Hybrid cloud in a box: Unboxing the Synology DS916+ super-NAS

Where does old-school file sharing fit in the rapidly changing world of mobile and cloud services? David Gewirtz takes a first look at a NAS appliance that implements a hybrid cloud storage environment right inside a little black box.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

Like most everything else in the computer world, NAS (or network-attached storage) appliances have been going through quite a bit of change. In this article, we'll take a first look at what I'm calling a super-NAS, a device from the Taiwan-based Synology, Inc.

Video, first look: Unboxing the Synology DS916+ super-NAS

The most common use of a NAS is as a file server. Back when PCs ruled the world, attaching a file server to the network made complete and total sense. But we're in a cloud-centric, mobile-centric world now. Where does the file server fit in?

Since NAS implementations are often based on a Linux or BSD variant, it makes sense that some NAS appliances offer other server services (like Apache, email, and so on) beyond file sharing. Synology offers this as well, but what interests me in the Synology NAS line is their DiskStation software, which runs on top of their various NAS devices.

DiskStation is attempting to merge the world of cloud computing with the world of local file sharing - and that has me very intrigued. The Cloud Sync feature of DiskStation syncs with popular cloud services like Dropbox, Amazon Drive, Google Drive, and OneDrive, as well as Amazon S3, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Storage, and OpenStack Swift.

My interest is specifically in Dropbox, Amazon Drive, and Google Drive. What I'll be looking at is how those services, which are so tightly integrated into our mobile environments, work on a local file serving environment. Given the selective sync capabilities of some of these services, it will be interesting to explore how local shares can be integrated with ubiquitous cloud and mobile access.

In some ways, the Synology offerings are a lot like Drobos. I have four Drobo appliances, and I've been generally quite happy with them. But while Drobo has its own mini-server capability in its NAS, Drobo also offers direct-attached storage devices. What Drobo doesn't have is the Cloud Sync capability for Dropbox and Google Drive, nor does it talk to OneDrive or Amazon Drive. On the other hand, the Drobo will talk to CrashPlan, a backup service I've discussed in the past.

The second feature of the Synology offering that intrigues me is a hardware capability: dual Ethernet ports on the box. My home office is essentially a data center. I have more than 100 terabytes of storage under air, and I send a lot of video and other data across the network. Shortly after we bought the place, we wired GigE jacks into just about every wall of the house.

The idea that I might be able to double network throughput to my local file server was very interesting. My Drobos are nice, but not even my massive media tower (which is now getting really old) has dual hardwired network connections. It's the combination of Cloud Sync with dual Ethernet throughput, with all the other as-yet-unexplored capabilities of DiskStation that has me calling the DS916+ a super-NAS.

So stay tuned. The next step in this project will be to start connecting the Synology to cloud services and see where that takes me in terms of my overall storage and networking architecture.

Budget 1TB SSDs (May 2016)

Before I end this column and start crawling under my desk to run yet more Ethernet cable, I'd like to give a shout out to the folks at Synology and Seagate for sending me the DS916+ and the stack of drives. I'm definitely going to put them through their paces.

You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.

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