Even in these days of fast Internet connections via fibre and plenty of cloud service-based storage options available, there are still good reasons to run your own local storage/ private cloud via a network-attached storage (NAS) appliance.
What’s the DS220+?
A NAS is a specialised device that mainly manages storage. The amount of storage available will vary depending on how many drives you can use on a specific model and the capacity of the drives you use.
Synology has a pretty good participation in the NAS market, covering all segments from small to large enterprises and the Synology DS220+ unit I have here is the entry-level model for the personal/home users and IT enthusiasts.
In the case of these smaller devices what started as a storage appliance for home or small offices evolved over the years to be a lot more than that, rising to the status of a full-fledged server, managed by an operating system that supports both consumer-focused digital media applications and professional tools.
This is pretty impressive as the Synology operating system, called DSM is constantly updated and can scale up from small NAS devices to large enterprise-grade rack-mounted storage units. And yet, the DSM is still easy to use by both novice and experienced users alike.
Don’t let the ease of use and the small size of the DS220+ limit you though. There is a lot of power and features that make this little box a marvel and a great appliance to have at home, safekeeping your memories including photos, videos, documents and opening up opportunities for enthusiasts who want to explore its features a bit more without spending lots on a bigger box.
Based on an Intel Celeron J4024 dual-core the DS220+ comes with 2 GB DDR4 RAM standard but you have easy access to a memory expansion slot so that you can easily upgrade the memory up to a (documented) 6 GB DDR4 RAM. In reality, I had an extra 8 GB RAM from a laptop that was recently upgraded and after installation I have my review unit running with a total of 10 GB DDR4 RAM. This extra RAM is always good as you start using more and more features.
The Intel Celeron J4024 dual-core has a burst speed of up to 2.9 GHz and seems to make the DS220+ snappy and responsive, with operations being pretty fast. With two-gigabit Ethernet ports and the large list of compatible NAS drives that work with this appliance, you have plenty of capacity and bandwidth to play with.
The dual Ethernet port allows you to tweak its network configuration quite a bit, going from a single connection, to redundant connections to fully load-balanced link aggregation (which requires an adequate switch that can be configured for this to work).
For the unity I have here I bought two Western Digital Red NAS-compatible SATA drives, with 4 TB each. Installation is pretty easy, with no tools required access to both drives and the memory slot expansion.
Simply remove the front of the unit by pulling it out from its pressure locks and you have the two bays facing you. Push on a release latch and slide out the tray – these trays can be used for both 3.5″ or 2.5″ drives. The larger size has pressure attachments on each side and you get screws to attach smaller 2.5″ drives to the right position. What you won’t have on this smaller box is the SSD cache their larger models have but everything else will look the same once up and running.
My choice of two drives of the same model and capacity was mainly to take advantage of the DSM redundancy features – in the case of the DS220+ you can have either a single large volume that utilise both drives or you can have the drives mirror each other in a RAID 1 configuration, thus having redundant storage to protect you in case of a drive failure.
The drives are how-swappable so if at any point there’s a hardware failure you can easily replace the failed drive while the unit is still operating.
With the hardware installed and network cable attached (I recommend you start with one cable only and do any other network configuration change later) you can just fire up and point your browser to the NAS address. You will be guided through the operating system installation as well as storage configuration.
Once the DSM is installed and you can access the box, the fun begins. For new users, all interaction is via your web browser, unless you enable SSH or Telnet access. In my case, I have installed SSL certificates corresponding to my personal domain name and assigned this box a static address in our network so that our family can have secure, encrypted access to the services available.
What can you do with your DS220+? Build your own private cloud services!
Being a consumer-focused appliance doesn’t mean it’s limited by any means. Through its Package Center you have access to a huge library of applications such as Photo Station, Audio Station, Video Station, HyperBackup and Plex as well as enthusiast and SME-oriented applications such as backup for Google Workspace and Microsoft 365 as well as being able to host developer tools, websites, blogs, databases, email and calendar applications, execute virtual machines and Docker containers.
Using some of those applications you can create your own private cloud, with always-connected storage and media service, ready for use from your laptop, tablet or smartphone at home or on the go.
For example, using the new Synology Photo you can create photo albums that can be private or shared with family and friends. Once photos are uploaded the DS220+ uses a special face recognition algorithm to separate photos into People albums. Get tagging those faces and in no time you have an easy and fun (really) way to search for people.
Photos are automatically put into albums for Places (using geotagging information from the images) and tags (using any EXIF-tag found in those images). The Places albums are listed by Country and by location within each country.
You can then create Conditional albums using special search conditions such as “[Person] in [Location]” to find photos of a specific person at a specific location or “[Family member] AND [Family member] AND [family member]” to get all photos of these three people together. Using different conditions you can create very specific albums to share with family and friends.
Sharing is very easy and give your friends access to these photos, even if they don’t have a login to your DS220+. A unique link can be created to specific photos or albums and you can make this link password-protected or even specify an expiry date.
Most importantly you can do this securely through the QuickConnect service, which relays the traffic between the DS220+ and the client (browser or app) without you having to open your connection to the wide Internet. You can also have your mobile app automatically upload photos taken so they are never lost and always available on your NAS.
Another app of interest is Synology Drive. Synology Drive works by making your NAS the central storage for your files, much like Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox and other similar services. The difference here is that you retain your data within your network instead of using public cloud providers.
Each user on the DS220+ will have their own Drive storage space that will always be in sync between different devices. You just need to install the Synology Drive app on your computer or smartphone and have access to your files, from anywhere.
You can select which folders will always be available on your computer so if a file is modified on your laptop while you are away, it will automatically update on the NAS and the desktop copy if needed.
Backup, backup, backup
All this data in a single place carries a certain risk. What if your NAS is stolen? What if a file is deleted by mistake? What if a drive suffers a malfunction?
To keep your data safe there are a variety of strategies.
The first thing to look at is your local storage. To make sure your data can be recovered in case of a drive malfunction you should take advantage of the two storage bays in the DS220+ and enable its mirror functionality. This way everything is stored twice – once in each drive. For this to work, you need two drives similar in model and capacity. The larger each drive the better as the total storage will be equivalent to a single drive.
The next thing is to make sure you can recover your data in case of accidental deletion or a stolen NAS. For this, you can use the HyperBackup NAS application. Using HyperBackup you can connect your NAS to a cloud service and copy your data to this external storage.
HyperBack is simple to use and allows you to connect to a variety of cloud storage services, including Dropbox, Google Drive, Rackspace, AWS S3, HiDrive and others. You can also connect to other NAS if you want (ideally located somewhere else).
Once you create the connection for your backup destination you can just check the boxes for which folders to backup and how frequently do you want this backup to happen. It’s basically set and forget – until you need it, which hopefully is never.
In my case, I have connected HyperBackup to my Backblaze account. Backblaze offers cloud-based storage at reasonable prices so I can keep a copy of my data – photos, music, documents in a different location.
There is a huge number of applications available for your NAS and I only really looked at a couple of those that are of more immediate use for first-time users. There are other applications covering digital media as well – videos, music and even a Plex server.
The Synology DS220+ Network Attached Storage (NAS) is an ideal option for users who want to get into better management of their digital archives, at either a home or small office setting. It comfortable covers both storage and media management needs. It is small and won’t use much space. It’s pretty quiet, even when the fan is doing its job of keeping it cooler.
For a limited time (until the end of June 2021) you can enter a draw to win a Synology DS220+ by answering a quick survey.