How to Set Up and Get Started with Your Synology NAS

Synology offers a very user friendly Network Attached Storage (NAS) device experience, but that doesn’t mean unboxing it and starting it up is exactly a one-click affair. Let’s get things up and running so we can move onto all the fun projects a compact NAS with server-like functionality can facilitate.

What Is a Synology NAS?

Synology is a company, founded in 2000, specializing in Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices. A NAS, simply put, is a computer optimized for data storage, often with additional functionality layered on top. Synology has two primary product lines, DiskStation and RackStation, with the former intended for home users and small offices and the latter intended for larger commercial environments.

The DiskStation models range in size from simple one-bay models (starting at around $150) that offer a non-redundant place to park your data, all the way up to larger models that support 12 drives (starting at around $1000+) with support for advanced multi-disk redundancy and even expansion via auxillary disk bays. Between the two ends of the size spectrum, they can effectively cover the home use needs of everyone from the “I need to backup my family photos” crowd to the “I need to back up the entire internet” crowd.

DiskStation models come with a propriety Linux-derived operating system, known as DiskStation Manager. DiskStation Manager comes with a very intuitive web-based interface that feels like you’re using a desktop computer, complete with easy to identify icons, well laid out menus, and abundant help files. In addition to core NAS features like file management, you can add a large array of custom plugins that handle things like organizing your family photos, torrenting files, and everything in between. The end result is a multi-function device that can perform the tasks of a full size computer, but without the energy consumption. (Even the beefiest DiskStation models consume less than half what a desktop computer or full size home server would.)

Let’s look at the setup process for the Synology DS916+, a four-bay model with plenty storage room and plenty of memory and processing power (including on-the-fly video transcoding for home streaming applications). It’s a great model to showcase the setup process, as it sports the additional ports and such found on the larger models but still shares the same operating system found on all DiskStation models.

The Physical Setup: Fill, Plug In, Boot, and Enjoy the Silence

Your Synology NAS comes with a power cable, an Ethernet cable, drive mounting screws, and, if you have a higher end model, it may also come with hot-swap drive bay trays, and a second Ethernet cable (the high end DiskStations support dual network cards for increased network throughput). Before we take a look at the actual unit and how to fill it up, let’s talk about disk selection.

Hard Drive Selection

For an optimum NAS experience, we recommend starting with new drives, in the largest size your budget will allow. For our purposes we’ll be using 8TB Western Digital Red drives, which are specifically designed for NAS use where operation is projected to be around the clock in a tight space. Regardless of the brand of hard drives you go with, you want to, at minimum, avoid budget or desktop drives and stick with server/NAS drives.

If you’re contemplating what size drives to use (or the effects of mixing different size drives), we highly recommend Synology’s easy to use drag-and-drop RAID calculator to help visualize how different drive combinations yield different amounts of usable space.

Synology uses a custom RAID setup called Synology Hybrid RAID (SHR)—seen as the selected option in the screenshot above—designed to keep your drives redundant. That means you’ll need more drives, but if one fails, you won’t lose any data, because it’ll be mirrored on another drive. You can read more about RAID here, if you aren’t familiar with it.

Even if you’re familiar with basic RAID terminology, though, you’re likely not familiar with Synolgy’s Hybrid RAID setup if you haven’t used Synology products before. It is a superior option for almost every consumer scenario, hands down. It offers more flexibility than traditional RAID, it’s much easier to expand your storage in the future if you use it, and it makes radically more efficient use of disk space when the disk array doesn’t have perfectly matched drives. Don’t take our word for it though—if you want to dive into the technical breakdown between SHR and RAID, you can read up on it here.

Adding the Drives

Let’s take a look at the case with the removable cover off, and then pop (and populate) the drive bays. To remove the face plate, simply wiggle it away from the chassis of the NAS. The plate is held in place by thick rubber fingers (designed to help silence vibration) and should come off easily with a first touch.

Note the tabs at the top of each drive bay. Simply push the tab gentle upwards and slide the tray out. Although tray screws are included with all the models (some of the more economical models in the Synology line don’t have drive trays and require direct mounting of drives via screws), you don’t need to use them on the hot-swap trays. While you can do so if you’re really set in your ways, it’s much better to use the hard drives in their trays without the screws by gently pulling off the side guards (seen below),…

Sasha Harriet

Sasha Harriet

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Sasha Harriet

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