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Synology Disk Station DS119j NAS
Ken in Regina
Over the past couple of years I’ve been using my Surface Pro 4 (SP4) 2-in-1 portable increasingly and my tower in my office less and less. To the point where the office system is used rarely.

The office system has a 256GB SSD boot drive and a couple of conventional 1TB drives with the majority of the data, music, picture and video files that I use regularly. I’ve got another, older, tower in the shop that I occasionally use for a bit of woodworking research and design.. And I have a 14” laptop that I use occasionally.

I have copied some of the files from the SP4, the shop tower and the laptop to the office system but there are many that exist only on one of the computers and lots that are duplicates of files that exist on one of the other computers.

I’ve tried to use the office system as a file server but Windows does not work very well as a file server. Sometimes I can see the “shared” drives from the other computers and some times (usually when I’m in a hurry!) I can’t. Each new release of Windows gets increasingly problematic.

So I decided to get a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device to do two things for me. First, to make file sharing more reliable. Second, to help me consolidate and organize all the files that were scattered around on the various devices.

TL;DR version: I bought a Synology DS119j NAS and installed a 3TB Samsung 7200rpm drive (both from OTV Technologies in Regina). It’s doing what I wanted. The “file server” functionality is reliable; set it up once on the NAS, map the desired drive(s) and just start using the desired files. I have it connected to an uninterruptable power supply (UPS) along with my wifi internet gateway so I have local file access and internet access for over an hour of power outage.

More Details:

First I discovered that not all “NAS” devices are created equal! Those WD My Cloud devices, and similar, that are listed by BestBuy and others as NASs aren’t. They are only accessible using Western Digital’s proprietary apps. This may be fine for your purposes but I wanted a proper NAS. I wanted a device that acted like a regular file server; that would allow me to use Windows File Explorer to map a drive and then use it just as I would a local drive in the PC.

That’s what I get with the Synology Disk Station.

Setup: Allow it to do the default setup. I didn’t. And paid for it.

As is my usual habit I thought I knew what I was doing and decided to “customize” the setup. Then I spent a few hours transferring nearly a terabyte of files onto it. Only to discover that a couple of basic features I wanted weren’t available. The only solution was to reinitialize the drive and start fresh, this time letting it do the default setup. Lesson learned.

The thing to know is that the default setup does things in such a way that all possible features and functions will be available. They may not all be working in the default setup but that is by design because not everyone wants all functions. But any or all can then be enabled as you decide/discover that you want them.

Use: I got it mainly for the “file server” functions. I just wanted it to show up as a hard drive{s} on the network, let me map the drive(s) in File Explorer on any of my computers, and then work with them as I would if the mapped drives were “local”. That’s exactly what I’ve got.

One benefit of a true NAS file server is that you can set up multiple virtual “drives” on it as easily as just creating a new folder. The default setup gives you a “music” drive, a “photo” drive, a “video” drive, and a “home” drive. Each can be mapped to a separate drive letter (eg. P drive for the photos, V drive for videos, etc.) and those drive letters will then show up as separate disk drives in File Explorer.

The best thing about the NAS for this purpose is that you do not have to guess and specify a predefined amount of storage for each drive.

If you want a physical hard drive installed in a Windows PC to look like two drives you have one chance to do it and get it right. When you first initialize the drive in the Windows PC you have to specify the number of partitions and the size of each. Once you do that you will be stuck with the number and size. So if you specify two partitions with 500GB each on a new 1TB drive that’s what you’ll see in Windows forever after. Or until you get fed up and reinitialize it.

I gave up partitioning drives years ago because I pretty much never guessed the best way to split them up.

With the Synology NAS you use the supplied File Station app to create (and delete) virtual drives on the existing physical drives any time you wish. It is just exactly like creating a new folder in the root directory of your hard drive. Then, just like a folder, the drive will show up on the NAS by its “folder” name. You can then map it to a drive letter in File Explorer and use it exactly as a local hard drive.

The great thing about this is that you don’t have to guess how big to make it. You use it just like a file folder ... add and delete files as necessary. The file server function of the NAS takes care of the rest.

