Synology DiskStation DS416j is a great option for a personal cloud.
Have you ever experienced that gut wrenching blue screen of death, or been working on your computer and you hear the high-pitched grinding noise, which is the sound of your hard drive dying? Growing up, our biggest concern for picture and data safety was fire or theft. Now with the digital era, many people no longer print pictures. Physical media copies are becoming more of a rarity and we store everything on digital media. Who is bad about backing up their data? There are options available to assist with this, often online options to include cloud storage, portable hard drives and physical media such as CD, DVD, Blu-ray and flash drives. Well let me tell you, I have lost flash drives through misplacing them and data corruption or device failure. I have lost hard drives, in both onboard and portable varieties. Machines fail! Unfortunately, I have lost precious memories due to both hardware and software failure.
I have been looking for better ways to store my family photos. I have tried many of the online storage options, which are not unreasonable. These have worked for me up until now. My previous system was to take photos and video with my iPhone 6S plus and back them up to Dropbox. When my Dropbox account was full, I would then offload them to a 1 TB drive. This had stored most of my photos, inside of a Liberty Fire Safe. This include pictures from the last 10 years of my life at least. For redundancy, I have some on Dropbox, I have some on Shutter Fly, I have some on Amazon photo, and some on Flixster. I have DVDs in my fire safe and I have given copies to family. So far, I have not found an option that I am comfortable with; there is not one place to store all the data types such as photos, videos, music, and data files such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint and more personal data files. One of the things that has kept me out of the personal cloud and physical cloud servers is an ignorance of this technology. People fear what they are ignorant of and often tend to avoid it. I am thankful that I have been given a Synology Diskstation DS416j to review. This has opened my eyes to this technology and it really is not as complicated/difficult as it seemed.
Before jumping into the software and what this device does, let me discuss the device hardware. The front of the box is a plain brown cardboard box, with a sticker of the device and some details of the dual core CPU, compact and quiet nature of the machine. On the side of the packaging, Synology provides additional print, detailing some of the uses of the machine to include mobile management (my need), Surveillance (Vivint my home alarm does this and I do not require my machine to do this), Backup (yes please), and Data Security. The back of the box has another sticker detailing the hardware further. The device has 4 bays for hard drives. These can either be standard 3.5″/2.5″ SATA III or SATA II (Standard Hard drive types, more on this below). On the back of the machine is a USB 2.0 port, USB 3.0 Port, a reset button and a LAN port. The device empty weighs 2.1 kg (just under 5 lb). The back also contains the power port and cooling fan ports. Opening the box, the machine is nestled in cardboard and foam. It is very well packaged and secure within the box. I will admit one of the best parts of technology is the unboxing and handling of the new device. The package contains the DS416j unit, a welcome note (instruction/setup guide), AC Power adapter, RJ-45 LAN Cable.
One of the first things that you may notice is a warning on the inside of the package, along the top near the handle. The company directly instructs you to check www.synology.com for compatible drives. This is not like a computer, and it does require specialized drives. I chose Western Digital 3.0 TB WD30EFRX NASware 3.0 hard drives x4. These were on sale on amazon.com for around $110 dollars each, which is not bad for a drive like this. Additionally, on this same tab are instructions to register the product at account.synology.com and they provide technical support directions as well www.synology.com/support (I have not yet needed technical support, which is just short of a miracle).
The welcome guide/setup is really easy to navigate and uses diagrams instead of words to walk you through the setup. First, buy compatible 3.5″/2.5″ SATA drives x4 for your Diskstation. Next, turn the Diskstation around and unscrew the 4 thumb screws. Gently lower the back of the device downwards. You will see 2 fans along the back, a circuit board on the bottom, and 4 grey plastic trays. Slide the black outer shell up and off and then slide out the top tray. There are included screws to secure your drive to the tray. For the 2.5 inch drives, screw them into the bottom, for the 3.5″ drives screw them through the sides. Again, I had 3.5″ WD RED NAS HD X 4 installed. Once installed, you slide this back into the tray slot and seed the drive (connect). There is a separate little bag of screws, longer than the ones uses to attach the drive to the tray. These are used to lock the tray into the station. Repeat this for each of the drives. Remove the front plastic before powering on (they remind you on the front). Plug in the power supply, plug in the LAN cable into your device and into your router. Turn on the device. The front shows a blue power button/light, and has a drive indicator along the right with GREEN LED. To the left of the power button are 2 Blue LED “STATUS” and “LAN.” The hardware is cool, giving you a feeling of adult Legos, as you are literally building your server. This was just the beginning however.
