How safe is the cloud? Unfortunately the answer to that question is a resounding, "not very," and appears to be getting worse as the years go on. I've talked about cloud security in the past, correctly predicting that issues like the nude celebrity picture hack would die down and the general public would once again stop thinking about data security, even when it can have disastrous consequences.

If you'd like to start regaining control of your data, one way to start is by housing files on your own centralized server that lives in your home. We've reviewed several different models from Synology, QNAP, and Thecus in the past and even tested a fire-and-waterproof model from ioSafe. Today we do a deep dive into Synology's latest device, the DS716+, a two-bay device that is capable of expanding to seven drives with the optional DX513 module. It retails for $449.

Typically Synology makes it easy to figure out what their devices do based on the name, but they've started to move away from that. Instead of the DS716+ having seven disks standard, the number now refers to how many it can support with expansion, with no way to know the number of drives that come standard based on the name. The last two numbers still indicate the year the NAS was released.

Specifications

The DS716+ sports a Braswell Celeron N3150 quad-core processor running at 1.6GHz, with bursts up to 2.08GHz. Even better, the chip uses only 6W of power, keeping both the heat and the cost of operating the device 24x7 low. The system also has 2GB of DDR3 RAM.

The back of the DS716+ has two Gigabit Ethernet ports, a pair of USB3 ports, and an eSata port, along with the power connector and a reset button. For physical security, the device can be locked down with a Kensington lock. A 92mm exhaust fan helps keep the system cool.

On the front of the box you'll find another USB3 port, along with a power button and a button labeled with the letter "C," used to copy files from a USB thumb drive directly to the NAS device.

CPU Quad-core Braswell 1.6Ghz Intel Celeron
Memory 2GB DDR3
Disk Capacity 16 TB (8 TB x 2) base, 56 TB (8 TB x 7) with expansion
Network 2xGigabit Ethernet
USB Ports 2xUSB3 (back), 1xUSB3 (front)
Size (H/W/D) (6.18in x 4.07in x 9.13in) / (157 mm x 103.5 mm x 232 mm)
Weight 3.86 pounds / 1.75 kg

There are also three LEDs: One for system power, and one for each of the two network connections.

Synology breaks their devices into three types: base models, the "plus" models like the DS716+, and the "play" models. The "plus" line always has the most compute power and RAM, while the "play" models are usually steps up from the base model, used mainly for video transcoding.

Hardware Installation

The whole point of a NAS device is in its simplicity, and the DS716+ delivers. Simply plug in the power cable, connect an Ethernet cable, turn the box on, and you're done.

Connecting drives to the DS716+ is as easy as the other Synology NAS devices I've reviewed in the past. Place the 3.5" disk in the sled, click the two side pieces into place and the disk pack is ready to insert into the NAS device. It's a great design, although I'm a little concerned that if the plastic clips on the side break you'll be out of luck and will have to contact Synology for a replacement.

The sleds also support 2.5" drives, such as SSD, but in order to mount those into the sleds you'll need to screw it into the bottom of the sled with the included screws.

If you want to lock the drives into place to stop someone from simply ejecting it from the enclosure, you can use the enclosed keys to do so, just keep in mind that the locks do not appear very difficult to bypass. I suspect it's not there for hard core security as much as to prevent your child from pressing the eject button on the tray.

Initial Setup

Setting up the Synology DS716+ is almost as easy as plugging in the hardware and is done with nothing more than your web browser.

The first page of the process displays a picture of the DS716+ so that you know you've connected to the right device. It also gives you the IP address, serial number, and MAC address of the hardware with a big "Set up" button in the middle of the screen.

From here, you're taken to a screen that wants to install the latest version of DiskStation Manager (DSM), the operating system that all Synology devices use. A "Manual Install" link is available, but offered little in the way of advanced customization so the standard "Install Now" is the way to go.

You're then presented with a warning indicating that all of the data on the two drives will be destroyed. While not surprising, the fact that you have to agree to this seems to imply that lawyers got involved in this step.

The installation of DSM itself takes roughly two minutes, including the time it takes to download the image from the Internet. Rebooting after the installation adds another two minutes to the process, meaning you can be up and running in less than five minutes total.

After the system reboots, you're prompted to name the DS716+ and create a default user. One area that's a little disappointing is the fact that, although there's a password strength meter, it's terribly lax in its controls. Typing a weak six character password still tells the user that it's "strong" protection. I'd recommend using no less than a 15 character password if you plan on allowing access from the Internet.