The four drives I mentioned above on my NAS – music, photos, videos, and home – are all on the single 3TB drive I installed in the NAS when I bought it. I can add more “drives” any time I discover the need or delete them when I determine them unnecessary. Or rename them if it suits me to do so.

There is much more functionality that it is capable of. I don’t need any of it initially but I plan to explore some of it over the next few months and see if I want any of it. In the mean time I have exactly and everything I wanted.

Performance: This might or might not be a deal breaker for some. Because the NAS is on the network, the network speed is the limiting factor, mostly.

If you are directly connected to your network with an ethernet cable you’ll mostly feel like you’re using an internal drive. Or, at worst, an external drive connected to a USB port.

If you are connected via wifi you’ll definitely notice less than perfect access and transfer times. But that’s not the Disk Station’s fault. It’s controlled by whatever is the slowest bottleneck between your PC and the NAS. That will typically be your router or the wifi module in your PC.

If you have a large file that you plan to work with for awhile and you find the load/save times unacceptable the easiest thing to do is just copy it to your PC’s local drive, then transfer it back to the NAS when you’re done with it.

You can read reviews online that are less subjective than this, as I did before purchasing. Overall I’m satisfied with it.

Organization: Quite aside from any issues of function and performance, I had hoped it would help me get things organized better. It is doing exactly that. Much of the duplication had to do with the music, pics and videos I had scattered around the various devices. Having those three “drives” broken out on the NAS is making it really simple to aggregate the files. It will likely take months to sort and organize the pics (decades worth!). But at least it’s possible now that they’re all in one place.

This was the last piece in the organizational puzzle for me. I’ve been using OneDrive for a few years for files that I want access to anywhere/any time/from any device.

But there are files I don’t want exposed outside of my own network and/or don’t need offsite access to. For all these files, having them available all in one place, on the NAS, is allowing me to easily see the duplication and visualize the structure I want to achieve for ease of finding and using them.

For what it’s worth, there a couple of ways this NAS can be set up so you can access it from anywhere over the internet but since I already have OneDrive for that I’ve chosen not to.

The only other issue I’ve run into is disciplining myself to put the current working files onto the NAS immediately that I create them, or create them there in the first place, so I don’t start to get stuff isolated and/or duplicated on individual computers again. I’m getting there...

UPDATE: There is another side to the power and flexibility of the Synology solution. I've posted a followup farther down the discussion.

...ken...
tcassidy
A very interesting concept especially for people like me that maintain a plethora of computers (for no good reason). And are often repurposing their functions. I am forever finding duplicates of files on various machines in usually unknown or unremembered folders.

I do take issue with one of your early statements though. Repartitioning a drive in Windows is dead easy at any time. I'm an old fan of partitioned drives and can change their size at will using only Disk Management. Although I do it rarely after first setup, it is very straight forward. Just remember to get the drive letters correct especially if you are dealing with DVD drives as well.

I also hate moving files to/ from wireless computers but it is often a necessary evil these days.

Terry
Ken in Regina
I guess my point about partitioning/repartitioning, whether it's easy or difficult for you, is that with the NAS you never have to do it.

Like you I have more computers than I need kicking around and I occasionally repurpose them. I've already done that with one since installing and populating the NAS. It was a right treat to have everything I needed for the new setup all together in one spot. And just one copy so I didn't have to poke around multiple computers and external drives to make sure I had the best/latest version of everything.

...ken...
Boyd
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken in Regina
I’ve tried to use the office system as a file server but Windows does not work very well as a file server. Sometimes I can see the “shared” drives from the other computers and some times (usually when I’m in a hurry!) I can’t. Each new release of Windows gets increasingly problematic.
Really? That's pretty terrible that Windows can't do this basic thing. I have a bottom of the line Mac Mini for a file/media server with everything stored on a cheap 3tb USB 3.0 disk. For serving media, I just use iTunes with "home sharing" turned on. This lets me play all my music and movies from two Apple TV's, two Macs, an iPad and even iPhone. I am also just using the standard filesharing that's built into MacOS and it can be accessed as a network drive by my macs and Windows machine.

Everything is connected to gigabit ethernet, and 802.11ac wifi for the laptop, iPad and phone. Here's the file transfer speed on ethernet.