On your computer go to find.synology.com and you are greeted by a screen showing your DiskStation (model number, IP address MAC address, Status) and a grey button labeled connect. Click the button to proceed. The next screen walks you through installation of the DiskStation Manager (DSM). You can choose manual install or Install now. I chose the green “Install Now” option, as I do not need to get fancy here. I find that the recommended settings are often better than the manual ones I chose. Installation will begin and states it will take about 10 minutes. In actuality, it took about 7 minutes. The DiskStation will then restart, which will take about 10 minutes. Following the restart, you are taken to a DSM (DiskStation Manager) update settings screen, where you can chose when you want the updates to take place. I was content with the machine suggestion of Tues/Friday at 1:45 am. You can choose the recommended option of automatic updates or choose important updates only, or download for later personal installation. Me personally, I want the machine to update on its own. This way it does it on its own time and I do not have to remember to yet another task. The next step is to install Synology’s recommended Packages: Audio Station, Cloud Station, Photo Station, Video Station, Download Station and Media Server. Finally, create a Quickconnect ID with a Synology Account to access the DS416j anywhere. Add an email address, password and select the QuickConnect ID. The entire process from unboxing to functional use took about 1.5 hours. Most of this was spent screwing the drives into the bays and admiring the little box.
The Synology account allows you to quickly set up your DDNS and Quickconnect services, your Synology account information and Synology purchase history (additional packages similar to those mentioned above). I think this is where I may lose some people. I was lost before researching for this review. Here is some quick tech education. What is an IP (Internet Protocol) Address? What is DDNS (Dynamic DNS)? I really had a hard time grasping this concept, until I came upon a website noip.com and read the article “What is Dynamic DNS and what can you use it for?” Natalie Goguen eloquently describes the IP/DDNIS idea in layman terms. Each device has an IP (Internet Protocol) address, which is a unique set of numbers allowing one computer/device to communicate with another, via the Internet. This is an identifier as well as a grid or map, which allows devices to communicate and share information. This system is very complex. IP addresses can be static or dynamic. Static IP may tell you the continent, country, region and city where the device is located, it may detail the provider of the Internet and even more data. Dynamic IP addresses on the other hand, are temporary and assigned with each access of the Internet. You can think of this like borrowing the number temporarily from the stock belonging to the Internet Service Provider. Since everyone will not be on the internet at once, this allows for costs to be reduced to the Service Provider. Static IP addresses are often less secure, as they remain static and can be tracked. In this way, dynamic systems are more protective and harder to trace. Now that we know what the address is and how our devices connect to the Internet, let’s learn a little about the dynamic IP address and how our devices can continue to talk to each other when their addresses change so frequently.
This is where Natalie Goguen analogy really shines and how our Diskstation can be best utilized. Essentially, she relates the IP address of your computer/devices to that of a cellphone number. Interested in calling mom? Don’t remember her number? You imputed that information into your phone and it knows who to call, where to find the information and the path to find the person. Likewise, when mom calls it knows that mom is calling. What if you had to remember all phone numbers? Now imagine (just like your computer IP Address changing) that all theses numbers change multiple times daily, weekly, monthly. Natalie goes on to state that even if you could remember the number, you could never be 100% sure that you knew it. The DDNS software works by giving a unique host name to each device and this is updated each time the IP address changes. This will allow you to remain connected to your devices and thus the data whenever and wherever you need it.
QuickConnect allows you to quickly connect to your DiskStation from outside the home without any network configuration (Port forwarding or firewall changes). Anyone with an Xbox 360 or Xbox one is well aware of the connection issues between games and port forwarding issues. This becomes quite annoying and complicated. The Synology system is quite convenient, as it allows your system the freedom of communication from anywhere there is Internet. Once complete you are given an address http://QuickConnect.to/(your QuickConnect ID) and given an option to drag a shortcut to your desktop. You are done and now ready to access your device from your computer.
