Synology Diskstation DS1513+ NAS quick look

The Synology Diskstation DS1513+ is network attached storage (NAS) appliance that can be used for, among other things, Time Machine backups, media storage, and more. With 5 drive bays and 4 ethernet ports, it can scale up to 20TB and move it around at Gigabit speeds. There're also 4x USB, 2x USB 3, 2x eSATA, and support for Synology Hybrid RAID, RAID 0, 1, 5, 6, and 10, and a bunch of other stuff like VM, LDAP, iTunes Server, and more. So, what's it like?

It's really meant for small business use or, for people like me, home office use. My quick take is that the Synology Diskstation DS1513+ is way more appliance than I'll need in terms of functionality, but exactly what I'm looking for in terms of rock-solid reliability and redundancy. Setup was easy enough and anyone familiar with web-based enterprise-y control panels — the kind you find with routers, web management consoles, etc. — will feel right I home. (Though I'd prefer a native OS X Synology app to avoid flashbacks to my days in IT...)

I'll be putting this Synology Diskstation DS1513+ review unit through its paces in the podcast studio for the next little while. Right now it's hanging off my Mac Pro (no, not the new one!) and backing up all of our video and audio recordings. I'll try other things, like Time Machine, iTunes Server, etc. over the next few weeks, and will follow up with some specifics on how it performs, and how it compares to other systems like Drobo and QNAP

If you have any questions on it, or specific things you'd like to see tested and tried out, let me know!

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, The TV Show, Vector, ZEN & TECH, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Synology Diskstation DS1513+ NAS quick look

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I love Synology.... I have a DS410 and DS413 at the office. The DSM OS is really nicely done and their apps are pretty good... for example I host my kids Craftbukkit Minecraft server on the 413 which saves me keeping a machine on somewhere. The DS410 handles all the family pictures and video storage together with the usual backup repos. The 413 handles video / music and general content consumption as well as second level backup for the essential files on the 410. I use Synology's own cloud sync to fire and forget.

Had to recover once when one of the 2TBs died in the 410. Synology support was responsive and accurate and the fix was as easy as inserting a new 2TB and waiting a few hours (you can still r/w to the volume whilst it's rebuilding but it didn't feel right to do so).

I really want one of the newer ones coming soon that will handle transcoding on board and will let me put more ram on board - Minecraft uses quite a bit. Streaming wise ATM for iOS devices I pull content from the DS through ServeToMe which transcodes for StreamToMe on my iOS devices.... it's a simple and elegant solution but needs me to have a machine running. The WD TV Live media players pull straight from the boxes and play files natively, they've been excellent when combined with dual band wifi dongles - fyi the new TV Lives have terrible terrible on board single band (crowded 2.4Ghz) wifi....

[For those wondering] On iOS device transcoding - which is readily available - simply isn't power efficient yet and most apps do a terrible job of browsing your network.

I've not tried QNAP devices but I've heard on smallnetbuilder they have a similar ease of use.

I'm liking it quite a bit. I had a Drobo previously but the mechanism failed and that means all the data is stuck on the proprietary disk format unless/until I get a new mechanism.

That's the one drawback that comes with "easy raid". I've considered formatting everything RAID 6 going forward just to avoid that, but I think the price of the mechanism is probably less than the cost of the time/effort needed maintain a RAID array.

Great timing on the review ... I've got a DS410 and was *just* eyeing an upgrade to a DS1513+ or DS1813+ this afternoon. I managed to walk out of the store w/o buying anything but now I think I might make a return trip tomorrow.

Something interesting to note is that Synology's "easy raid" SHR solution appears to be nothing more than a fancy use of standard Linux software RAID. If you SSH to your Synology, you can see what I mean (cat /proc/mdstat). They even say as much on this page:

http://forum.synology.com/wiki/index.php/What_is_Synology_Hybrid_RAID%3F

"No, it is not necessary to use the SHR, and it's not proprietary. The SHR is based on a Linux RAID management system, and is completely optional to use."

I haven't tried it (yet), but it should be possible to pull the drives from a Synology unit, pop them in a Linux box and mount the filesystems.

I hear you on proprietary formats (Synology Hybrid Raid) but I think within one of these boxes it might as well be after all if something goes wrong you're never going to be able to pull the array out and stick it anything else for fixing even if it was Raid 6 - well maybe you would but I prob wouldn't.

One thing I did find quite handy was the ability to expand a volume in place...handy if you can't pull off all the data before upgrading.

Maintenance wise that rebuild was the only time I did have to do any maintenance - bar emptying it's recycle bin every now and then.

I will be happy to have a mac guy using synology. I have the 213+ that I have had for about 6 months now. I had a little bit grander visions of what I would be able to do with it. My current set up is a external drive on the Airport with my iTunes library held on it so all 3 users in my home can have the same library. It works good enough, it will stream movies to the apple TV no problem, but still is a nightmare to manage.

