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When is a NAS no longer just a NAS?
Since Synology, apparently.
I remember when a NAS (Network Attached Storage) was just a NAS, and whilst I like the features ingrained in a Synology NAS sometimes for lower end NAS’s it’s a bit much even for it to handle and it drags the device down. Now before any fan boys start kicking off, hear me out. I don’t think this is a bad thing as such, at all. I see it as giving the user a choice as to what they want to use their NAS for, and the rest they have to decide on. If they have feature X; they can have feature Y and feature Z but it might choke on that. Unless they have a more higher-end NAS that can handle it. I am pro-choice in this regard (And no, that’s not a political statement).
I used to have a Netgear Stora MS2110 which was slow, loud and frankly the worst NAS I ever owned. It had a read (download) rate of around 1.5MBps, and a write (upload) rate of around 750KBps. It had a loud fan and the hard drives in it echoed around the machine and you could really hear the clicking of the heads flying across the disk and all around crunching of the hard drive that hard drives made back then.
@Manni introduced me to Synology though as a user, he was an administrator of a NAS and I had access via the web interface and it was the strangest thing I had ever seen. Eventually I went onto eBay and found that these NAS’s started at around £140 - £190 for the DS212j, at buy it now, although some started at £250.
So a premium brand then?
I then found one on eBay starting at 0.99p and was currently at £17.52 with a few days left and decided ‘why the fuck not?’ and put my opening max price at £30, with plans to go up to £40 and have an upper limit of £50. I didn’t really matter too much though; because on the 25th of October I won it for £28.00.
Item: Synology 212J 1 TB NAS Price I paid: £28.00 Shipping: £7.50 (Courier) Total Cost: £35.50 Came With: Network Cable, Power Supply, Two HDD’s (500GB) The package arrived on time, and it seemed to be extremely well packed wrapped in layers of bubble wrap. The first thing I did however was open it up (Of course!) and take a look inside, the hard drives in the unit came out, and I gave the machine a quick clean down and replaced the CMOS battery with a Kodak Button Cell 3V lithium battery. Taking the device apart was actually insanely easy, and this is the whole computer board:
That’s pretty much it. There is a board that goes off and acts as the LEDs and power button as well as a board that extends the SATA ports for the hard drives, but this is pretty much the hub of the NAS right there. I am hoping that I can somewhat overclock the processor, or something or add a heat sink on it with adhesive thermal pads but I am not currently sure how feasible this is.
Marvell Kirkwood 88F6281 (Sheeva 88SV131 CPU core) (Feroceon 88FR131) @ 1.2GHz - Single Core L1 Data cache = 16 KB. L1 Instruction cache = 16 KB. L2 cache = 256 KB. DDR SDRAM Controller DDR2 400 MHz, Dual channel, 16-bit, 3.2 GB/s. supports up to four DRAM banks (four DRAM chip selects). supports all DDR2 devices with densities up to 2 Gb. supports up to 32 open pages (page per bank). It supports DRAM bank interleaving, as well as open pages (up to eight pages per chip select). Up to 2 GB total address space. DDR:CPU Clock ratio of 1:N and 2:N support. support for 2T mode. supports up to a 128-byte burst per single transaction from the Mbus port. supports up to a 32-byte burst per single transaction from the Mbus-L port. contains a transaction queue, read and write buffers. It can absorb up to 4 transactions of 128 byte each, in its buffers. Transactions from the Mbus are pushed into the transaction queue. The SDRAM controller arbitrates between the transaction from the top of the queue and transactions received from the CPU Mbus-L path, always giving priority to the CPU. For a CPU read from the DRAM, read data is not pushed to the read buffer. It goes directly to the CPU bus interface unit via a 64-bit wide Mbus-L path. This minimizes read latency. Cache: 256MB RAM 1000Mbps Ethernet Connection Hardware wise; there isn’t really all that much to show you, the motherboard of the device is shown above, this is the the SATA Bridge:
Which I find absolutely interesting. The one towards the top of the picture (As the unit is upside down compared to the next image) is HDD Slot 2, where as the one on the bottom is HDD Slot 1. HDD Slot 1’s SATA connector looks very different to HDD Slot 2, noticeably the port between data and power. This is what I was talking about with the server hard drives in part 3 of my Shit I brought from eBay, the hard drives in that server will only fit into the HDD Slot 1, not HDD Slot 2, because of how the ports are made. They’re both as far as I can tell - SATA, except one seems to have a gap between the power and data where as the other has a stop bar that isolates the ports. I defined the difference as being SATA/SAS But who knows. I could be wrong. Please feel free to correct me in the comments below.