And here is what I get on wifi




What kind of speeds are you seeing with your NAS? I set this up about 5 years ago and considered going with a Synology, but the cheap ones didn't seem any better than using the cheap Mac Mini, and they couldn't serve media for iTunes like a Mac. If I were doing this again today, I would have to look at current products and decide if this was still the best solution.

But it has been rock solid and runs 24/7 with the disks never spinning down. A year ago the main media drive failed. I have a script that clones the media drive to another external disk every night, and a second backup disk that I store in another room and rotate periodically as a backup. When the primary disk failed, I just shutdown, replaced it with the backup, and was up and running like nothing happened in about a minute.

What are you doing for backup? The problem with using big disks is that you can lose a lot of data if they fail! Since my backup script only runs once a day, I could lose some data, although it's primarily a media server so not a lot of data gets written to it on a regular basis. But I still wanted to be covered, and also wanted off-site storage, so I also use Backblaze to continuously back it up to their cloud (also use backblaze for my other two macs and my windows machine).
Ken in Regina
Quote:
Originally Posted by Boyd
Really? That's pretty terrible that Windows can't do this basic thing. I have a bottom of the line Mac Mini for a file/media server with everything stored on a cheap 3tb USB 3.0 disk. For serving media, I just use iTunes with "home sharing" turned on.
Windows 10 does media serving very well. I've always been able to see my Music, Pictures, and Videos folders. Without doing anything special at all, if any of the Windows 10 computers are on the same network (same named Workgroup) you can see their Music, Pictures, and Videos folders from any of the others.

My problem is with Shared drives and/or folders. With Windows 7 once you set up the shares you could reliably see and use them from the other computers on the same named Workgroup. With Windows 10 each new build has become increasingly picky about the "credentials" on the computers that are trying to access the shared drives and folders. And sometimes it seems to "forget" the credentials.

So on any given day I can try to access the shares I was able to access on one computer yesterday but today it says I'm not allowed. Or I can't see them at all. But from a computer that wasn't able to see them at all for the last week I can suddenly see and access them.

With the NAS it all just works.

Quote:
What kind of speeds are you seeing with your NAS?
I'm not sure. I was paying attention and testing a bit when I set it up and populated it initially but I don't recall. I'll see if I can do another test sometime this weekend.

Quote:
I set this up about 5 years ago and considered going with a Synology, but the cheap ones didn't seem any better than using the cheap Mac Mini, and they couldn't serve media for iTunes like a Mac. If I were doing this again today, I would have to look at current products and decide if this was still the best solution.
If your use is as a media server you would probably come to the same conclusion today. Regardless of the goodness of any NAS on the market, I don't know why you would spend a nickel to just do what your current setup already does well.

I wasn't trying to persuade anyone that what I've done is some sort of universally perfect solution. I simply wanted to share my experiences so far in case anyone else might be thinking about something like it. Or simply has a problem that it might be one possible solution for but they hadn't thought about it or were hesitant to go through such a major change without any reference to someone else who has done it.

Quote:
What are you doing for backup? The problem with using big disks is that you can lose a lot of data if they fail!
I'm not sure yet. The NAS came with a couple of possible solutions that I need to explore. And I've been using Macrium for a long time.

I'm not in a huge rush because I still have everything that I've copied to the NAS sitting on the original disks. And any really important files created since then also have copies on the computer they were originally created on or on OneDrive. So a failure at this point wouldn't cost me much.

I have an external 3TB drive I've been using for backups of the individual computers. My current thinking is to just clear it off, copy the existing NAS files to it then sync the changes to it regularly. That's my preferred backup method right now. It gives me essentially a fully functional mirror that is immediately usable.

...ken...
Boyd
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken in Regina
I wasn't trying to persuade anyone that what I've done is some sort of universally perfect solution. I simply wanted to share my experiences so far in case anyone else might be thinking about something like it.
Exactly what I was trying to do as well. Just curious about your network disk performance, since the specs were pretty miserable for the cheap NAS devices I looked at 5 years ago. But Synology is certainly a well-respected brand.

