The latest member of Synology’s RackStation family of storage appliances, the RackStation RS814+ isn’t that much different than the RackStation RS812+ it replaces, keeping the same processor but doubling memory and network port numbers to enhance throughput. The USB ports used for external disk attachment also get an upgrade, but everything else stays the same, including overall capacity which, by adding an optional expansion unit, can be scaled to 32TB in total.
From the outside it’s pretty hard to tell the new RackStation RS814+ from the RackStation RS812+, which was launched almost exactly two years ago. Not least because it comes in the same all metal 1U rack-mount chassis with room for four SATA hard drives at the front. Cooling doesn’t change either, with a set of four miniature fans venting at the rear and the same choice of either a single fixed power supply or, if you opt for the RS814RP+, dual hot-swap supplies for failover redundancy.
Unscrew and lift of the metal lid and the inside looks much the same too, with a small server module that, for ease of maintenance, can be slid in and out through a special slot in the rear panel. This carries the same dual-core 2.13GHz Intel Atom processor as before but, instead of 1GB of memory it now comes with 2GB of DDR3 RAM which can be further doubled to 4GB if needed using a plug-in SODIMM card.
A small plug-in flash memory module holds the operating system (Synology DSM), so the appliance is ready to boot and run straight away, with all the interfaces also located on the server module. These include an eSATA port for expansion and the USB ports – now upgraded to the latest USB 3.0 spec – to attach external backup disks and share printers.
The Gigabit network ports are also built into the motherboard module with four now provided compared to just two on the previous model. Failover and link aggregation capabilities are also included just as before, the latter enabling the bandwidth of the four ports to be combined to create one large network trunk. However, for link aggregation to work, a compatible network switch, with support for the 802.3ad protocol used by Synology, will be required.
Nothing changes in terms of storage. Disks can be either 3.5- or 2.5-inch and need to be screwed into carriers, which slide into hot-swap bays with a special key to lock them in place to prevent accidental (or malicious) removal. Disks up to 4TB can be specified, enabling up to 16TB to be provisioned inside the 1U chassis, although more can be added externally. In fact, capacity can be doubled to 32TB, by attaching an RX410 expansion unit (effectively the same 4-bay appliance but with a simpler motherboard) via the eSATA port at the rear.
We found the RackStation RS814+ selling online for £536 (ex. VAT), so the price hasn’t really changed either, and you still have to provide your disks on top, adding to the price. Ideally customers will opt for enterprise-class drives, Synology fitting a pair of 2TB Western Digital Se disks inside the appliance they sent us to test.
Designed specifically for use in storage appliances the 7,200rpm Se features a 64MB cache and can be bought for around £90 (ex. VAT). Moreover, we found 4TB versions available for just £160 (ex. VAT), bringing the price of a fully-equipped (16GB) RackStation RS814+ up to £1,176 (ex. VAT).
Our disks were configured as a mirrored pair, but depending on the number of drives it’s possible to configure a RAID 0/1/5/6 or 10 storage array. Using the tools supplied the array can be configured manually, but most customers will opt for Synology’s own Hybrid RAID technology as this makes the appliance a lot easier to configure and manage.
You can also opt for NAS sharing or block-level iSCSI support, or both at the same time, with simple day to day management via Synology’s desktop-like Web interface.
As with all NAS appliances, performance is dependent on not just the appliance itself but the disks and RAID setup employed and, importantly on the this model, the network bandwidth available. So, although Synology claims big improvements compared to the RackStation RS812+, with read performance up from 202MB/sec to 330MB/sec and writes from 175MB/sec to 196MB/sec, those figures assume a RAID 5 array and link aggregation on all four network ports.
And that calls for a network switch with support for the 802.3ad link aggregation standard employed (not that common on older small business switches) and the expertise to configure it. That said, you can also exploit the capabilities of the Synology appliance in other ways.
For example, by attaching the appliance to multiple subnets or VLANs to spread and share storage workloads across the network ports. Which was exactly what we did in our tests, opting for two subnets to attach separate servers running simultaneous implementations of the IOmeter disk benchmark. This setup enabled us to record an average combined throughput of 160MB/s for reads and 82MB/s for writes – a reasonable result and one which could be sustained on a larger network, even without link aggregation.
Evolution Not Revolution
An already very usable and scalable solution for small- to medium-sized businesses looking to centralise storage, the RackStation RS814+ is far from a radical new product. Indeed, compared to the model it replaces, the only significant difference are those four network ports and a bit more RAM.
With the right switch the ports can deliver significant performance gains which, for many, make it a change worth having – especially given that the price of the appliance itself remains much the same. There’s no upgrade for existing owners (a shame given that swapping the motherboard is so easy) and little else to differentiate the RackStation RS814+ from its predecessor. However, it compares well against the competition, this refresh helping to keep the Rackstation at the top of the league when it comes to SMB storage.