Synology NAS and a home VPN

Two of the most useful, and loved, devices in the house at the moment are our Synology NAS's (yes, plural). In the past, we've stored photos, company documents and other stuff on various external sources:

  • We used to have a Time Capsule, but it blew up in the same way most of them do (or did). It was very good other than that.
  • I tried attaching external drives to the (now ageing) Mac Mini we have as a media server, but that was just too slow over USB.
  • We had a DROBO for a while, which worked and was trivial to install and maintain, but the performance was hugely lacking.

One of the main cases for this is photo storage for Leonie - she has around 1TB of photos at the moment, dating back to 2003 when she got her first digital camera. The Drobo was fine for storing these photos, but it was way too slow to work with them in Adobe Lightroom.

To solve that problem, I got a Synology DS411slim, a small, 4 bay NAS, which takes 2.5" laptop drives.

The device itself is tiny - only slightly larger than four drives stacked on top of each other. It's also silent and needs no maintenance - the built in tools, and their own Synology Hybrid Raid filesystem make it easy to configure and run.

I started out with normal 500GB drives in, mostly as I had some spare, but over time, I've replaced them with 750GB Seagate Momentus drives, which have 8GB of SSD-style flash on them, for a total of 1.8TB of usable space. Upgrading the drives was as easy as just replacing the drives - one at a time - and waiting a bit for the rebuild to finish.

Given how high the "wife acceptance factor" was, I decided to replace the Drobo with a DS413j. This is a larger 4 bay NAS which takes 4x 3.5" drives.

Under the hood, these NASs are small Linux machines, using either an ARM or Atom processor. But because of this, you can also install a host of other things on it, using their package manager or manually, including backup software and, I recently found out, a VPN endpoint. Some of the useful ones I've found so far include:

  • Git, including a 3rd party one which does gitosis
  • Media, iTunes, Plex Server and DLNA
  • It's a Time Machine target, and can be setup with quotas so you don't use up all of your disk space
  • Python, with which I run the excellent gmvault
  • Mail, DNS, DHCP etc if you need that, as well as Wordpress

It's also a VPN endpoint, supporting PPTP, L2TP and OpenVPN. Installing the VPN took about 10 mins. I had to:

I can't recommend these NASs enough - even the 1 disk versions have most of these features, they scale up to 106-disk enterprise models. For home and home-office use, there isn't much on the market which comes close.