This is what the NAS looks like with the hard drives in:-
As you can see from the top screws, these are screws that I have replaced, they have rubber washers around them (As you can see in blue) this is what I put in to further reduce the vibrations caused by the hard drives (which translates as noise) by absorbing the shock of it. At least that was my theory. I have no idea how loud this was before this modification.
When I plugged it in and got it set up I learnt that there was an update for the device which I downloaded and installed… Immediately bricking my NAS. It wanted me to open the port forwarding on my router and contact Synology so they can access it and unbrick it.
“Get fucked” I thought. Then I tried to do it myself… Telnet was disabled, SSH was disabled, and nothing was working. The device was completely inaccessible and refused to boot. I had a similar problem with the Netgear Stora once, and I remembered what I needed to do.
I took the hard drives out, and decided to mount them as a RAID under a Linux Installation on my computer and scan them to see if they were properly formatted before I came to own them (They were! They had absolutely no data on them from the previous owner) and I wiped them clean with a binary zero write from the first sector to the last. Although I could have used Windows DiskPart to delete everything off of them, and clean the drives up. I put them both back into the device and used the Synology setup manager to restore DSM - and it worked!
Once it had installed, as I was only going to go around and test it, because the HDDs were going to get used in my Part 4 project (My IBM Server), I decided to play arounnd with the interface and settings and I did some file transfer tests. So during my test, with the Synology version of RAID enabled, I installed an anti-virus scanner because I figured that this thing is going to be connected to the network, it’d be good to have a layer of protection on there, and I didn’t think anything of it.
So I went to test the transfer speeds and… Oh my.
The speeds were not very encouraging; as what I was seeing was zero bytes per second, that would occasionally jump to to several megabytes per second before crashing back down to zero bytes. After logging into the Web Panel I could see why.
The CPU spikes up to 100% and the transfer crashes. When the CPU calms down the transfer goes back up and causes the CPU to spike up to 100% which crashes the speed of the transfer back down to zero again. Repeatedly. Whilst this is objectively better than my Netgear Stora, it still wasn’t good.
So I did some research and put it off for a few weeks whilst I started writing up Part 1, 2, 3 and 4 of this miniseries. During part 4 I decided to move a 4TB HDD from my PC which had been previously acting up in my computer. But it was only going to serve the purpose as a backup drive in the NAS because after repeated hammering tests on the drive I cannot make the failure appear again and it seems to be otherwise fine. The NAS will serve the purpose as a backup drive, to back up data from the local network.
So let's now talk about DSM, specifically DSM 6.2:
When you go to the location that the NAS is installed on (as a website address) you’re presented with a login screen (That can actually customise and change to some degree) like you can see above. Once you’re logged in you’re then presented with a desktop environment essentially:
From here you can pretty much set up the rest of the device and how it sits on your Network, as well as set up user accounts and install features on your NAS.
So let's take a look at the control panel:
In here you have several options as you can see above that has own tree of sub menus and sub options you can look at although I won’t be putting the screenshots of which into this document.
