|Introduction & Specifications|
Regardless of their size or industry, most businesses depend on ready and secure access to their data. To a business, "secure" means that its data is protected from hardware or software failures and is safe from prying eyes. But small and even some medium-sized businesses often can't afford to maintain a data center, let alone a dedicated IT staff. Such businesses still have numerous options for data storage and access solutions, including contracting the service out or even relying on cloud-based solutions. But for those smallish businesses that have tech-savvy staff members, often the preferred solution is to rely on cost-effective onsite storage in the form of business-grade network-attached storage (NAS) devices.
NAS devices come in many different shapes and sizes, as well as with different capacities and features. But for the most-reliable type of storage solution, the NAS devices of choice should be a multi-drive unit with RAID support. It is important to keep in mind, however, that while RAID adds extra layers of fault tolerance in the form redundant data storage--thus making your data's storage more reliable--it is still not a replacement for backing up your data. The best RAID solutions offer easy-to-use and robust tools for doing both.
One great example of such a device is the Synology Disk Station DS409+. The DS409+ is a four-bay NAS device that holds up to four, internal SATA drives that can be set up in a variety of different RAID configurations. The DS409+ also includes an external eSATA port and two USB 2.0 ports, which can be used to attach external hard drives to for additional storage or for dedicated backups of the server; you can also attach up to two printers to the USB ports and use the DS409+ as a print server as well. Unlike many other NAS devices that come with preconfigured storage options, the DS409+ does not come with any hard drives--you actually populate the device with drives you supply yourself. The DS409+ can support up to a total of 8TB of storage, via four 2TB hard drives.
According to a Synology representative, the $599.99 MSRP is expected to drop down to $549.99 soon. But keep in mind that the DS409+'s price represents an unpopulated NAS device. For our testing, we populated the DS409+ with four 500GB Western Digital Caviar Black (WD5001AALS) hard drives, which currently sell for $69.99 on Newegg.com. This brings the total cost of our rig up to $879.95, before tax and shipping. If you were to populate the device with four 2TB drives, the total cost of the rig would be close to $1,500 by today's prices.
|Design & Build Quality|
The DS409+ comes in a short, squat case, similar-looking to a Shuttle XPC mini-desktop chassis design, such as the Shuttle SDXi Barebones System; in fact, upon first glance, you might mistake the DS409+ for a mini-desktop PC.
The DS409+ chassis measure 7.25x6.5x9.25-inches (HWD), and is made of black aluminum and plastic with gold highlights. The front panel houses the device's power button and LED status lights. The back of the device includes DC in, Gigabit Ethernet (RJ-45), eSATA, and two USB 2.0 ports.
To open up the unit, you remove four thumbscrews on the back panel, after which the panel pivots down and out of the way on hinges; then you lift up and remove the upper section of the case. The back panel includes two cooling fans. The DS409+ comes with four SATA connection cables of two different lengths, with the longer cable lengths meant to be used with the drive in the top-most bay, and the shorter cables with the drive in the bottom bay.
The four bays are designed to let you slide in 3.5-inch drives--a total of 16 mounting screws are also included. Installing the drives can be time-consuming process, and we wish that the DS409+ instead used a tray-based and tool-less drive installation kit that didn't involve us chasing dropped screws across the floor. You can also use 2.5-inch drives with the DS409+, which require the optional 2.5-inch "Type B" Disk Holder ($9.99 each, direct from Synology). The DS409+ also comes with four SATA power cables.
Some NAS devices, such as the Linksys by Cisco Media Hub or the Pogoplug NAS Device are designed to be relatively easy to set up and use. This is not necessarily the case with the DS409+. It's not that the DS409+ is difficult to set up and use, it's just that its interface, features, and documentation are geared towards those who already have some networking knowhow. Perhaps these aren't fair comparisons as the two aforementioned NAS devices are designed primarily to be used in the home, while the DS409+ is better suited for small office environments. That said, the DS409+ does include a bevy of streaming media features that can also benefit a networked home environment--albeit the home of someone who is tech savvy.
Once the drives are installed inside the unit, and it is powered on and physically connected to the local network, the DS409+ needs to be configured. You do this by running the Synology Assistant app, which is included on the bundled disc. The app searches the local network for the drive and installs the necessary software to the device to make it functional. This step also lets you set up a few basic settings, such as the network name of the device, its admin password, and how the device will gets its IP address (DHCP or static IP). Note that any data that is currently stored on the hard disks installed in the device will be wiped at this point. Once this step is complete, you still can't use the DS409+ for data storage yet, as you still have to create the NAS device's storage volume(s).
