We have a new normal thanks to the Covid-19 crisis: working from home. While there are critics of this fallout, most have accepted this phenomenon with grace.
Work from home (WfH) saves many from the hassle of commuting, lets people stay with their families while working, and helps them plan out their day—and in general gives a fillip to their productivity. But WfH also comes with its own set of quirks. And we’re not just talking about being confined to one’s home.
Working from home means that you might not have an exclusive space for work; it could mean that you have to shift to some other room for video meets; and, especially in the National Capital Region, run around in an apartment to get to the spot that has the perfect mobile network signal. While you can carry along your laptop for the first two instances, you might not be able to do so for the third. At least I couldn’t. And I needed all my files on tap.
The solution: a NAS (network-attached storage) device. Now before you tell me to use cloud storage or the office’s network, let me stop you. With poor network coverage and most home broadband services not geared for zero-lag access, and large files to add to the mix, that option for me was a no-go.
I’ve been using NAS devices at home for close to a decade but wanted to take it up a notch. The answer lay in a more “professional” solution: the Synology DiskStation DS918+. This was a diskless solution, so it involved a little bit of DIY. But don’t fret, there are plenty of YouTube videos to guide you at every step.
The matte black DS918+ box looks elegant and won’t look out of place on your desk. I got hold of two 4TB Western Digital Red NAS drives I had around and populated two of the DS918+’s four bays. Since I used 3.5-inch hard drives, installation was a breeze, sans tools; but you’ll need a Philips screwdriver if you were to install 2.5-inch SSDs (the necessary screws come in the box).
The next few steps were easy; so much so that I went to have dinner while it installed. The Linux-based DiskStation Manager (DSM) greeted me on my return. The interface was easily one of the friendliest I’ve encountered on a NAS. And you’re good to go even if you go with the default choices.
Since I was primarily going to use the NAS as a network drive and for my music collection, I stuck to just those apps on the DSM’s Package Center, which is its app store. A caveat: if you’re installing third-party software like the Plex Media Server, and want the latest version, please download it from the Plex website.
The Synology website is also extremely helpful. There’s a plethora of resources to get you started—documentation, white papers, guides, apps, and what not. After installing the necessary apps on my Windows PC, Linux PC, and Apple devices, I was good to go.
I could save, access, and edit all kinds of documents across devices when they were saved on the network drive. The DS918+ supports AirPlay (one can also set up an iTunes Server), and so accessing my music across Apple devices was a cinch. There were two other pieces of software on DSM that I used extensively, Audio Station and Video Station, which lets you access and organise your music and videos. Yet, with me discovering new uses and apps every other day, I seem to have just scratched the surface: there’s tonnes of features and software available on DSM.
At the heart of the DS918+ is a quad-core Intel Celeron processor and 4GB of RAM, which can be expanded to 8GB. And in case you want to increase the device’s cache, you can add two M.2 NVMe drives. My needs were basic so I didn’t add anything to the base system; but say if you’re a YouTuber and shoot a lot of videos and use the NAS as your video dump, then it becomes critical to add M.2 drives; especially if you edit and save videos to the network drive. And if you’re running virtual machines (I wasn’t), then any bit of extra RAM helps.
The two 1GB LAN ports on the DS918+ can be bridged for better performance, but it would have been nice to have 10GB LAN ports, especially if you’re copying several small files. I found it was faster to copy using the USB 3.0 port in such cases.
That said, I use Linksys Velop tri-band mesh routers for my home and the DS918+ was connected to one. I had to test how streaming 4K videos and high-definition music files (which I’ve been buying from the Saregama website) would work. Short videos streamed to my Samsung 4K smart TV in the next room were okay; and Ravi Shankar never sounded better on the stereo. I just took care of one thing while streaming: on this base configuration, I didn’t burden the DS918+ with multiple apps running simultaneously.
If you’re using the NAS in a home office or small office and are concerned about privacy, you’ll appreciate the fact that by installing Synology Drive Server, Synology Chat Server, and Synology Business, you get access to free collaboration and productivity apps which sit on your personal cloud. You can also use it to record feeds from compatible security cameras. And even if you have the DS918+ on your desk, it won’t make a racket. The DS918+ works very well with Microsoft’s OneDrive and Google Drive, and can also manage photos, emails, etc. among a host of other things that I am still getting the hang of. And there’s little chance of running out of space—and if you do, you can always plug in an expansion unit. Swapping drives out or in is also very easy.
The Synology DiskStation DS918+ isn’t cheap, especially when you consider that you need to pay extra for the drives at the bare minimum, and for RAM and M.2 modules if you want to upgrade. But if you can afford it, first-time users and NAS veterans alike wouldn’t find much cause to complain. Now only if it had a 10GB LAN port and could talk to my smart devices.