Now for a Cloud alternative – Gadget


Businesses large and small around the globe are migrating their data to the Cloud – and for good reason. They don’t have to worry about backing up information locally, they can access their data from anywhere in the world, and they don’t have to pay administrators, nor pay for expensive storage hardware.

However good this sounds, it does come with one drawback in South Africa, and that is the cost of data used to upload files to the Cloud – especially for a one person show or very small business. This is compounded when you think of photographers or video makers that deal with extremely large files on a daily basis.

Enter the Synology DiskStation 218 Play.

The Synology DiskStation 218 Play is a reasonably priced network attached solution (NAS) especially designed for small businesses, which have little to no IT administrative experience. All the user needs to do is purchase the Synology unit and two standard SATA hard drives – the size of the hard drives being completely dependent on the user’s needs and budget.

The hard drives are plugged into the DiskStation and the DiskStation is connected to a router through a LAN cable. Once done, a local search for Synology through an Internet browser connects the computer to the NAS’s online configuration wizard. Disk partitions and user accounts and passwords are the first things to be set up, after which the installation wizard asks what the role of the Synology will be. One can assign it as an e-mail server, web server, streaming video server, or just a place to backup data on a daily basis. Depending on the role chosen, a specific set of tools and applications are loaded.

The Synology DiskStation then goes about formatting the hard drives and installing its own Linux-based operating system, called DiskStation Manager.

A novel approach

The DiskStation Manager is a novel approach to network-attached storage devices, as many others rely on a variant of Windows or a native Linux installation, where many of the functions will not be used and in some cases are very difficult to set up without some sort of training.

Once the setup wizard is complete, the drive can be mapped to a local network so users can access it based on the previously set profiles and permissions. For instance, some users may only be allowed to access content on the drives whereas others can edit and delete files.

The DiskStation Manager layout is very clean, with hard drive, system and resource monitors displaying on the right of the screen. On the left, users have access to the control panel and a Package Centre, where additional Synology-specific applications, ranging from an antivirus to a WordPress hosting platform, can be downloaded. Users will also find a File Station option, which performs the same function as the My Computer option on Windows.

The top of the screen displays a task bar with a Start option to access installed applications.

Although the basic setup of the Synology is simple, it allows technical users to access the nitty-gritty of how the device works. For instance, advanced users can decide on when the drives should sleep, or when the DiskStation goes into hibernation. They can also set e-mail notifications should the NAS shut down unexpectedly or when one of the hard drives is about to fail.

More than just a secondary storage device

In addition to the simple set up and ease of use, the Synology offers hard drive redundancy in the form of RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks). This means that, when the DiskStation has two drives plugged into it, the data is replicated across both drives. Should one of the drives become faulty, all the data stored on that drive would have already been replicated onto the good drive, giving you enough time to get a second hard drive to keep the duplication of data going.

On the downside though, this means you only get the storage space of one of the drives. For instance, plugging in two 3TB hard drives means you only get 3TBs of storage and not 6TB. To make matters worse, there is no way to change this, as it is hardcoded into the system.

Another negative is that the DiskStation 218 Play has to be connected to a router via a LAN cable. It does offer the option of Wi-Fi connection, but an additional Wi-Fi adapter needs to be plugged into the NAS in order to connect wirelessly.

In conclusion

Its relatively inexpensive cost, the ability to install the DiskStation 218 Play without any technical knowledge, and being able to set it to act as just about any type of server you need makes it a great companion for the SME. The additional specifically designed applications work in its favour. The RAID functionality, which is usually only found on more expensive devices, is a huge plus.

The main thing missing is built-in wireless connectivity, as I suspect many users will want to connect the Synology and hide it in the corner of their office, only visiting it when a hard drive fails.

The Synology DiskStation retails for around R3 300, excluding the hard drives.

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