Synology DiskStation DS712+
The Synology DiskStation DS712+ server is an upgrade to the DS710+, and, in the Synology tradition, it's an excellent product. The new dual-bay server is now much faster and much better designed, supports up to 16 IP cameras, and can be scaled to up to seven hard drive bays, when coupled with a DX510 DiskStation Expansion Unit (not included), for a maximum 21TB of total storage space.
The DS712+, however, also shares a few minor shortcomings with other Synology servers. These include the overly simplistic desktop setup utility, called Synology Assistant, and the primitive Data Replicator backup software. The server also comes with only one IP camera license, meaning you'll have to pay more if you want to use two cameras or more for a surveillance system.
Nonetheless, if you're a tech-savvy user looking for a dual-bay NAS server that gives you much more than you'd probably imagine getting from a network storage device, then even with the relatively high price tag of $550, the DS712+ will make an excellent investment. If you want something that can offer even more storage out of the box, check out the four-bay DS410 or the "="">five-bay DS1511+.
Design and setup
With the previous model, the DS710+, you have to open the server's chassis to install and replace the hard drives. The DS712+ makes life much easier with its front-facing drive bay design. You can easily pull each drive tray out thanks to a latch that, when locked, also keeps the tray securely in place. You do need a screwdriver to attach a hard drive to a tray, but that's an easy job, especially with the provided screws. The DS712+ is the first dual-bay server from Synology with this convenient hard-drive access design, which was first introduced in the higher-end DS1511+.
The DS712+ supports both desktop (3.5-inch) and laptop (2.5-inch) standard SATA hard drives, of any capacities. Out of the box, the dual-bay server can host only two hard drives, but it comes with an eSATA port that works with Sinology's DX510 DiskStation Expansion Unit to host another five drives. The DX510 costs another $500, which is rather pricey, but you don't have to get it right away, only if need arises. Synology says that the eSATA port and the eSATA cable accompanying the DX510 are made in a special way that guarantees that hard drives added via the DX510 will have the same data speed as the DS712+'s internal drives.
The DiskStation DS712+ also has three USB ports, two on the back and one on the front. These ports can be used to host more external storage devices or printers. The front USB port can also be used to quickly back up the entire contents of a USB storage device, such as a thumbdrive, via the quick-copy button right above the port. Unfortunately, none of these USB ports supports USB 3.0 standard. While this is not an end-of-the-world shortcoming, it's rather disappointing considering that USB 3.0 has been out for a long time, and other lower-end NAS servers, such as the Netgear ReadyNAS NV+ v2, already support it.
Also on the back, the server has one large ventilation fan, which manages to remain quiet during operation, and two Gigabit Ethernet ports that can be used at the same time to either balance out the workload to maintain the top speed of each port during heavy operation, or to serve as a failsafe in case one of the ports stops working.
The DiskStation DS712+ ships both with and without storage included. My review unit comes with two 2TB hard drives set up in Synology's proprietary Hybrid RAID. This is a great RAID configuration that allows for using hard drives of different capacities as long as the replacement hard drive is of the same capacity as or larger than the one it's replacing. It also means you can upgrade the total capacity of the server without having to rebuild the RAID setup from scratch.
In the case of the DS712+, since the server has only two drive bays, the Hybrid RAID setup will be similar to a RAID 1, where one drive is reserved for redundancy. When more drives are added via the DX510 expansion unit, it will automatically scale to a RAID 5-like configuration. You then will have the option to have the RAID use one or two drives as redundancy for data safety. After multiple reviews of Synology NAS servers, I find that Hybrid RAID offers the same performance as RAID 5. Note that Synology NAS servers, including the DS712+, generally also support all other standard RAID configurations allowed by the number of hard drives being used.
As with other NAS servers from Synology, savvy users should have no trouble getting the DS712+ set up and running. The server is also superfast in terms of setting up RAIDs, taking just about 25 minutes with two 2TB hard drives for any type of RAID, even when disk checking is performed during the build. This is amazingly fast compared with most servers, which typically take half a day or even more.
Home users may find the server harder to set up, however. The NAS server comes with a desktop application called Synology Assistant to help with initial setup and installing the operating system (included on the CD or can be downloaded) in case you buy a diskless unit and choose to install the hard drives yourself. After that the software only helps with detecting the NAS in the network, mapping network drives to default shares, and launching the Web interface, nothing else. The software generally doesn't provide enough information on what it does and may make users feel that the server doesn't have much to offer.
And that's not true at all, once you launch the server's Web interface.
Unlike the desktop setup application, the server's Web interface, which is part of its Linux-based operating system, called DiskStation Manager, is the best on the market. The server uses version 3.2 of the OS and, within a browser, it looks and feels just like the graphic user interface of a full-featured operating system, like Windows XP or Mac OS X. Most of the server's features and settings are accessible via icons like those found in Windows' Control Panel. What's more, the interface supports multitasking, meaning you can run multiple jobs, such as searching for torrent downloads with the Download Station and managing user accounts, at the same time in separate windows within the server's Web interface. And that, though already really cool, is still the least interesting thing among what the server has to offer.
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.
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.