Several years ago I archived all my old data from (literally) two milk crates of external drives to a pair a 5tb hard drives. Also have an identical pair of drives that are clones. I have a total of about 8tb backed up on backblaze.

OneDrive is nice, I finally moved to Office 365 last summer and just upgraded to the Home plan so I could add my daughter and son and law. $100/year for 6 users (with 5 devices each), 6TB storage and MS Office software seems like quite a deal to me. The upgrade to the Home plan also pleasantly surprised me. I had 6 months left on my personal plan, so that was immediately upgraded to the home plan, and new plan starts after that ends. So I am getting 18 months of the full home plan for $100.

Backblaze is $50/year for each computer with no limit to the amount you can store, but external drives all must remain mounted or they will be purged after a month.
Ken in Regina
Curiousity: can you use Office 365 in a fully offline mode?

I've messed about with Google's version and find it extremely slow; annoyingly so. I don't know if that's because it's constantly downloading the functions as you use them or if it's just coded that badly. Regardless... For someone as impatient as I am it's quite unusable for that reason. I would have to have all the functions installed and working on the local computer(s) for it to be of much interest. Even so, it would have to be coded as efficiently as the native Office I have installed.

I've considered online backups. I've got 140GB of free storage on OneDrive, a carryover from my days in the Microsoft Developers Network (MSDN) (Thanks Marvin!!). That would be sufficient for the stuff that really matters. But I still prefer my backups on local media. Partly because it's still hugely faster and partly because I guess I'm still old school.

I've been operating online since the early eighties, the early days of dial-up BBSs and Usenet (what eventually became the Internet). You would think all that experience would make me more trusting of online services. It has actually made me more cautious.

...ken...
Boyd
Yes (at least according to the MS documents) you can use it offline. The software is permanently installed on your computer and you can save files either locally or in the cloud. They say that you need to connect to their servers every so often (once a month IIRC) to validate your license however.

Most of my files are local, have not taken full advantage of OneDrive yet, just a few spreadsheets that I can share across different computers and shopping lists I can access on my phone.

But you can install Office on 5 devices (which covers me with two Macs, a Windows machine and iPad and iPhone) and can be logged into all simultaneously. And each of the 5 other users of the home package can do the same thing and each has their own personal 1tb OneDrive. There is no restriction to who you give the 5 additional accounts to either - they don't have to be "family members" like the old Office Home and School Edition.

Really, the only little nitpick I have is that Word and Excel always open in a tiny little window (even for existing documents) so I have to re-size the window. The software is MUCH faster than the old Office 2008 software I was using, and also much more stable - have not had any crashes yet.

All of this feels like MS is desparately trying to maintain their base of Office users with these low prices.

Haha, I started my own BBS system using software I wrote myself and an extra phone line with a 1200 baud modem back around 1986! Was active on Usenet starting around 1985 when I worked at SUNY, you will still find my old posts in the Usenet archives (ostroff@oswego.edu). Every now and then, one of these shows up in a Google search and makes me chuckle.

It was still called ARPAnet back then instead of internet and the whole campus was connected with a 1200 baud modem at first, LOL. All connectivity was through UUCP (unix to unix copy program) that spooled e-mail for scheduled connection to another host.

It was a big deal when they finally got a leased data line for a live connection. Remember thinking the future had finally arrived when we could actually telnet and rlogin to remote systems.
Ken in Regina
Office 365 definitely sounds interesting. Basically the regular package with some cloud functions and services added on. Too bad I just bought Office 2019 a few weeks ago. I'll have to look and see if they've got a cheap upgrade package. I've still got Office 2007 on a couple of machines and Office 2010 on a couple of others.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Boyd
...
It was a big deal when they finally got a leased data line for a live connection. Remember thinking the future had finally arrived when we could actually telnet and rlogin to remote systems.
Actually, it had arrived. For some reason most pundits seem to mark the day they discover something of significance online as the arrival of the future. Or at most the period that ARPAnet/usenet morphed into the Internet. But those of us involved know differently.

The future was already here, with the basis of what is now called "social media" evolving as soon as the 300 and 1200bps modems began to be available affordably from companies like Hayes and US Robotics.

