As digital media becomes mainstream, the ability to access this data from anywhere is becoming more critical and is something that users are constantly demanding. While there are many companies that offer cloud-based storage, the solution requires a constant connection to the Internet and streaming music and photos from the Internet to your personal PC can be a slow proposition. Even worse, nobody wants to be without their data if their ISP suffers an outage.
Because of this, more and more people have either home servers (such as Microsoft's Windows Home Server product), or simple network-attached storage (NAS) devices as the central hub in their home. This gives households the ability to stream photos and music to laptops, tablets, and gaming devices at speeds that are much faster than their ISP connection.
One of these NAS-based solutions is the Synology DiskStation DS411. The device bills itself as an, “affordable and full-featured network attached storage solution, specifically designed for small business and workgroup users who need to share and protect data cost-effectively, while increasing productivity with comprehensive office applications.” Although the DS411 does offer great storage capabilities, its range of features is actually much greater, including a built-in web server, MySQL database, IP camera control station, music streaming, backup service, and more.
When taking the server out of the box, you realize how small the device is. Its dimensions, in millimeters, are 184(H) x 168(W) x 230(D), which translates in inches to roughly 7 x 6.5 x 9. What this means is that the box can be tucked away in the corner and completely out of sight. It has two fans in the back that are extremely quiet and the only time you hear the device is when it's first powering up or when the drives are spinning up after inactivity. During our review, the DS411 was sitting only two feet from our desk and we never heard it.
The back of the NAS server is very unassuming, having only a specialized power connector, a single Ethernet port, two USB ports, and an eSATA port. The front of the box has a power light (blue), a status light (green is good), a light that blinks with LAN activity, and a light that represents each of the up to four hard drives that the device supports. The device is headless and in fact has no video output at all. While some may be turned off by this, it's a common trend in the “server as an appliance” space and there are several Windows Home Server offerings that operate the same way.