The first item “Shared Folder” which allows you to create root(ish) level directories when viewing the NAS through the Windows Networking Explorer for the NAS. These can be locked to different permissions so if you want a folder that only user 1 can see, and not user 2, you can indeed set that up, or if you want it so that user 2 only has read access - this again is possible. I kept mine to just one; as it allowed me to easily mount it as one drive (Via Map Network Drives) under Windows:
Which allows me easy access to the NAS.
The Shared Folder setting also lets you control encryption of the folder, although I haven’t used it. I don’t think the CPU can handle it (And I will explain why in a moment).
In the “File Services” page you can set up the following:
SMB/AFP/NFS FTP/SFTP TFTP Rsync Bonjour SSDP WS-Discovery The only services I have enabled here is SMB (Samba) and SSDP (Simple Service Discovery Protocol) which allows my device to be detectable under the Windows Network, but also locks it down from being accessed from the outside, which is a layer of protection under the NAT on the router to prevent outside access to the NAS. But you can set it up so you can access your NAS from the internet - which means you can access for files anywhere. But in my opinion you’re opening yourself up to some trouble.
Consider this: You can already find Synology NAS’s that are open online merely by searching Google for it (I’m not going to give the key phrase here) but I have done it, and I can confirm you can do it. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but you’re broadcasting at that point to the internet that your NAS exists and it’s there. Things have already hit NAS’s that effectively take them and the data that they hold to ransom - just look at SynoLocker. By advertising your NAS on your IP address this is what you’re opening yourself up for. A dedicated hacker who wants access to NAS’s will eventually get in. And everything you store on it can be exposed.
So for me; I have it set to network access only; no internet. I have a private web server set up elsewhere for files I want to share with myself when I’m away from home. Something that is set up, designed and locked down to serve this purpose, which requires specific PGP Keys. It has no domain name, and doesn’t appear on any searches, not am I hosting it here at home. I won’t say what other security features I have with it, but I will say that It’s not perfect, and it can be a pain in the arse sometimes so… and it probably isn’t for everyone.
The next is “User” and this is self explanatory. This is where you set up users and their permissions to the NAS, such as what apps they can use, what folders they have access to and so on. The next on the list “Group” is very much so apart of the users setting I think its you create default group permissions.
The next setting, I assume is for advanced users because it’s the “Domain/LDAP” setting which is probably good if you have a Windows Server with a Windows Domain on it. I don’t use either of these so I’m afraid I can’t tell you what exactly it does.
Under Connectivity you have a setting called “QuickConnect” which is the Synology QuickConnect feature that allows your NAS to be accessed from anywhere (As long as you have an internet connection) I quite obviously have this disabled, and it requires a synology account. You get given a quick connect ID which will allow people to access the NAS without the need to give out your IP Address, and the next setting “External Access” with DDNS and router configuration is keyed into that. Again - I don’t connect externally, nor can my NAS be connected from outside the Local Area Network. My guess is, is that you can set up your custom domain here, instead of xxx.xxx.xxx.xxx (Where ‘xxx’ is a number between 0 - 255), you can connect via a domain name like ‘www.domain.tld’. So this doesn’t apply to my use case.
The next setting is ‘Network’ and this was quite important to me. In here you can set up what the server name is, where the default gateway is connected to (In my case, my router), if there is a proxy server in the way, and what it’s configuration is, the network interface, traffic control restrictions, static routes as well as the DSM settings. The DSM settings allow you to control what ports you can access your NAS on (Which I have changed from the default), whether or not you want them to be automatically redirected from HTTP to HTTPS (Which I recommend, especially if you’re accessing it externally), enable HTTP/2 and edit your own Server Header. You can also enable HSTS but if I recall correctly for enabling it on EcchiDreams - you *need* a domain name, and a valid certificate.