The last (optional) step lets you setup what Synology calls "QuickConnect." This is how you turn any of their NAS devices into a personal cloud, accessible from anywhere on the Internet, without having to setup port forwarding or other configurations on your router. While optional, and some may prefer to keep their data accessible only while at home, there's no question that Synology makes it easy for you to setup access to your data from anywhere you have an Internet connection.

Having a NAS device without any storage available to the network is pretty worthless, so the next step is to create a new volume (or volumes) to share. Synology continues by making this just as easy as the rest of the setup. From the Storage Manager, you're presented with a wizard and given the choice between "quick" and "custom." The only real difference between the two is whether you want to create multiple volumes on a disk group, and with only two disks in the standard DS716+, quick is the way you'll want to go.

The only real option you have is what filesystem you want to run on the NAS, ext4 or Btrfs (pronounced "Butter FS"). Using ext4 provides ubiquitous compatibility with Linux distributions in cases where you want to pull the drives out from the DS716+, whereas Btrfs gives you some advanced features such as snapshots and disk quotas. Btrfs is gaining some traction in the Linux world, and is the recommended filesystem within Synology, but the choice is ultimately up to you.

Creating the volume takes only a few seconds before it's usable, although it does take roughly five hours to run a consistency check to ensure all of the bytes are accurate. You can use the volume during this time, but performance won't be quite as good until complete.

Once the volume is complete, the only thing left to do is create one (or more) shared folders so that you can access them on your network.

Configuration

The DS716+ has a lot of different configuration options available and while I won't get into all of them, let me touch upon a couple of the more interesting ones.

Configuration of the device is done from Control Panel, which gives you access to everything from user administration to network configuration to setting up SSH and SNMP.

One of the more interesting configuration settings is Traffic Control from within the Network configuration which allows you to determine what services should be given priority on the DS716+. In the example above, I configured Windows file server (CIFS) to have both a guaranteed and maximum bandwidth of 20KB/second and you can see the performance was abysmal.

Another interesting feature is the "USB copy" button, a quick way to get data off of a USB device and onto the DS716+. To enable the feature, simply load up the control panel, select "External Devices," and click the "USBCopy/SDCopy" tab. From here you select the checkbox next to "Enable USBCopy" and then select what folder copied files should be transferred to.

Now when you plug a USB device into the front of the DS716+, the copy button on the front lights up. Press the button, the light begins to blink as the data is copied to your selected folder, and when it's complete, the light goes dark until you plug in a new drive.

There's lots of other things that can be configured as well, from the brightness of the LEDs (including the ability to schedule when they should be bright and when they should be dimmed), when the device should make audible alerts, when it should automatically shutdown and start back up, and more. Synology continues to do a great job giving users control over nearly everything with their DSM operating system.

Performance

In order to test performance and bypass the PC as much as possible, I used OSFMount to create a 4GB RAM disk, and then used Robocopy to test throughput between my desktop and the DS716+.

Before I go into the details, it's important to note that of the five devices listed in the charts, the DS716+ is the only one with less than four drive bays and the number of spindles definitely does impact performance. So keep in mind that with the optional DX513 module, performance results will probably be more in line with the other devices.

The first test consisted of copying a large 3GB file to and from the DS716+. Most systems can copy these types of files much faster than the smaller files due to the lack of having to seek on the disk for the individual file handle, and the DS716+ was no exception. Writing the file to the NAS device was as speedy as the other devices I've recently reviewed and while reading the file was a little slower, this is to expected because the DS716+ was configured as RAID-1, meaning there's only two disks to read from instead of four or more in the other devices on the chart. All in all, the DS716+ held its own copying the large file.

One thing to note is that when reading from the NAS, my results were alternating between 95MBps and 111 MBps. From what I could determine, the higher rates were the result of the DS716+ caching the previous results and thus not reading them off of disk. That's one advantage to having a NAS with 2GB of RAM, but unless you're reading the same file over and over, the higher results aren't accurate for the real world so I eliminated them from the above chart.

Where things start to get interesting is the copying of smaller, random files. As with the other devices I've reviewed, I took 360 MP3 files of varying lengths that took up roughly 3 gigabytes of storage, and began copying them all to and from the DS716+. Reading the files was roughly in line with the other devices but, as expected, the latest Synology NAS really bogged down when writing the files to the two disks. Although I couldn't test it, the optional five tray add-on would probably bring the results in line with the other competitors.