The next step is to login to the device's Web-based interface to access all the DS409+'s settings. You can choose which of the installed disks will be included in the volume you will create. You can create multiple volumes if you don't use all of the disks for a particular volume. We chose to use all four installed disks to create a RAID 5 volume.
Technically, you could start storing and accessing files on the device at this point, but you would have to do so logged in as the admin. To fully utilize the functionality of the DS409+ you'd be best served by--at minimum--creating user accounts. This way you can control which users have access to which folders. Whenever you create a user account, a "home" folder for that user is automatically created--by default, only that particular user and the admin can access that folder. If you have also created folders on the DS409+, you can assign Read/Write, Read only, or No access rights to individual users as well any groups you have also created. You can also assign storage capacity quotas to individual users as well.
|Configuration & Features|
One of the stronger features of the DS409+ is data protection. For instance, if a volume is configured as RAID 5, RAID 5 + Spare, or RAID 6, you can actually hot swap a failed drive without having to power down the device. The DS409+ also lets you backup any or all the device's shared folders contents to an attached external hard drive, another Synology server, or an rsync-compatible server. Data backed up via a network connection can additionally be encrypted--unfortunately, this is not an option for backups to direct-attached external drives. Regardless of the backup destination you can schedule these backups to automatically occur at regularly scheduled intervals.
The DS409+ also supports Active Directory Domain Services via KDC IP, Full Qualified Domain Name (FQDN), or domain NetBIOS name. You can also completely disable Windows file service if you don't want Windows users to be able to access the device as a file server (i.e., if you are using the DS409+ only as an FTP server). Some other security features are the ability to enable or disable support for the NFS protocol, Telnet and SSH services, and forcing all HTTP-based connections to use HTTPS with SSL/TLS protection (including importing private keys and certificates). The device's FTP server (which you can disable if you choose) includes a wide range of granular controls, including bandwidth restriction, an IP block list, and only accepting SSL/TLS-based FTP connections.
The DS409+ also comes with a number of features that make the device far more than just a file server. The included Web Station lets you host a Web site on the device. You can also enable individual users to host their own personal Websites on the device as well. The Web server supports PHP+MySQL, can support up to 30 Websites, and can even report some basic usage statistics. You can also set up the DS409+ as a mail server, with SMTP, POP3, and IMAP support.
A few caveats need to be mentioned, however: If you set up any Websites on the DS409+ with the expectation that you will have external visitors from the Internet, make sure that your broadband Internet account doesn't have any bandwidth caps--or at least bandwidth caps that can accommodate this extra traffic. Also, the processing power of the DS409+ is fairly limited, so more than a handful of simultaneous users can potentially bring the DS409+ to its knees. If you do plan on using the DS409+ as a Web server, it would be best to password protect any sites it hosts and limit access to only a handful of users--if you need a more robust Web server than this, then the DS409+ is probably not the right solution for you. Also, if you plan on using the DS409+ as a mail server, make sure that your ISP supports this. Some ISPs will only let commercial accounts run a mail server--and the same bandwidth and number of user constraints apply here as well.
|Configuration & Features (Continued)|
The DS409+ can also function as a media server. Built-in UPnP support allows any UPnP-compatible networked device to connect to the DS409+ and play supported media files. The DS409+ also has an integrated iTunes sever, which includes the option of password-protecting iTunes access. The device's integrated Audio Station application lets users play supported audio directly via a browser-based interface. Similarly, the Photo Station app can be set up as a photo-sharing site and blog. Another feature of the DS409+--often found only on business-class NAS devices--is the ability to access up to 10 IP cameras as a surveillance station. The DS409+'s Download Station app allows you to download files via BitTorrent, FTP, HTTP, NZB, and eMule directly to the NAS device; you can schedule downloads to take place during off-peak hours.
Nearly all of the DS409+'s features are also accessible via a remote Internet connection. To do so, you will need to know your public IP address or use a Dynamic DNS (DDNS) service--the DS409+ includes DDNS support. If you plan on accessing the DS409+ remotely, you will also likely need to open a few ports on your router in order to unblock the connections. The DS409+ supports two different means of remote file access: In addition to FTP access, the DS409+ also includes a browser-based interface, called File Station, for accessing data on the NAS device. Most of these applications have user-level control so you can grant access to only the users you want.
