Media Servers and My NAS

February 4, 2015

Media servers and NAS (network attached storage). 

I spent weeks pouring through the options when it came to a NAS to replace my aging  (HP EX470 Mediasmart server, running the equivalent of Server 2003) Windows Home Server that had suddenly become unreliable. It was a relative bargain at the time, costing only about $500 with 1.5tb of drive space when I bought it.

Microsoft and HP (as manufacturer) abandoned the platform in favor of something that likely has a larger market (SMID market), but for me, it had been a great solution to sharing content and backing up the number of home computers we’d grown to include in our home. Though truthfully, except for the automatic backup, I was really the only one using it.

When I started looking around for replacement options, I looked at any number of capable systems, but it’s really difficult to know how the administrative interface works, how easily it is configured, and now, whether there are apps to supplement the direct interface. I had to decide whether to build one myself, or buy an off the shelf system.

I eliminated the build it yourself route, as I wanted something where the OS and hardware worked well together and had some user base (as well as technical support) to supplement me when I had issues (there are always issues). I looked at Netgear, QNAP,WD, Synology,among many others.

I ultimately settled, a bit nervously, on Synology. Reading reviews of the several systems to which  I’d narrowed my search, (QNAP, Synology)  there were a lot of people with no problems and who loved their systems, but also a worrying percentage that had the equivalent of BSOD or some other DOA problem I just didn’t want to deal with on a new system. Then, aside from the manufacturer was the question of capacity and expandability. At my estimated price range, I didn’t want spend a chunk of money on hardware, only to run out of storage too quickly by buying a system with one or two drives, then discover I’d grossly underestimated how much storage I needed. It was a balance between how much I could afford and how much storage I thought I’d need. Fortunately, even now after only six months, I’m using vastly more storage than I ever imagined I needed, but still have plenty.

I settled on a Synology 1513+ (5 drive bay) .Of course, now that I have a 1513+, they’ve upgraded to a 1515+, but it seems like mostly a processor upgrade. I added the extra RAM (total of 4 gig), even though NAS aren’t typically heavily loaded with RAM, and 4, 4tb WD Red hard drives, for a total of 16tb, With the RAID configuration, this would allow for 1 drive to fail and still give me 12tb of usable storage. This leaves me space for one more expansion drive when/if I need it and can afford it. And, if I really get ambitious (and have the cash to spare), I can add another chassis and expand to a total of 10 drives.

The OS that originally came with the system (DSM 4.2) has been progressively updated and expanded to 5.1-5022 Update 1 at this writing (Update 2 popped up as I was writing this entry), with the change to version 5 being a fairly significant user interface change.

Security updates have been issued and I’ve also implemented 2 factor (2 step) authentication.  Having an Internet facing/connected device definitely means you are going to be tested, so security updates are essential. So is looking at the server logs to find out whether you are being ‘tested’. Knowing how potentially disastrous an OS upgrade can be, it’s always a bit nerve wracking to update it, but so far, nothing has gone awry.

The system itself was easy enough to setup.But, naturally,my router (the key to anything connecting to the server) was not a model supported without manual configuration. Naturally… ATT Uverse may be great for those with standard needs, but for configuring external access, you have to do manual port forwarding. Again, not hard, as Synology documents all of the services and port numbers, you just have to get a bit under the covers of your router’s interface to forward the right ports and and hope you don’t screw up something ATT needs that makes your TVs work. And, Synology has a DDNS service to give your server it’s own domain without spending money for domain registration if you use your server as I do. Don’t ask ATT what they think of my home network–they think I have “a lot of devices” on my network (implying too many).

RTFM isn’t any one’s favorite way to spend time after they’ve gotten a new toy. and I’m no exception. But it does help with finding out how much more is beneath the surface that would have taken longer to figure out, without RTFM.

There’s a reasonable selection of packages to add on to provide additional functionality, as well as apps (Android and Apple) to give connectivity to your server from mobile devices. I have Anti-Virus, Audi Station, Cloud Station (like a private Dropbox), Download Station, Photo Station, iTunes Server. But there are many more–Mail Station (run your own mail server), Drupal, Joomla, Mediawiki, Podcast Generator), WordPress, and more.

One thing I decided to leave to a separate device is my media server. I went with Plex.

But for a home server, so far, I’ve been very satisfied with my choice.

Next installment is my journey into the land of Plex and media preparation. What did I get myself into?

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