While I have no metrics for audio, video, and image streaming, I noticed no performance degradation during normal use. I was able to stream an HD movie to my Xbox One while listening to music via the DSaudio app and had no issues.

Noise and Temperature

The device has a single 92mm fan on the back that helps keep the DS716+ cool. The fan has two modes, "Cool" and "Quiet," and by default the system runs the latter. Honestly there didn't appear to be much of a difference between the two modes.

Using the very unscientific method of using the Sound Meter from the Smart Tools app on my phone, I held it roughly a foot from the DS716+ and measured roughly 27db. Sitting a few feet away from the NAS, I couldn't hear the fan at all.

Regarding temperature, I wasn't able to find a way to display the actual heat within the NAS. There's a menu that shows "Normal" for Thermal Status, but no further details were available. That said, the Storage Manager tool is able to read the S.M.A.R.T. data from hard drives; I never saw a temperature above 24C/75F, so the device runs pretty cool.

Applications

One comment you hear all the time is, "it's too expensive, build your own machine." While it's generally true that you can build a server cheaper than a dedicated NAS device, the latter offers a lot of advantages not the least of which are dedicated mobile apps for your phone.

There are currently ten applications available through the Google Play store that were published by Synology, and each of the apps relates to tools you install on the NAS device itself. For example, if you run DS audio on the NAS, then download the app and you'll be able to listen to the music stored on the DS716+ from anywhere in the world. Doing something like that with your own server is quite a bit more difficult.

It's important to note that Synology also supports Windows Phone, although there are no Universal Apps yet

Some of the apps are a little rough around the edges, but overall they all worked as expected. My only real complaint was that the method for getting content to stream to a local Chromecast was hidden. Instead of having the icon in the upper-right hand corner, you have to click on the media you're sharing at the bottom of the screen, then select the output in the upper-left hand corner of the screen. It works fine once you know about it, but it's hard to initially find.

Cloud Access

As I stated at the beginning, the number one reason home users would want their own NAS device is to avoid storing data on a company's server. This is especially true with the constantly changing terms of service, and the questionable security practices many organizations employ. If you fall into this category, Synology delivers an easy way to access your files from anywhere in the world.

Setting up Internet access to your Synology device is done during the setup phase (see "QuickConnect" in the Initial Setup section). Once done, the NAS is accessible by using the URL quickconnect.to, followed by your QuickConnect ID which is a string you create yourself.

Not only does this give you the ability to use your mobile apps from anywhere, it also allows you to share the URL with friends and family and decide what data you want to make public vs. private. For example, if you want to share pictures from a family reunion, simply mark those images as public and provide the quickconnect.to link, and you have your very own personal Flickr-like system, while hosting all of the images yourself.

Almost everything is configured automatically for you, with the exception of a SSL encryption. I'm not sure why Synology doesn't enable this feature by default, but it's something you'll want to enable to prevent your password from being sent on the Internet in cleartext.

Virtualization

While I didn't have time to test this feature, it's important to note that only the DS716+ supports providing storage to virtualization platforms. According to the specifications, the device supports VMware vSphere 5 with VAAI, Windows Server 2012 and 2012 R2, as well as Citrix.

Conclusion

So is the Synology DS716+ the product for you? To answer that question, you'll have to decide what you need a NAS for. For a two-bay NAS device, it has a nice powerful processor and quite a bit of RAM. Because of this power, it can transcode video pretty well and there's no issues with multiple users hitting the device at the same time.

That said, at $449, the device is rather expensive for only two-bays, when the DS416 can be purchased for the same price and has capacity for four drives. On the flipside, the latter only has a Annapurna Labs Alpine AL-212 dual-core 1.4 GHz processor, compared to the Quad-core Braswell 1.6Ghz Intel Celeron in the DS716+. The other advantage for the DS716+ is that you can expand the capacity up to a 7-bay device as well.

The DS716+ is a great product for those who currently have limited storage requirements and want the ability to expand in the future, or who want to take advantage of video transcoding. The device is easy to use, works great, and has a wide range of apps for your mobile devices so that you can always access your data.

UPDATE: It's been brought to my attention that on the topic of product naming, Synology has always listed the maximum number of drives the device can support, rather than how many are in the base chassis. For example, the DS710+ was released in 2010 and was similar to the DS716+ in that it had only two bays by default, so this naming standard is not new.

 

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