The "applications" are built into the DS409+'s web interface. However, there are also optional "packages" that can be downloaded and installed as well. For instance, the Website usage and mail server modules are packages available as downloads from Synology. Additionally, as the DS409+ uses Linux as its underlying operating system, advanced users could install additional Linux-based apps and other modifications as well to the DS409+--Synology provides some documentation on modifying the DS409+ here.
The browser-based interface for the DS409+, via which all of these features are managed, is called the Synology Disk Station Manager. The current version is 2.1, but the version 2.2 update is currently in public beta and should be released soon. The new version includes a number of additional features, such as a DLNA-compliant media server, iPhone support, a built-in firewall, Apple Time Machine support, SMS notification, a resource monitor (providing metrics on the "Disk Station's CPU usage, memory usage, network flow and volume usage"), and adding video playback and music album artwork support to the iTunes server.
The DS409+ includes two applications that can be installed onto Windows and Mac systems. The Synology Assistant locates the NAS device on the local network, launches the Synology Disk Station Manager, maps shared folders as drives, and includes an Add Printer wizard. The Download Redirector allows you to redirect file downloads to the DS409+'s Download Station app. A third app, Data Replicator--which is for Windows systems only--is for automating scheduled backups of data stored on local systems to the NAS server. While there isn't currently a local backup client for the Mac, the forthcoming Disk Station 2.2 should solve that problem with its Time Machine support.
In order to test the functionality of the DS409+, we placed it on a Gigabit-Ethernet network and accessed it from a variety of Windows and Mac desktops and laptops. We connected to it via both wired and wireless connections, as well as remotely over the Internet.
To test the device's performance, we used a combination of synthetic benchmark testing and real-world file copy tests. Throughout the tests, the DS490+ was configured with a 4-drive RAID 5 array configured as a single volume (all four hard drives were 500GB Western Digital Caviar Black (WD5001AALS) hard drives).
Our first test was conducted with the synthetic ATTO Disk Benchmark. We mapped the DS409+ as drive letter Y: on the test machine and ran the default ATTO test. On the test, the DS409+ performed best with block sizes that are 32K or larger when reading, and 64K or larger when writing. The fastest read speed the DS409+ put in on this test was 79.1MB/Sec (512K), and the fastest write speed was 46.3MB/Sec (64K).
We can't make direct comparisons between the DS409+ and the business-class Thecus N7700 NAS device we recently reviewed, because the two NAS devices were tested with different test setups and environments. However, both test setups are fast enough to mostly minimize any bottlenecks that the testbed systems or network infrastructures would likely introduce to testing. On the ATTO Disk Benchmark, the N7700 saw read speeds of 110.2MB/Sec and write speeds of 116.0MB/Sec. Such a performance difference can, in large part, be explained by the N7700's more powerful processor (an Intel Core 2 Duo) and greater amount of memory (2MB DDR2 SDRAM).
We conducted a number of real-world data-transfer tests to and from the device over our network using an HP Pavilion Elite m9550f desktop (2.5GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q9300, 8GB PC2-6400 DDR2 SDRAM, 1TB NTFS 7200RPM SATA hard drive, ATI Radeon HD 4850 512MB, Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 64-bit) via a Gigabit-Ethernet connection. We conducted large-file write and read tests where we copied a 1.7GB ISO file between the DS409+ and the m9550f. We also conducted small-files write and read tests where we copied a 267MB folder made up of 70 JPGs ranging in size from 2.27MB to 4.38MB between the DS409+ and the m9550f. We conducted these tests by dragging-and-dropping the folders and files in Windows, with the DS409+ connected as a mapped drive.
We compared the performance of the DS409+ against that of a number of NAS devices we've looked at, including the WD My Work World Edition, Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition, Linksys by Cisco Media Hub, HP MediaSmart Server LX195, Addonics NAS Adapter, and the Pogoplug. We also repeated all of our tests on an older 500GB Maxtor Shared Storage NAS device--copying files between the Maxtor Shared Storage device and the m9550f. Additionally, we ran our tests on an external hard drive connected directly to a USB 2.0 port on the m9550f; the drive we used was a 320GB Western Digital Caviar Blue drive (7200RPM SATA-II, 16MB cache) placed into an external enclosure and formatted using the NTFS file system.