I bought my Synology because the USB 2.0 is just a killer on the airport, with 5GHz capabilities the USB is a serious bottleneck. The ethernet on the Synology makes things really nice, It is noticeably faster reading and writing wirelessly to the Synology than it is to my "air disk". At one point I did black magic tests and found it was not just placebo. I can run aperture or an iTunes library off of the Synology, and though I do not do much video, you can do video over the wireless network too. It isn't the same as having it on you computer, but it works.

Here is the major downside I have with the Synology, I cannot for the life of me access it remotely. I have Verizon FiOS internet, which is blazing fast up and down, but their modem/router is not supported in the Synology EZ set up and I have failed miserably trying to port forward it. There is the EZ cloud option Synology offers (much like dropbox) but I do not want to pile all of the files on my Synology onto my computers which all have SSD's now. With the "air disk" plugged into the router it is as simple as plug in the drive to the airport, put in your apple id and you are able to access that drive no matter where you are. In theory the Synology should be able to do this too, but as a server that you have to access via the internet. That is the part my Verizon modem seems to block. If the Airport was able to "see" the Synology attached to it might work with back to my mac, but for now this does not seem to be an option. (Don't get me started on how stripped down the Air Port set up software is now compared to how it used to be!)

Good Luck, let me know if you have success with the remote access.

I'd like to know how well it works with IP cameras. I have currently have 2 foscam units and heard that Synology supports such things. What features are supported (audio, video, does it simply support recording it can it control them as well, etc)?

I own the version previous, DS1512+.. I love this device. I keep my movies, backups, etc there.

First, lets be clear.. RAID does not = backup! This is a common mistake of non-techies. Thats what the USB ports should be used for on the back of the Synology box, backup drives!

Here are a few reasons I don't worry about the proprietary format:
- Synology supports automated backups to external USB devices.
- Synology supports backups to a 2nd Synology box, it can even be off-site!

Synology has 2 backup applications; a basic backup and whats called Time Backup.
- Synology's basic backups are accessible via simple file system access. Which is very nice if the whole unit fails.
- Time Backup; when enabled, is more more flexible and has a Time Machine style interface. It allows for versioning, keeping multiple versions of a file. Time Backup's are not directly accessible though, so far as I can tell. You need a functioning Synology box to access them.

I use a few external USB drives. I have 1 desktop USB3 2 TB drive, and a 3.5" 2 bay HDD Dock that I popped two 3.5" drives into it and I backup other data there.

I love my Synology, I wouldn't trade it for anything short of an upgrade.. I also wouldn't trust data to it alone.. All NAS's fail at some point; don't assume RAID is a backup. It's convenient for expansion and storage, it's not a true backup.

Another drawback I found: Time Machine backups.
- It's difficult to limit how much space your Mac's time machine backups can take
- To resolve this, I actually setup Synology's Time Machine backup service to point to an External USB drive on the Synology. I let Time Machine max that out and manage it, keeping my NAS drives open for Movies, Music, etc.

Re: limiting the space for Time Machine backups on the Synology - the external drive is a good option. But if you want to store the backups on the internal RAID drives, the other approach is to set up a separate volume *just* for Time Machine backups.

When setting up my Synology, I created a single Disk Group composed of all my drives in the Synology. I then created two volumes: a 1.5 TB Time Machine volume, and the rest of the space for my regular files/network shares.

Now our Macs have a 1.5 TB space in which to back up to, and when the volume fills, Time Machine removes older backups automatically.

I fixed the time machine problem by making 2 "new" accounts (nictm and leonietm for me and my wife), just for time machine. Those users have quotas set on them of 1TB each (for a 512GB disk on our macs), and only have access to one share which we use for time machine backups. Then tell time machine on the macs to use that user for backup. Works like a charm. (this is also the official way to do it, I think)

Did a little more research and I've confirmed that Synology SHR is just standard Linux RAID + volume groups, set up in an interesting way. You can pull the drives from a Synology unit and mount them on a regular Linux system, using standard Linux RAID tools. While this may be beyond the ability of the average home user, it does mean that your data isn't locked into a proprietary RAID format.

Synology has even posted a how-to on their site: FAQ #579 on their support site (I can't post the link because iMore's Drupal site seems to consider it spam)

This should work on a Mac as well (with the right Ubuntu live CD), assuming that you've got enough external drive enclosures to accommodate all your drives.

I love the idea of these devices, but here's what scares me, and I would like to hear everyone's thoughts:

If I buy one of these devices from a vendor, as a small business I am making a pretty significant investment in the device and related disks, so chances are I can only afford one. Now if a single drive goes out, I should be ok. But, what if a key component (other than disks) goes out, such as the logic board, the Ethernet controller or even the power supply? How fast can the retailer / vendor / manufacturer assist me in getting a replacement?

Assuming all of my key business data is on it, how long would it take me to get a replacement (part or whole unit), get the replacement installed, recover my data, and then get back to business? Most of us small businesses cannot afford to be dead in the water for more than a partial day, and certainly not 2 or 3 or 7 days if it mioght take that long to get in a replacement and get back to business (I am not singling out Synology here).

So at some point, I have to include in my purchase decision how quickly a retailer / vendor / manufacturer can supply me with a fix, regardless of how good or bad their product is. Is Synology faster than Drobo or faster than Western Digital or more reliable than (insert any vendor here)?

