Caption by: Alan Stevens
With support for both NAS file sharing and block-level iSCSI, the latest member of the Synology RackStation family, the RS3412xs, is a scalable appliance capable of meeting the storage needs of many medium-sized companies. It lacks support for SAS, data deduplication and other enterprise-class features, but with optional 10GbE connectivity plus VMware and Hyper-V certification it offers a lot more than your average SME product.
As always, the Synology hardware is impressively solid, encased inside a sturdy 2U rack-mount chassis. Four hot-swap fans handle the cooling and there's another in the single power supply on our review unit; dual redundant supplies are an option for those wanting extra protection.
The 10-bay RS3412xs takes 3.5in. or 2.5in. SATA II disks and comes with four Gigabit Ethernet ports, with optional 10GbE connectivity available
The motherboard is accessible via a lift-off lid, and comes equipped with a dual-core Intel Core i3 processor clocked at 3.1GHz. A decent 2GB of ECC-protected DDR3 RAM accompanies this, upgradeable to 8GB for large-scale deployments — particularly those involving multiple volumes and optional server applications (about which more shortly).
Network attachment is via a set of four Gigabit Ethernet ports, with a PCIe expansion slot to either add more of the same or boost the bandwidth to 10GbE. An Emulex or Intel adapter is required for the latter option, but these aren't expensive. We found a compatible dual-port Intel Ethernet Server Adapter (the X520-T2) selling online for just under £470 (ex. VAT).
Fault-tolerant failover comes as standard across the available network interfaces, while for link aggregation you need a switch that supports the 802.3ad protocol.
The storage is hot-swappable, with ten 3.5in. bays arranged across the front of the unit. You can also fit 2.5in. disks in the drive trays without the need for adapters, and the resultant assembly simply slides into place which is good. However, there's no key-protected locking option, which isn't.
SATA is the name of the game here, which will be disappoint buyers looking for the additional reliability of SAS. Also, you're limited to SATA II (3Gbps); SATA III disks can still be fitted — you just won't get the benefit of the extra throughput of the 6Gbps interface. If you can afford it, you can use solid-state disks (with the same interface limitations).
Using 3TB disks, it's possible to load the RS3412xs up with 30TB of storage with further expansion via an optional 12-bay expansion unit (the RX1211) priced at £1,140 (ex. VAT), or £1,540 (ex. VAT) with redundant power (RX1211RP). These units are also 2U high, and two can be attached via a pair of 12GB/sec Infiniband ports, adding a further 12 spindles each to boost overall capacity to 102TB (using 3TB drives).
Adding two 12-bay Infiniband-connected RX1211 expansion units allows the RS3412xs to host up to 102TB of storage using 3TB drives
Because they're connected using Infiniband, disks in the expansion units can be included in shared volumes and managed together with internal disks using the same web-based management console. However, external disks attached via the four USB ports also provided can't be included in storage arrays, and are really only to be used for backup purposes or to share USB printers.
Given the volatility of the hard disk market following recent floods in Thailand, it's hard to come up with exact figures as to how much it might cost to equip this Synology appliance. At the time of writing we found 3TB Seagate Barracudas for £125 (ex. VAT) each, equating to £1,250 (ex. VAT) for a complete set, putting a fully-configured 30TB appliance at a shade under £3,000 (ex. VAT).
When it comes to performance, Synology claims throughput of over 1000MB/sec, but that's with link-aggregation across dual 10GbE ports. With Gigabit connectivity the figures will be a lot lower. We tested with a single port and recorded an average of 114MB/sec using iSCSI to attach to a RAID 5 array. This figure could be boosted by link aggregation or by dedicating ports to specific servers, to deliver respectable results across a variety of configurations.
The RS3412xs runs the same Disk Station Manager (DSM) as other Synology appliances, accessing a desktop-like interface from a browser. We upgraded to DSM 4.0, still in beta at the time of our tests; the latest version offers enhancements to the desktop interface plus support for new cloud services, direct editing of Windows ACL permissions, backup improvements, full VPN support and even the ability to host a local Wi-Fi hotspot.
The latest version of Synology's Disk Station Manager, 4.0, is currently in beta
We've used DSM before and have always found it approachable. The new release is no different in this respect, and we certainly had no problems configuring storage arrays or sharing them on our test network either as NAS file shares or via iSCSI.
Thin provisioning is also available with iSCSI, which is a great help when it comes to rationing space and dynamically expanding storage. This is just as well given that there are no deduplication facilities, although on an appliance in this price bracket it's an unsurprising omission.
Synology is also emphasising virtualisation support on this model, in particular claiming compliance with VMware's vSphere 5, including support for the new VMFS-5 file system. It can also be used with Hyper-V and Citrix virtualisation platforms.
It's good to see Synology prioritising the needs of datacentre users with DSM 4.0, even though it effectively employs the same software on its consumer and small-business products.
To this end web, PHP, MySQL and other servers remain, along with a basketful of backup and synchronisation tools to protect the data on the appliance, including iSCSI LUN backup in the new DSM release. However, applications that didn't fit the datacentre profile — including iTunes server, Photo Station and others — simply weren't installed when we upgraded to the 4.0 beta. However, Synology adopts the same kind of downloadable app approach as seen on Apple and Android devices, so this software can be downloaded and installed separately, along with antivirus protection, if necessary.
There are a few omissions, such as the lack of SAS and deduplication already mentioned. However, options like these are far from standard on this class of appliance, and overall the RackStation RS3412xs is a hard act to beat for the price.
Caption by: Alan Stevens