When transferring large files, the DS409+ is one of the speediest NAS devices we've seen. It is slightly faster than the HP MediaSmart Server LX195 when writing, and over 31% faster when reading. The DS409+'s write speeds are even faster than the performance of a Western Digital Caviar Blue drive directly attached to our testbed via a USB 2.0 connection. The DS409+'s performance on our large file test works out to be approximately 33.0MB/Sec (276.4Mb/Sec) writing, and 60.5MB/Sec (507.5Mb/Sec) reading. Synology claims that the DS409+ is capable of up to 40.2MB/Sec write and 57.5MB/Sec read speeds. While the write speed we saw falls short of Synology's estimations, we actually saw a read speed that exceeded Synology's claim--of course, different test setups make doing direct comparisons an impossibility. As far as the N7700 goes (and once again, we can't make a direct comparison here, because of differing test setups), it saw a read speed of 83.4MB/Sec and a write speed of 82.2MB/Sec.
As is usually the case for NAS devices, the DS409+'s small file transfer performance is not as speedy as it is when transferring large files. That said, its small files write speed of 24.3MB/Sec (203.7Mb/Sec) and read speed of 38.7MB/Sec (324.9Mb/Sec) are the fastest we've seen of the eight NAS devices we've tested with our current test setup. The DS409+'s small files write performance is even about 24-percent faster than what we saw with the direct-connected, USB 2.0 external drive. (We couldn't generate useful numbers for the USB drive's small-files read performance as Windows cached the files in memory and essentially performed instantaneous transfers whenever we repeated the file copy--all of our tests were run multiple times to ensure repeatability). As a point of reference (but not as a direct comparison), the N7700 had a small files write performance of 62.5MB/Sec and saw read speeds of 54.9MB/Sec.
As an iTunes server, the DS409+ is very speedy. Even with a 54.7GB music library that contained nearly 6,200 songs (26.7 days worth of music), it took only just over 2 seconds to access the complete library stored on the server from our Windows testbed system. The DS409+ is able to display the full contents of the iTunes library so quickly because whenever you copy files to the DS409+'s music folder, the device automatically indexes the contents of the folder.
We also connected the DS409+ to a power meter to get a sense of how much power it consumes. When the device is sitting idle, it uses around 46-watts of power. When under load, its power consumption appears to top out at around 51-watts. When in Hibernation mode, the device uses about 25 watts of power.
|Summary & Conclusion|
The DS409+ aced all of our synthetic and real-world file-transfer tests, making it one of the speediest NAS devices we've seen--and noticeably faster than any of the consumer-level (i.e., home user) NAS devices we've tested. While the DS409+'s performance is very impressive, it's not, however, the fastest business level NAS devices to come though our labs. The Thecus N7700 wears the speed crown, but it is also a higher-end, and therefore more expensive NAS device than the DS409+. (The N7700 has a faster processor, more onboard memory, a total of 7 drive bays, and two Gigabit Ethernet connections with failover and load-balance support.)
Just because the DS409+ is geared toward small-businesses, however, doesn't mean that the device can't also find a useful place for itself in the home environment. Its decent media-streaming capabilities, as well the ability to host photo-sharing and Websites make it a good candidate for tech-savvy home users as well. The tech jargon-heavy interface and documentation, however, are likely to keep the DS409+ out of the hands of networking newbies--the learning curve will probably be too high for those who don't already know their way around a NAS device and the commensurate networking technologies (you do know what SSL and TLS connections are, right?).
Businesses and advanced home users alike will appreciate the DS409+'s security features meant to keep local and remote networked connections secure, as well as a variety of server backup options. And those who choose to fill the device with four drives and utilize one of the supported RAID modes that enables data redundancy will appreciate the extra layer of data integrity. (In fact, during our testing, one of the drives in our RAID 5 array unexpectedly stopped functioning, and the DS409+ still kept chugging away with all of our data still accessible. It turns out that it was just a loose cable connection, and not a bad drive.) Business users get the added bonuses of the mail server and IP surveillance camera server as well.
Overall we were very impressed with the DS409+. Our only significant trepidation about the device is its nearly $600 price tag (which is expected to go down to around $550 very soon). That unto itself is not too bad, but it bears repeating that this price is for a device that is not populated with any drives. With our tested configuration of 2TB of storage (via four 500GB drives), the total price for the populated NAS device is closer to $900. If we had chosen to go whole-hog and load it with 8TB (via four 2TB drives), the total cost would have been closer to $1,500. Then again, a quick search for "8TB NAS" shows that you can easily spend a lot more than $1,500 for a populated 8TB NAS device. The bottom line is that if your small business or networked home needs centralized and remotely accessible storage, the DS409+ with its fast data transfer speeds, robust security, and advanced features should more than meet your needs.