That is why I am cautious to put all of my disk storage eggs in a single basket, and prefer to use multiple, redundant, stand alone external disks for the time being.

What are your thoughts?

How would you do this with anything else? If it's THAT critical to you, maybe you need to buy 2 housings, and put disks in one. If that one goes, you just take the disks out and put them in the other one while it's fixed. Or pay for an SLA with the vendor.

Personally, when I was in the UK (not as applicable in NZ), I'd not bother, and just order a new one from Amazon if the old one died. Would arrive the next day (in NZ, I can just go to a store easily enough).

From what I know, you can take a disk out, and put a new, blank one in, and you are good to go. Or you can take them ALL out, and put them into a new case (assuming the same model, I think), and you are good to go after a reboot. But check with Synology.

After that, get the old case fixed the normal way. The vendor should be able to handle that in a normal amount of time.

How would you do it without a NAS device? It'd be pretty much the same as having a windows box with a bunch of disks in it... except it's easier.

"That is why I am cautious to put all of my disk storage eggs in a single basket, and prefer to use multiple, redundant, stand alone external disks for the time being."

If these disks are not RAID'ed, then if the disk dies, you lose data (unless you back it up, which you have to with a Synology anyway, same with any NAS). See my main thread post for my setup.

Irregardless of Synology, Drobo or Western Digital's response time, you should *never* put all your eggs in one storage basket.

RAID is convenient. It's meant to keep you online in the event of a single disk failure. But you absolutely need to have the data backed up and available somewhere else. In my case, that's two large (4 TB) external drives. If the Synology ever died, I could plug those drives into my workstation and be up and running a few minutes later. I'd lose a lot of the functionality the Synology provides (like access level restrictions, quotas and the various built-in and 3rd party apps) - but at least I could get at my business data until the replacement arrived.

I had a power supply blow on a Drobo once - they had a replacement out to me overnight, so it wasn't a big deal. Can't speak as to Synology's response times as I have never had a problem (and I'm techie enough to plug those RAIDed drives into a Linux server if I needed to).

Back when I had a "real job" in IT, one of my co-workers blew out both the primary and redundant power supplies in a disk array by connecting them to the wrong power feed. In sequence. Hewlett Packard sent a replacement supply, bungie-corded to the back of a motorcycle, from Montreal to Ottawa on a Sunday afternoon. Needless to say, we were paying them a lot more than I paid for my Synology :)

I have to put in a plug for CrashPlan (or offsite/cloud backup of your preference). The bulk of my data is photos, and if it's important enough to keep, it is important enough to keep it safe.

Anyone that is using a NAS or large RAID attached storage (Drobo) should seriously look at how important that data is and take precautions to avoid catastrophic loss (hurricanes and flooding were the culprit for me in NJ). Drobo and Crashplan have created instructions for setting it up, so there may be something similar for Synology.

My wife jokes that I have data in at least 3 places at any given time, but having lost my home computer lab (10+ systems and all the data therein), in a flood, I no longer take chances.

Look like there is some confusion about the various bits involved here. As @Solamar says, NAS != backup (tho it can). My setup is below. We used to have a Drobo, but it was slow as slow can be, and for photos (lightroom) it wasn't acceptable. Hence why we have 2 Synology.

Computers: 2x rMBP 512GB. 1x Mac Mini (for iTunes media)
NASs:
Synology 413j with 4x 2TB disks. SHR2. Around 5TB usable.
411slim with 1x 500GB Seagate Momentus and 3x 750GB momentus (the ones with 4-8GB of SSD cache on them - VERY quick for spinning rust). SHR2. Around 1.7TB usable.

My wife is a photographer.

The 411slim is her NAS - it has her photos on it, and she works in lightroom directly on the NAS. This works fine, and is easily quick enough for what she needs.

the 413j has our docs, backups, media etc on it. We use time machine to backup all the macs*, and I link movies and TV into iTunes, so they dont need to live on the Mac Mini (which is old and has a small SSD in it). The 413j also runs gmail vault which pulls our inboxes down nightly.

The 411slim mirrors nightly onto the 413j as a backup.

ALL OF IT (photos, music, docs, but none of the movies as I dont care enough about them) is mirrored onto external USB drives every week or so, and those live in our safe. The laptops are also mirrored onto external disks. I used to leave them in my desk drawer at work, which I might start doing again.

* Time Machine: make a new user (fastchicken vrs fastchickentm), give that user access to only the "timemachinebackup" share, and give it a quota. Then you can use timemachine from your mac without it using up all the NAS space.

So far, no issues. I can almost saturate the GB ethernet with the 411slim, and I get around 70MB/sec on the 413j (slower disks).

_More_ than happy with it. Considering getting rid of the 411slim, as we dont really need it, and upgrading the 2TB disks in the 413j to the seagate 3.5" HDD+SSD things. Maybe.

Looking forward to reading your comparison of this versus QNAP. My wife is a photographer and we're looking to invest into a great NAS for business as well as backing up home computers.