Monday, 31 October 2011

Setting up Synology DS411J NAS Drive

I recently made the big decision of buying a NAS drive. I have previously relied upon external USB drives and they have been fine up until recently. My previous system was to buy a hard drive, use it until it neared being full, buy a bigger one, copy everything over, stop using the old hard drive (too small by comparison now) and rely fully on the new hard drive. This is madness. If you do this, and you like your data, this is madness. Why? Well, you have everything you own on one hard drive. One drive, which could fail at any moment. Not to scaremonger too much, but I began feeling pretty uneasy about this.

My solution was to buy a NAS box which can hold up to 4 drives. I only bought two hard drives (each 2TB) to go inside the NAS, but the box itself can support up to 12TB. I decided to set this up in a mirroring setup, meaning whatever is added to one drive is automatically written to the other. Obviously then, my 2x2TB hard drives only allow for 2TB storage (and not 4TB) but with the huge and potentially live-saving advantage that if any of the drives failed, there would be a perfect mirror still with all my data intact.

For the NAS drive, I opted for the Synology DS411J (read details on Amazon) and for the hard drives themselves, I opted for Samsung HD204UI Spinpoint 2TB SATA 3.5" Hard Drives (read details on Amazon). Or scroll to the bottom for the Amazon links widget.

Not the ugliest box

Samsung 2TB Hard Drive (1 of 2)

If, like me, your NAS box arrives before your hard drives do, let me point out something to save you some time. There is nothing productive you can do without the hard drives so just be patient and wait for all your goodies to be present.

Safely packaged
Nice packaging
The disc which accompanies the NAS drive contains an installer for the management tool, "Synology Assistant". You will need to install this application. Once the application is installed, you will be able to use it to configure your box and drives.

One thing to note, you will be prompted to supply a DSM file (which has a .PAT filetype) during installation which can be obtained in one of two ways; from the CD or from the Synology website. I do not claim to know the difference but figure the internet will supply the newest version so I got mines from there; put it on to download and grab a cuppa as it is a slow server! You will want to get this stuff installing and downloading and whilst that is happening, you can grab yourself a screwdriver and get installing the hardware.

 The box itself has 4 screws on the rear plate, which can be removed by hand.

Remove the 4 screws

Screws keeping the rear plate attached

Removing these allows the back plate to swing down, revealing the 4 bays which lie inside. The roof of the box will still be in your way though; pull slightly towards the rear of the box, and upwards, and this will dislodge.

Box, with roof removed

Rear plate swung open to reveal bays

Each bay has a plastic mount, which allows the hard drives to slip easily into place.

Plastic mount to house the hard drive

Since you will be able to see the connectors, you should be able to tell which end of the hard drive goes in first. All you have to do is make sure that you don't put the hard drive in upside down! Your hard drive should come with 4 screws to secure the drive in the mount, and it is recommended you do this. You will need a screwdriver for this though.

Screws for securing hard drive to plastic mount

Secure the hard drive into the mount

With the screws in place, slide the mount into the bay until there is a little resistance. Press in just a little bit harder and then stop. Your drive is now connected. Do the same for any/all other drives you are wishing to install.

Slide the mount back into the box

Reverse the process to re-assemble your box. Connect the LAN cable using the provided cable; one end in the rear of the box, and the other directly into your router. Connect the power cable and power up the device.

If your download has finished, move on. If not, re-boil the kettle and stick your feet up for a bit.

Open "Synology Assistant" and wait for the software to locate your device. It should detect it on your network, and upon clicking on it, allow you to "Install" it.

Synology Assistant

Installing DSM to hard drive

There aren't too many options to choose from and there won't be any difficult questions. The default is for the box to take an automatic IP address, but I opted to disable DHCP and specify a manual IP instead. The process took about 10-15 minutes for my configuration (2x2TB hard drives).

Once you are prompted that it has finished, you can again use "Synology Assistant" software to configure your device for use. Now, a "Connect" option is available instead of "Install". Pressing this launches a very nice looking GUI for configuration to take place. (Note, this actually just launches your browser at a certain URL; you can save this as a bookmark to avoid using "Synology Assistant" again). Much has been said about Synology's GUI on various other reviews, and everything I read has been positive. I concur. It's really rather nice and takes a lot of the guesswork out of configuring this box. It looks more like a proper GUI operating system than a website, and puts a lot of websites to shame! Resizeable windows, support for multiple windows to be open on screen or minimized and even customisation of the desktop icons!! Oh come on Synology, you're just spoiling me here!

Control Panel

Click the first button, "Set up a volume and create a shared folder". From here, you'll be prompted to launch "Storage Manager", and will be provided a link to do so. Click the link! Hurray! See, this is easy!

Hmm, ok, tough decision time here then. Less easy. You can choose one of two options: Quick, or Custom. Quick, as the description will inform you allows you to use a custom RAID type, developed by Synology. It is flexible and should allow for good future alteration. I am choosing Quick configuration here. You can, if you so desire, manually specify your RAID type if you have a good reason and know what you are doing. The few screens are fairly basic; ensure all your drives are checked, accept that the next process will format your drives and select the recommended option about disc checking. Finally, hit "Apply" and thumb-twiddle for a bit.

Storage Manager

After the process has finished, it will move onto "Verifying hard disks" which runs in the background (and takes ages) so feel free to consider that up and running and ready for experimenting with. The first thing you'll probably want to do is set up a "Shared Folder", to allow you to store files on the drive. Store files? Crazy idea, but stay with me.

Control Panel is a good place to start so open your Control Panel desktop icon. Select the "Shared Folder" option. Press the "Create" button, which will launch the following screen.

Keep my backed up movies accessible from every device on the network

Admins get read/write access; guests get read-only

This has created a shared folder available from the network. How to access? The usual way you access shared folders on the network is the simple answer. For Windows 7, open "Network" typically available from the Start Button. You should be able to see your DiskStation device. 

Network - Windows 7

When you attempt to access it for the first time, you will be prompted for credentials. If you haven't configured multiple users yet, enter "admin" as the username, and your admin password that you gave when you first installed the device. See your shared folder? Hooha! Can you read from and write to it? Double Hooha!

I'll leave this post now as it has become a tad longer than I first expected. I'm pretty excited to see what this NAS drive can offer me. I have absolutely no idea just what it can do though, as I was setting this up as I wrote this. Play time now.

Hope this helped any one struggling to get to this stage, and keep reading if you are interested in my experiences using the device and doing more advanced things with it.

Want to follow my lead? Use the links below to buy yourself the same products I bought.

Synology DS411J (read details on Amazon)
Samsung HD204UI Spinpoint 2TB SATA 3.5" Hard Drive (read details on Amazon)

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