The next setting is ‘DHCP Server’ which on the large part - I don’t need. Because my router is my DHCP server. But… If you wanted to, you could also enable PXE (Pre-boot Execution Environment) from here too, which some computers/servers are compatible with, which is pretty much used in Enterprise environments. It essentially allows you to boot and install a computer from a central location - might not be worth it for one or two computers. But for tens or hundreds, thousands or more computers on the same network - then it’s perhaps worth it. Trip down memory lane in spoiler:
The next setting is ‘Wireless’ which, if you connect a WiFi adapter to the NAS (By USB) you can have the NAS connected via WiFi. It seems to be able to support three modes; Wireless AP, Wireless Router and to join a Wireless network. In this setting you can also set up Bluetooth, with the correct adapter. I have mine connected via Ethernet port so this isn’t applicable to me.
The next setting is ‘Security’ which allows you to set up the security of the NAS. Such as an automatic logout timer, cross-site request forgery protection, CSP headers in the HTTP content security policy, allowing or disallowing the DSM to be embedded in an iFrame, and so on. It also has a built in firewall which you can control, DoS (Denial of Service) protection, login protections (Such as get a password wrong 3 times in 10 minutes and the NAS locks your IP out), SSL Certificate storage, HTTP compression and TLS/SSL profile levels, which I recommend “Modern Compatibility”, to get the best level of protection.
The next setting section is ‘System’ and under this at the top is “Info Center”:
Which is the hub of information about the NAS itself; the General Information tab which as you can see displays the status of the NAS. The Network tab shows the information pertaining to the network setup. The storage tab shows the information on the hard drive, such as size, free space, how much data is on it, what RAID format it’s in (In my case SHR), the model, temperature, location in the drive bay and whether or not it’s operating normally or malfunctioning. The next tab - Service, shows what services are enabled on the NAS and allows you to manually enable/disable them and allows you to test the connection. The next tab is device analytics which is data sent back to Synology on how you use your NAS. I’ve obviously disabled this because frankly it’s none of their business. The last tab here is for you to connect your Synology account to the NAS - which I don’t have one, nor will I ever get one.
The next setting is the theme setting:
This is where you can control the look of both the login screen via the “Login Style” and the general theme of the device via “Theme” although you can only seem to select light or dark. The login screen lets you put in your own pictures as a background which is pretty nice, and allows you to put in your own logo, which I have used the EcchiDreams information and logo to demonstrate for this write up.
The next setting is “Regional Options” or perhaps better known as Localisation. This allows you to control the timezone, and time settings as well as update your NAS to automatically synchronise the time with an NTP server. The next tab language is self explanatory it lets you set the default languages of the NAS, it’s notifications and codepage. Then of course you have an NTP Service which allows you to set up the NAS as an NTP Server (To syncronise time across devices attached to the network), the problem is though, most modern OS’s have this built in like Windows 10.
“Notifications” setting, in a nutshell lets you control how it sends notifications to you. It can do so via email, SMS or push service. With email it has a built in Google connect like interface that allows you to hook up a Gmail Account, Yahoo, Outlook, QQ or your own SMTP server to it; and it’ll send off email notifications automatically, including any welcome emails to new users. With SMS, you pretty much have a choice of ClickaTel, ClickaTel-2017 and Sendinblue-v3 all of which I do not use. With the push notifications you can use a Synology email server you download an app to your smartphone (Apple/Android) and pair your device with that. As seen with the mobile phone screenshot.
Not only can you receive notifications from this app, but you can actually pretty much control the device with an administrator control panel if you have the right privileges. It’s a pretty handy app to have, and I’ve not yet experienced problems with it. Under the advanced tab, like with EcchiDreams, you can select what notifications you get, and how you get them, like by push, SMS or email. So all in all pretty good.
Then there’s the ‘Task Scheduler’ setting that allows you to set automatic tasks that the NAS performs, such as DSM Auto Update and S.M.A.R.T Tests on the Hard Drives. It’s pretty simple. You can select how often these tasks run, or if they run at all.
Next you have ‘Hardware & Power’ which is interesting, and I’m going to go through this one by starting with a screenshot.