As you mentioned, there were, first, the usenet newsgroups shared and distributed via UUCP but somewhat restricted to those in the university environment or with some connection to it. Hard on its heels, and driven by those of us who wanted something more universal, were BBSs and their forums connected by the international FidoNet.

And we still have email today as alive and well as ever despite the many predictions of its death at various times over the years. Functionally it's not very different than it was in the days of ARPANET and FidoNet.

...ken...
Ken in Regina
In exploring the Synology NAS a bit further it finally clicked in (I can be a bit slow sometimes) that it’s not just some simple, moderately smart disk drive. In fact it’s a small Linux computer. And it’s capable of being far more than just a file server.

You could run a complete set of web services on it if you want. By default it sets up as a file server. But it comes with apps that allow you to add the functions that also make it a web server, a media server, an iTunes server, a mail server, a contacts and calendar (cardDAV/calDAV) server, a DNS server, and even a cloud server (your personal equivalent of OneDrive/Google Drive/Dropbox). And more.

I don’t put that forward as a Good Thing; just a simple fact that finally made the gears kick in about the place that the WD My Cloud type devices have in the grander scheme of things. And why they may be the preferred solution for most people. I sort of dissed them in my original post but it turns out that was quite unfair.

But to back up a bit, there started to be a tiny glimmer of understanding last night as I was trying to work out a backup solution that suited me. I could, of course, just plug an external hard drive of suitable size into one of my computers and use the backup app I use on it – I currently use Macrium Reflect. However I’m rarely satisfied with the simple and obvious. I really didn’t want to add all that traffic to my network.

This NAS has two USB ports on it and it seemed to me that I should be able to backup from the NAS drive directly to an external drive connected to the NAS.

There were a couple of supplied apps with a number of options in each. I won’t bore you with my process of selecting which option of which app to use. In the end it was the rsync feature that I settled on as giving me what I wanted. That’s when the gears started to really turn.

It occurred to me that rsync is like so many Unix apps; a huge amount of power and flexibility hiding behind a simple little name. That’s when it finally clicked that the Disk Station is a full blown Linux computer, not just a relatively smart hard drive. To illustrate it more: the apps I’ve been referring to are not Windows apps that run on your computer. They are Linux apps that you install and run on the Disk Station itself. It’s a real computer.

But that’s still only part of the story...

Once I got the backup going I decided to spend a bit of time looking through the various packages that were available to add on to it. I discovered all the additional apps that let you add other server functions to it. Then I looked at the window I was using to control all this from. It’s effectively a remote terminal window to operate and manage the Linux computer that the Synology really is.

And that’s when I finally realized two things that really matter to someone deciding whether, and what sort of, NAS to get. With the Synology solution you get tremendous functionality but, first, in order to use even the basic file serving function you are going to have to be the Administrator of a Linux computer system. Second, you need to be at least passing familiar with being an administrator and with Linux operating system concepts, or be willing to learn.

I’ve had experience with lots of operating systems over the years, including Unix/Linux, so it took a while for it to finally click in what this will all mean for the average user who just wants a plug ‘n play solution.

The Synology solution is not plug ‘n play.

Those who want major amounts of features and/or flexibility will be rewarded for their efforts to learn and use the Synology. Everyone else should look at the reviews of the WD My Cloud and similar solutions. They will be happier.

...ken...
Ken in Regina
Quote:
Originally Posted by Boyd
What kind of speeds are you seeing with your NAS? ...
I can't find a Windows version of the Disk Speed benchmark app you used. It has been my experience that most benchmarking apps are different from each other in the methods they use for their testing so I fear that using something else has the risk of being apples and oranges.

...ken...
Boyd
Remember this?...

http://www.laptopgpsworld.com/5586-usb-3-performance#post49093

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken in Regina
Okay, here are some benchmarks using BlackMagic Disk Test 1.0.
Ken in Regina
Quote:
Originally Posted by Boyd
I do. But I'll be darned if I can find it now. I don't have an old copy here and I can't find any place to download one from.

...ken...
Boyd
See.... like I said, backups are important! LOL
Ken in Regina
I doubt if it's a backup issue. I likely just tossed it out in one of my occasional cleanups. I can get a bit ruthless when I get in the right mood.

...ken...



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