Review: Synology DiskStation DS411; more than just NAS

Features

Although a lot of NAS devices stop here, the Synology DS411 has many more features of note. One of the most interesting is the “Download Station,” a self-contained BitTorrent client that can automatically start downloading files off of the Internet for you and store them in a folder on the NAS server. Simply type in a search phrase in the box and the client looks online for the requested files, allowing you to download whatever you want. Keep in mind that there is a warning that states, “Users must comply with all applicable laws and regulations when using this download service.

The Download Station with search results for "Redhat"

Not only will the DS411 allow you to access your files from within your home, but it also has the ability to let you access your files from anywhere on the Internet by means of its “File Station” tool. Along the same lines, Synology includes an “EZ-Internet Wizard” that makes the setup easier for people who are little less technology savvy. The wizard is helpful in that it not only works to setup the proper port forwarding (automatically if you have a supported router) but it also automatically configures the devices firewall to block ports to services that you don’t want available if you connect the device directly to the Internet.

Some other notable features are the ability to FTP, telnet, and SSH to the device, in addition to running your own Apache webserver complete with MySQL, PHP, and WebDAV support. It also has the ability to monitor IP-based security cameras, which users can view from the console or from downloadable iPhone and Android apps. Unfortunately we didn’t have a camera available to test at this time.

The device will also act as a capable backup server, giving users a couple of different options to backup their files. One option allows the DS411 to connect to another Synology device and automatically copy files between the two DiskStations. Another option allows users to use the basic rsync capabilities to copy files to the DS411. One downside to the DS411 vs. a Windows Homer Server installation is the fact that there’s no bare metal restore of Windows boxes. Although all of your data will be available once you rebuild your workstation, the actual act of installing and configuring your broken machine is your responsibility. With WHS, you can restore your system to the state of the last backup within minutes.

The only other negative we found in our testing is that replacing a drive requires shutting down the server, removing thumbscrews, and taking off part of the case. It would’ve been nice to have some sort of drive bays in the device in order to simplify the management, even if this would've increased the overall size of the box.

In case all of these features aren’t enough, Synology allows users to install other non-standard packages onto the device. They maintain a list of applications on their site that include tools to improve backups, add syslog server functionality, or turn the DiskStation into a VPN server. In addition, it also supports the popular Squeezebox Server application. There are also apps available for your iOS and Android devices that allow you to manage the appliance, play media, and manage downloads, all at no extra cost.

If you're interested in the device, Synology gives potential customers the chance to try the software out before purchasing. They host a website that allows people to login and play around with the interface in a non-destructive setting.

Performance

Although we didn't have a lot of time to formally test the performance of the DS411, we did some real-world comparisons between it and a homebuilt Windows Home Server running with Drive Extender. Using a single host, we were able to copy a ten gigabyte file from an SSD drive on our workstation, over a gigabit network to both the WHS box and the Synology appliance in roughly the same amount of time. This tells us that the limiting factors for performance are the source drives and network bandwidth. For most people, this is probably all that's needed, but further testing could be done in a workgroup setting to see how well the solution scales.

Performance of the UI is good although there were occasionally some slight delays, especially when the system was creating the RAID-5 volume. This was nothing that would detract from normal use.

Conclusion

After playing with the device for a week, we feel like we haven’t even started to scratch the surface of what this device can do. If you’re looking for a basic device to share files within your home, this may be overkill. However if you want a full-fledged server that is as easy to use as an appliance, the Synology DS411 DiskStation fits the bill. The device is a little expensive at roughly $525 without drives, but is definitely worthy of being the central media server for your home.

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