Virtually everything you want to do with the server is wizard-driven and you'll be walked through it via a few simple steps. Take making a share folder for example. After a RAID rebuild, the server by default has no share folder. In this case, when you click on the File Browser icon, there'll be a message saying that there's no share folder it will prompt you to run the Share Folder wizard. The wizard gives you the options to give the share folder a name, encrypt it, hide it or make it visible to the public, and so on. Once a folder has been created, the wizard presents you with the list of existing user accounts so you can assign access privileges to the new share folder. This well-designed interface makes it hard for any user to make mistakes by forgetting certain settings. And if you do, you can easily edit the share and make changes. This robustness is really important considering the vast number of features the server has to offer.
As a business server, the DS712+ is iSCSI- and virtualization-ready, meaning it can provide storage for virtualization servers, such as VMware, Hyper-V, and Citrix. On top of that the server offers full-featured business applications, including PHP/MySQL, AFP, FTP, File Station, NFS, and WebDAV. It also supports packages (similar to a built-in app store) that add more features to it. For example, the Server package can quickly turn the DS712+ into an LDAP-based server so that it can work with an Active Directory domain controller.
Now, if the above features, which are mostly for businesses, would make your head spin, you can skip them and move on to the server's other handy features that everybody can relate to and love. They are a set of "stations," of which I most like the trio of Download, Photo, and Surveillance.
The Download Station allows the server to download files from the Internet by itself, from any FTP and HTTP sites, including sites that require authentication (such as RapidShare). It's also the best BitTorrent application I've seen that lets you search for what you need and download it via a few clicks. You can also tailor the Download Station to use a certain amount of bandwidth as well as avoid certain types of content, such as those that could pose a copyright infringement violation.
The DS712+'s Surveillance Station supports up to 16 IP cameras. This means you can use the NAS server as a video recorder and management station of a very comprehensive surveillance system, again, possibly the best I've seen. Unfortunately, only one camera license is included, and additional camera licenses cost $50 each. This feature worked incredibly well in my testing. I could record images based on scheduling or motion detection. When multiple cameras were used, I could even synchronize the playback to see what happened at different cameras at a given time. The server supports a long list of current IP cameras and can automatically detect those connected to the local network to facilitate the setup process. Synology also offers an app called DS Cam for the iPhone and Android devices so you can manage your surveillance via your mobile device, even when you're out and about.
The Photo Station enables you to easily organize photos into albums. Once activated, a share folder called "photo" will be created. Photos stored in this share folder will be automatically placed into well-organized, customizable albums, one for each subfolder. You can then browse the album via a Web browser, like a Google Picasa Web album, and very easily add captions and comments to each photo or album. The Photo Station also offers a complete blogging engine for those who want to chronicle their lives with both photo and texts. And like the Surveillance Station, the Photo Station comes with a mobile app called DS Photo for both iPhone and Android platforms. The Photo Station has separate sets of user accounts from the NAS servers. This enables the owner to share photos and blogs with others without compromising the security of other types of data and services on the server. In my testing, the Photo Station took a rather long time to generate photo thumbnails, which would be a problem if you wanted to add a large number of photos at a time. If you want to add fewer than 100 photos at a time, which most of us do, you won't notice the slow thumbnail-building time.
Note that all of these stations can be accessed via the local network or over the Internet. The server's File Station also enables downloading and uploading files to and from any computer connected to the Internet. You do need to set it up, which requires some know-how about networking, but it worked really well in my trial. While lacking the "personal cloud "designation, the DS712+, when properly set up, is one of the most versatile personal cloud NAS servers I've seen. Especially since it's one of the few that also has a built-in VPN server.
On top of that, the DS712+ supports Macs very well, including Mac OS 10.7 Lion and its Time Machine backup software. The server has all the other media features typically supported by other NAS servers, such as media streaming. It can even play back music via a USB speaker connected to its USB port or stream music to mobile device via mobile applications.
The DS712+ has built-in backup options that are focused on backing up its content onto an external storage device or a network location. For backing up files on your computer to the DS712+, Synology bundles the server with its Data Replicator desktop software. This is a simple, straightforward backup application that lets you quickly copy data, much like copying and pasting using Windows Explorer, from your computer to the DS712+. Also, the software has a nice feature that helps you find and quickly back up e-mail archives, which generally are buried deep in layers of subfolders within a user profile. In addition, it also supports scheduling and keeping track of the backup process via e-mail notification. However, we found that the software is little buggy at times and might kick you out of a different application, such as a game, when the backup process starts.
We tested the DS712+ with its Hybrid RAID and RAID 0, and the server's performance was stellar via Gigabit Ethernet. In Hybrid RAID, which is similar to RAID 1 since the server has only two hard drives, it scored 89.9MBps and 98.8MBps in write and read, respectively. These numbers were among the best I've seen, second to only those of the higher-end DS1511+.
The server did slightly better in RAID 0, which is optimized for performance at the expense of data integrity, averaging 97.7MBps for writing and 100.3MBps for reading.
All in all, we were very happy with the DS712+'s performance. It was consistently one of the fastest I've reviewed. The server also performed very quietly; the only mild noise I could hear from it was that of the internal hard drives. Its ventilation fan, though large, was extremely quiet.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Service and support
Synology backs the DS712+ with a three-year warranty from the date of purchase, which is one year longer than you get with the DS410. Phone tech support is available Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT. At Synology's Web site, you can find its forum, download software and the latest firmware, and get more information about its products from its wiki page.
With great performance and a vast amount of helpful, easy-to-use, yet advanced features, the well-designed Synology DiskStation DS712+ is the best dual-bay NAS server on the market to date. It'll make an exciting product for those who have the desire and ability to get the most out of home and business networking.