offers scalability. The box supports all flavours of RAID, but it’s never easy to add new capacity to one. While I’ve already filled both 3.5″ /2.5″ SATA drive bays for a redundant 2TB of storage, I can connect via eSATA this monster box, too:

Hopefully this will futureproof the home network for a few more years.

This DX510 5 disk bay can add up to 10 terabytes to the network simply by plugging it in. A total 14TB. Unimaginable even just a few years ago.

The redundancy was important, too. While I’ve got about 700GB of family memories stored, I opted to buy two 2TB but avoid the temptation to have 4 terabytes of available storage.

The additional 2TB is designed to kick-in seamlessly if the other one fails. Seconds after the crash, I’d get a text message and an email sent to two separate accounts. It also connects to my existing external 1TB backup disks so I can have an “off-site” copy of my NAS in the event the house burns down.

How High The Moon

When I told Ann a box geared toward a mid-sized company would make us more “future-proof” she said, “don’t buy the Honda. Buy the Mercedes.”

When I told her there’s a model that does pretty much the same as the Mercedes, but is $300 more and super-cool because it can be rack-mounted, she replied, “Don’t buy the Bentley.”

While I did buy the Mercedes, Synology’s “Honda” models do all these things, too, with various compromises in expandability, speed, or both.[/featured]I went with a pair of 2GB Seagate Barracuda Green drives with a surprisingly slow speed rate of 5900 RPM (versus 7200 RPM for most drives today). Not only are they low-power consumers, the Synology box will go into hibernation mode and supports WOL. The hard disk doesn’t have to be fast because the bottleneck will always be the network — until every home is wired with fibre optics.

Unlike most NAS boxes, Synology devices are also a web and email server. I can host HAINSWORTH.COM and 29 other websites at home without paying monthly fees to a hosting provider. And I can retrieve email lightning-fast. It even has a photo sharing and blogging capability for each family member and an URL for them to give out.

And if that’s not enough, because it’s Linux-based, you can install software on it, like blog engine WordPress.

This is only possible for an NAS on a home Internet connection’s constantly changing IP addresses because the box supports Dynamic DNS. It talks to one of 10 services that seamlessly redirect your domain names to your home IP.

What sold me on the device, though, was its administrator interface:

The DSM 3.0 UI blows the other interfaces out of the water. It’s a true “web app” — with multitasking movable windows and intuitive dialog boxes. You can even drag files between web browser windows to move them.

This DS710+ isn’t the fastest, but the interfaces on every other box were brutal. You may “set it and forget it” and it could live in a closet for the rest of its life, but if it isn’t properly configured or easily expanded, it’s not going to be used to its full potential.

Next purchase: A NetGear 16 Port Gigabit Smart Switch. If I can find a GeekStore with one in stock.

The NetGear GS716T ProSafe 16 Port Gigabit Smart Switch (top box) will turn my two lane information superhighway into a 200 lane Autobahn
Michael is a Toronto-based broadcaster, technology enthusiast, amateur photographer, and secret agent.
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