This has some handy little features that really put you in control over your own NAS. Much needed, especially after my Netgear Stora. Specifically the Fan Speed Mode. I have it set to quiet, because the current max temperature the hard drive gets to in the device is around 37oC - 40oC. Which is within tolerance. But then again it’s one hard drive. But I have to say that even on Full-Speed mode, the system is impressively quiet, although I am still considering on switching it to Low-power mode. Which completely stops the fan when it’s cool. In this menu is a power schedule that will allow you to have the NAS on at certain times of the day and off at others. HDD Hibernation allows you to power down the hard drive to minimise power consumption which I do (After 20 minutes), and further reduces noise when the system isn’t in use. This is something that if memory serves me right - existed on the Netgear Stora, but when it booted back up - my goodness it was loud. Then of course you have UPS which allows you to connect the NAS to an uninterruptible power supply. Seems like more of a server than a NAS, and I will get to that.
In the External Devices settings you can pretty much set up USB External HDD’s, Flash Drives and printers. I have tested this feature and it seems to work nicely with my flash drive. But I don’t use it.
‘Update & Restore’ is next. This is basically for DSM (Disk Station Manager) to make sure that the Operating System of the unit is up-to-date and so on. It also lets you configure backups as well as reset the NAS and restore it to factory defaults. But that said, I’d advise caution against the resetting feature. It seems that every time I’ve used it, I’ve needed to take the hard drives out to completely clean them under Windows using Diskpart to delete the volumes, partitions and then clean the disk… Because it bricks the NAS… Completely.
‘Privileges’ seems totally pointless to me, it’s to setup features enabled on a user/user group level which is already available in the User and Usergroup settings.
‘Application Portal’ is something I’ve not used. Nor do I really know what it really is. The help file says “Application Portal allows you to configure the connection settings of various applications so that you can directly access and run these applications (e.g. File Station) in independent browser tabs or windows.” However there’s a problem with this - that as I have said I will get to. Because you can’t enable too many features on this NAS.
‘Indexing Service’ or ‘Media Indexing’, pretty much just scans for multimedia files automatically such as photos, music, videos stored on the NAS. It also lets you control what kind of quality you want thumbnails to be in and enable video compression for mobile devices. You know that problem I mentioned in the previous paragraph- yes. I will get to that in a moment. It even warns you as a hint here “Note: Enabling this option will take more time and CPU resources.” The idea is to compress it, and I assume Transcode it for lower end Mobile Devices.
The next setting is ‘Shared Folder Sync’ which requires me to use RSync, which I don’t. I assume it lets you sync multiple NAS’s together. I only have one, so I don’t use it.
‘Terminal & SNMP’ Setting is the last setting in the control panel and this is something I will not use, nor leave open. The Terminal is basically Telnet/SSH which allows for command line access to the NAS, I have tested it and it is basically a Linux server. I see no need to enable it at this time. As for SNMP, if I recall correctly is some kind of Simple Network Management Protocol which I do not need to enable on my NAS.
And that’s it for the settings. The next thing you might have noticed in all of the screenshots is the ‘Package Center’ this is where you go to install new software features on the NAS… And we’re drawing near to my problem with this device that I have said repeatedly “I will bring up later.”
Just look at all these additional features… It’s… Well, it’s a lot.
One has to ask: How often are these applications - especially by third parties, updated? Because the MediaWiki app is version 1.30.0 which is out of date, there is 1.30.1 and even 1.31.1 which are both security updates. To make matters worse; Apache HTTP Server 2.4 is version 2.4.29-0011… The latest is 2.4.37 which I am pretty sure that between .29 and .37 there are a number of security updates as well as bug fixes. I wouldn’t consider this secure, especially if you’re hosting a website on that has access to the internet. Node.js only seems to go upto 0.10; the version now is 11.3.0, with security fixes released just a few months ago.
