Had to do something about storage — Synology DS214se

September 3, 2015

Since we moved from Stockholm, I haven’t had my home server running at all. I’ve talked about it before, but it’s an HP Microserver N40L, and it’s been absolutely great. It’s actually one of the few technical devices that I still have since we lived in Vaasa, and it’s still working like a champ. But. There’s always a but, right?

The problem with the N40L, and it’s the reason why I haven’t got it running, is that it makes an awful lot of noise. When we lived in Vaasa, I had a small home office (or rather, a separate room for all of my stuff), where it happily chugged along, in Stockholm, we had a closet where coincidentally all of the electrical stuff was, and it could make all the noise it wanted without any problems. But in our current apartment, we do have a similarly sized closet, but there’s no power in there, and there’s no ethernet. And having the server in the bedroom would be a nightmare, and having it in the living room would also be impractical. The server has one chassis fan and one PSU fan, plus 5 hard drives, this combination isn’t screamingly loud, but enough to disturb ambient sounds.

Pulling out disks

The server had a couple of tasks, it acted as my hypervisor, for all of my home virtual machines, which I haven’t used that much lately, and most importantly, it’s acted as my file server for my images. I had a separate array of two 500GB drives in RAID1 which stored nothing but images, and for the last year or so, this has been the primary task for the N40L, hosting my images. The last couple of months my archive has slowly crept up to the limit, so upgrading the drives have been an inevitable purchase, but since I haven’t even unpacked the server, I’ve postponed it as far as I’ve could.

My workflow since March has basically been dumping the images on my computer, which has a 256GB SSD, and a couple of weeks ago my drive was filled to 90%. Which means I had to do something. I’ve disliked having all of my images from the last 6 months on one disk, on one computer, which is a laptop, there’s just too many variables for something to go wrong.

I was left with a couple of choices:

  1. Set up my server and live with it. (Noisy)
  2. Set up my server and only start it when I need to archive images. (I would end up never doing it, or only doing it very rarely)
  3. Decommission the server and find a new workflow.

Which ever route I’d choose, I would have to purchase new and bigger drives. So spending money was inevitable, no going round that. I thought over my options, and finally decided that it didn’t make any sense upgrading the N40L anymore, since I won’t be able to live with the sound. So lets start with my needs, I need something that is quiet, it should be able to take a minimum of two drives (for RAID1), it should be constantly available, and it shouldn’t consume a lot of energy.

With these requirements, I end up with a NAS (network attached storage). Back in ’09 I purchased a NAS, a Zyxel something, I ended up never using it because it made a lot of sound, and it was slow as hell. It really tainted my feelings about NAS devices (or rather, the ones for the consumer market). But that was 6 years ago, and the selection of NAS devices should have become a lot better.

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My biggest problem is that shopping around for storage solutions is the most boring thing, not only is storage boring in itself, it’s also pretty expensive, and you won’t get anything fun out of the purchase. It’s like buying a vacuum cleaner, you have to have one, but you’d rather spend the money on something fun (and if you get something cheap, you’ll regret it later on). After reading up on the current manufacturers, barring Zyxel, I’ll never buy anything from them again, I found out that the best supplier of NAS solutions for the home market is Synology, they have apparently the best software, and they tend to support their devices for a long time, though they are a bit expensive.

Thankfully my storage needs have decreased a lot the last couple of years, since I don’t store any media anymore (with Netflix, Spotify, etc. there’s just no need storing large quantities of entertainment) I only need something for my photography. I decided that the entry level Synology DS412SE should work for me, it’s a bit on the slow side and can’t handle many simultaneous users, but I’m the only it should serve, and after reading reviews, I felt that it would suffice. I picked up a 1TB drive as well, you might remember that I needed two drives, which I do, but every time I set up RAID solutions, I generally try to get drives that aren’t manufactured at the same time, because if the drives are identical, and there was some kind of manufacturing problem with that batch, the issue might affect all the drives in use, I usually get drives from multiple different manufacturers, but in this case I already had a 1TB drive that I wasn’t using, and that I knew was working (drives generally fail either at the beginning, the first couple of months, or then after a couple of years), so I feel this should be adequate for my needs.

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With RAID1, i.e. mirrored disk, I’ll end up with 1TB of space. Some of you might argue that I should’ve bought bigger disks, since they are pretty cheap. But the growth of my images, if we look historically, has been around ~120GB of images that I want to save, per year, that means if I double my space now, I should be set for around 4 years (probably a bit less, but never mind), after 4 years I’ll probably want to upgrade my storage solution anyway, so there’s no sense spending money on disk space that I won’t use.

Anyway, setting up the device was easy enough, throw in the disks, boot it, and let it do its magic. Once the system is installed, I went through all of the security options just to check that it’s not connecting to some kind of Synology Anywhere-cloud, I don’t want the device to be reachable from outside of my network. Once I was assured that the thing was relatively locked-down, I migrated my data. Wired on a gigabit connection I got write speeds ranging from 45-60 MB/s, which is really acceptable, on the wifi it falls down a bit, but still usable. It took me a couple of hours, but finally I had uploaded all of my pictures, and it took 48% of all of the available space (archive from the N40L and the last couple of months).

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One of the big selling points with this specific model was the large rear fan. The larger the fan, the more air it can move at a slower speed, and obviously a slower speed means less noise.

Now granted, I haven’t used the NAS for that long, but so far it’s been everything that I needed, which wasn’t very much. I have it in the living room, hidden in a bookshelf, I’ve also configured it to be as quiet as possible.

I’d like to note that the reason for using RAID1 in my case is not because I think it’s acting as a backup, because it doesn’t, I want it for availability. My backup solution currently consists of me manually archiving the data to a bunch of separate disks that I move offsite, rotating them, not ideal, as in I don’t have a continuous and automated backup (which isn’t really backup per se), but so far I haven’t found a cloud backup supplier that I’d trust.

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