My Love Affair with Synology

If you look at Figure 5, you'll see that I have a static route set up so that traffic going to the IP address of my VPN goes through my LAN's gateway. Since it's only a static route for that network, the rest of the internet is still inaccessible. I also could do fancy firewall work and allow the NAS to access only the VPN and drop all other packets, but I like the solution to be self-contained. That way, if I change routers or router configs, I don't have to worry about getting DMCA notices.

Figure 5. This is the sneaky static route so I can connect to my VPN, but nothing else.

The Synology also will act as a router, forwarding traffic. That means I can point my Roku to the Synology as its gateway device, and I'm able to watch local blackout games on the app, because all the traffic goes through the VPN. The only change I have to make is on my DHCP server, which gives the Synology's IP address as the Roku's gateway address. It works perfectly and saves me setting up another VPN to get around MLB's regional restrictions. (Honestly, I usually watch baseball games on TiVo, but occasionally the game is on only via streaming, and I like having that option.)


Remember when I said RAID wasn't a backup? Yeah, I meant that. I've lost too much valuable data through the years to depend on RAID to protect my files—even when the drives and NAS device seem to be more solid than any I've had in the past. Thankfully, Synology has a few different backup options (Figure 6). The most practical one for large amounts of data is the Hyper Backup app. It has the ability to copy your entire NAS to a variety of destinations. Whether you choose to buy another Synology NAS and store it in your shed or back up your data to Amazon Glacier, the same Hyper Backup program can handle the regular updates.

Figure 6. Backup solutions are in great supply.

I don't want to pay for Amazon Storage, even though the Amazon Drive Unlimited is decently priced at $60/year. I worry that my 30TB would cause Amazon to invent a reason to suspend my account. Plus, it would take so long to back up my entire data store to the cloud, that it literally might never get done. Right now, I just back up my irreplaceable files (home movies, photos and so on). Someday I hope to get a second Synology NAS and set up that "mirror in the shed". Still, Synology has so many backup options, it's hard to find a reason to delay setting up a backup solution!

Things I Don't Do

The Synology had a decent processor, and the RAM is even upgradeable. Still, it's not a beefy server when it comes to resource-hungry applications. For example, even though the Plex Media Server is available in the package management system, I'd never install it. Plex uses way too much CPU to transcode video streams. I'm thankful the Synology is powerful enough to stream the actual video files over fileshares, but the thought of transcoding 1080p MKV streams in real time? It's a bad idea. I have a standalone server I use for Plex Media Server, and while it can transcode at least four full resolution video streams, it's also a huge i7 CPU with a boatload of RAM. Unless you're doing minimal streaming with low-resolution video, I encourage you to avoid Plex Media Server on any NAS device.

I also can't run the really amazing reverse proxy server on Synology. The setup is easy, and the configuration is very intuitive, but my VPN/no-gateway setup means that the reverse proxy doesn't work outside my network. Even if I forward a port to the NAS from my router, it tries to send responses out the VPN connection and fails. Reverse proxies are easy enough to configure on any other machine in my network, so it's not a huge loss, but it's worth noting that it's something my crazy VPN system breaks.

Not the Only Option

Before you think I was paid by the folks at Synology to brag about their product, I will freely admit that a big tower server with a bunch of hard drives and software RAID makes for an incredible NAS. It means you can beef up the hardware too and do things like run Plex Media Server. I simply like the efficiency of the Synology devices. They're fast, cool running and just sip electricity. I'm sure there are other brands of NASes that do a decent job too, and Synology isn't perfect. In all honesty, however, it's the best product I've been able to find, and I have literal piles of junk NAS devices that just couldn't do the job. If you're looking for a NAS device, in my opinion, you can't go wrong with Synology.


Shawn Powers is a Linux Journal Associate Editor. You might find him on IRC, Twitter, or training IT pros at CBT Nuggets.