I think one of the biggest strengths of the DSM system is the help navigator. I repeat, the DSM Help is wonderful. You can choose to deactivate this feature if you wish, however, it provides you with video and written information about your DSM and how to do certain activities and to set up the packages on the device. Think of these like YouTube videos for your device. There are so many tutorials on how to set up, how to manage data, how to perform certain tasks. For example, the main purpose of my device was to act as my own cloud; I wanted my machine to be primarily a photo storage vault and I have this in my DiskStation.
To access the Diskstation via mobile device, you should Download DS cloud app from the IOS or Google Store. I had previously set up DS Cloud on the Diskstation. Once this is set up, you create a folder on your NAS Diskstation, your computer and your iPhone/iPad to share. On the iPhone go to camera roll or the photos app, select an image. You will see a square with the up arrow logo. ON the bottom, you will see options for photo management: save to Dropbox, assign to contact, use as wallpaper and 3 circles labeled more. Select more, and you have sliders for activities. Here, you can chose save to DS cloud. This will provide you a button called Save to DS cloud in gray along the bottom of your screen. Select which photos you want saved, select the square with the up arrow and save them to your DS cloud. They are now on your phone and on your Diskstation. This is glorious and what I wanted for my system. IF this is all it did I would rate it at 5/5 stars due to ease of set up. I had no hiccups, no trouble. This link is shared on my desktop, my DiskStation and my iPhone and iPad. It is easy to access and really works wonderfully. This is very similar to Dropbox but it is my network, my control, my content and much more storage. Additionally, it is in RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) Level 5, which provides good performance and redundancy due to data spread amongst the drives. This system is designed to allow 1 of the drives to fail. Simply replace the one drive and you access all the data. It will rebuild your data for you. Writing to this system is more slow than some of the other RAID levels but favors reading and access over writing.
After setting up the photo storage feature, I began to think. I am only scratching the surface of what this thing can do. I have total of about 500 GB of pictures. I have access to backup software and a 12 TB storage space. I began to dig deeper into the DiskStation. You are supposed to be able to set this up to be a media center for music, for movies or both. At least that is what the tutorials support. I am now interested in the media aspect, as I have 800 DVD/Blu Ray and would love to play these on my mobile devices. Here is where I ran into my first hiccup. This device is not strong enough to transcode. This device does not natively support Plex (an awesome data streaming application). After a difficult few steps, I was able to get the certificate of Plex into the device and was then able to download the package. I was able to get Plex onto the DiskStation, I downloaded it onto my phone as well. I was able to transfer movies to Plex, but I was unable to view them on any device as the hardware is not strong enough. Honestly, this was a let down. To be fair, Plex was not supported. So maybe, the included package “Video Station” would do what I wanted to do. Alas, it did not either.
This device has a Video Station, but I was unable to play M4V movies on this. Video station will play movies I took with the iPhone, but it will not work with the M4V movies from DVD/Blu-Ray or from my iTunes library. To test this, I moved “Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader” from my iTunes library by dragging it onto my desktop. I then moved this into the shared Video Station folder in my DS cloud. This system was set up similarly to the Photo Station above. The photo system works. When I access DS cloud app on my phone I have 2 folders, Photo and video. Here you can adjust max file size, and formats that are usable. Select the photo and you can see it. You can then choose what you want to do with it. Copy, print, save image, assign to contact, Air Drop etc. You can use this like you would a normal photo from your phone. However, it will not play. I downloaded an app called DS Video to my iPhone (2 stars). I moved the Narnia movie from video DS cloud folder to the Video Station folder and it still would not work. I was told the DiskStation cannot open the folder.
I still have a lot of research and playing to do to get this to work fully. I am super pleased with the cloud aspect, the photo syncing aspect and the backup system. I know other NAS devices can use Plex and it is a let down that this is not strong enough to transcode video (make it play on your smaller screen). Perhaps it is the M4V file I have tried as this is iTunes DRM file (protected). I will try to rip a few of my DVD to my hard drive and then move them over to the NAS to see if they will work on video station. I have also not tried to directly plug this in to my TV or to one of the devices either by ethernet or by USB 2.0 or 3.0, to see if it will work as a direct plug and play hard drive. Lastly, I have not tried the media station with my Xbox one to see if it will work through that system. If you want a Plex machine, this is not for you. If you are looking for a system that can serve as a personal cloud, this is a great option for you.
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