Same things with:
phpBB, what you get on the NAS is 3.2.1 (July 2017). Current Version is 3.2.4 which was a security fix. WordPress, what you get on the NAS is 4.9.7. Current Version is 5.0. Python3, what you get on the NAS is 3.5.1 (2015). The Current Version is 3.7.1. Drupal8, what you get on the NAS is 8.4.8. The current version is 8.6.3. Ruby, is the most egregious of the lot that I found. On the NAS: 2.4.3… Latest version: 2.5.3, with tonnes of security fixes and patches. So when is a NAS, no longer just a NAS? Since Synology apparently… In this day in age we need to keep things updated and this NAS has all the features of a web server, it lets you even make on… But you can’t keep it up-to-date and in my opinion this is not ideal to say the least. Now some of these - maybe no problem. Sure. But some of them are missing critical security fixes and are severely flawed. Control has to fall with the user, and if Synology insists on making it easier for the user then Synology has to update the software, or have the NAS download the latest version of the software.
I would not recommend using any of this, personally.
Don’t get me wrong - this is hands down the best NAS I have ever owned and it’s a low end model. I love it. But come on. I have to be critical here, and some of these might open pandora’s box of security holes, exploits and bugs that could run the NAS into the digital ground.
But the temptation - and this is where my problem comes in, is to start enabling all of the features willy nilly. But the problem is… Just loading this screen, this package centre takes about ten seconds at full CPU usage, and if it does that just loading up the screen then how can it run any of these things? Certainly at the same time as you’re trying to use it as a NAS… It’s going to choke.
Even with just the Anti-Virus scanner enabled; the system was unable to maintain good read/write speeds, constantly breaching 100% CPU usage, and holding up the upload/download, until it went down again, and even then the web interface freezes up repeatedly whilst 1 person is transfering files to and from the NAS… I’m sorry but to ask it to do more than one of these things in addition to being a NAS is simply not going to be as responsive and the more you install the worse it will get.
But maybe it’s not a problem if you’re going to say - use the NAS as a mini-web server instead, with Apache, PHP, PHPMyAdmin and MariaDB. But there are several problems here too, the complexity of the web application you want to use will pretty much be your limiting factor. Installing and running something like IPS (The Forum Software we use) might not be feasible, or quick and responsive at all, and may even require modifications that you cannot make such as installing additional PHP Extensions like GD2 extension or the mbstring extension.
That tiny 1.2GHz Processor doesn’t even have a heat sink, it’s passively cooled so I don’t know what kind of power people expect to really get out of it. As I said I couldn’t browse the web interface with ease when someone was using the NAS and that was just one person transferring files to the NAS. So I have no idea how it’s going to handle transcoding video to one device let alone several, or how you can really enable any of these features if multiple users, use the device.
Maybe with a more powerful NAS you can run these features side by side, I don’t know. But with the DS212j… I really wouldn’t recommend that if you want advanced features.
As for transfer speeds with barebones - no extra features:-
Download from the NAS:
Upload to the NAS:
It’s certainly better than 1.5MB/s download and around 750KB/s upload. So I am happy about that. I have been able to download on some occasions at around 50-100MB/s which is amazing. But these are far and few between. I spent £35.50 on it second hand, and it works. Do I really have a right to complain at all? ... Probably not.
Next on: "Shit I've bought from eBay" - HP MS228UK AiO Desktop PC
Along with the Ratatoskr card, I imagine this to be a trump card in the Rodentia archetype. In The Nutcracker, there's a character called the Mouse King. Well, I couldn't ignore such a great idea for a new Rodentia card. But HOLY FUCK, never look up "mouse king nutcracker," on anything! The amount of photos, Lion King fan art, and Kingdom Hearts fan art I found was horrifying. Also, I thought the character was the Rat King, but I was wrong.
Originally called "Rodentia: Rat King's Coronation," before I found out a rat king is actually just a bunch of rats stuck together. XD