The latest member of the burgeoning Synology DiskStation family, the DS214+ doesn’t look that different from its predecessor, the DS213+. Inside, however, it’s all change with a faster processor, more memory and a pair of Gigabit network interfaces instead of just one. There’s support too for network port aggregation, enabling Synology to make impressive throughput claims for its new baby, although that’s not necessarily the best way to take advantage of the extra performance the new DiskStation has to offer.
With a list price of £222.50 (ex. VAT), the DS214+ is far from the cheapest NAS appliance on the block. You do, however, get a lot for your money from this desktop device which is clearly aimed at the small business market.
Like the DS213+ it’s a compact device designed for desktop use, with power supplied by an external AC adapter plugging in at the back underneath a large cooling fan. The exhaust grills are on either side of the casing cleverly integrated into the Synology logo and you can definitely hear it working, especially when the disks are being accessed, but it’s not intrusive and after a while you hardly notice it at all. More than that, it draws less than 20 Watts, even in full use, plus you can set it to hibernate when the disks are idle and switch off altogether out of business hours.
In normal use there’s no need to open up a NAS appliance, but if you did you’d find a tiny motherboard inside this model with a 1.33GHz dual-core processor supported by a fixed 1GB of DDR3 memory – double the DS213+ complement.
Not a hugely impressive specification if shopping for a desktop PC or server perhaps, but more than adequate for this type of storage appliance and more than capable of running the multi-tasking DSM software that powers all of the Synology range.
Two 3.5- or 2.5-inch SATA disks can be fitted inside the DS214+ using plastic carriers that can be locked in place using the supplied key. The carriers are all plastic, but very robust plus, if you opt for 3.5-inch the disks are simply locked in using pull-out strips either side of the tray. Go for the smaller disks, however, and they have to be screwed in place.
Disks can be hot-swapped and using the latest 4TB drives, the maximum internal capacity is 8TB. But if you opt for either RAID 1 (mirroring) or Synology’s own Hybrid RAID technology, it’s worth noting that usable capacity is halved.
External disks can also be attached using the two USB 3.0 ports at the rear or the eSata port underneath. These disks can be shared separately from the main storage array or, more realistically, used to take backups. There’s also a USB 2.0 port on the front of the appliance, but this has yet another role – plug in a memory stick then press the Copy button to quickly transfer images and other files to the array. The DS213+ had an SD Card slot to go with this option, but that is dropped on the new model.
On the software front the DS214+ is like a lot of NAS appliances in that it runs a custom operating system (DSM 4.3) which boots from hard disk. Unlike some, however, you don’t need to be a technical whizz to get it installed and working.
There isn’t even a copy of the software in the box. Instead you just insert your chosen SATA disks, connect the Synology box to the network and power it up. That done, simply type the default name or IP address into a browser and the built-in Synology Web Assistant will take you through the steps needed to format your disks and install the OS.
The whole process takes just minutes from start to finish, including downloading the latest DSM software if needed. Plus, once rebooted and working, there’s another wizard to help you create your network shares and setup other basic DSM options. It really is easy and a huge selling point on all the Synology appliances.
Performance is largely down to the disks used and the way in which a NAS appliance is used, but in its marketing Synology claims an 89% improvement over the DS213+, quoting a ceiling of 208MB/sec for read operations and 153MB/sec for write. A big increase that’s mostly achieved by aggregating the bandwidth of the two Gigabit network ports together to create a fast data pipe to the appliance.
Unfortunately, to enable that you need a network switch that supports the 802.3ad link aggregation standard employed – a relatively uncommon option on switches bought by small businesses. Moreover, on the switch we tried, it had to be explicitly turned on for the ports involved.
On the plus side there are other ways of exploiting the extra horsepower of the DS214+. For our tests, for example, we configured two subnets, one for each network port, then tested the Synology appliance by simultaneously running the IOmeter disk benchmark on each of these networks. In this configuration we achieved an average 90MB/s read and 70MB/s for writes on each of our two test systems – a good result and more indicative of the kind of performance small businesses will see on a shared system.
The other advantage of a Synology appliance is its multi-tasking DSM software which is not only incredibly easy to use – the interface is more like a desktop than a browser GUI – but highly functional. In addition to NAS file sharing and iSCSI SAN support, for example, you get remote data access from Apple, Android and Windows devices as well as data synchronisation across multiple devices via an integrated private cloud (Cloud Station) application.
Synology appliances can also be used for client backup as well as to host Web and mail servers and run a variety of other add-on applications which can be downloaded and installed just like apps on a smartphone.
We’ve always liked Synology appliances and were really impressed by the DS214+, which delivers a great deal in a small and affordable package. Indeed the only real drawback is its lack of size, the two-disk format limiting its usefulness in larger companies. But then if size matters there are bigger and equally capable members of the Synology DiskStation family ready and waiting to fill the void.