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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Synology DS212j - Experiences and Usage Scenarios




This is the fourth of blog posts wherein I describe my experiences with setting up a Synology disk station DS212j by re-using a hard disk which I recovered from an Apple Time Capsule wlan router & NAS which quitted service. In this post I want to describe my experiences with the new device after having the hardware up and running.

Set-Up and Installation


The setup of the DS is quite simple if you have a SATA hard disk at your disposal which is either empty or does not contain valuable data: the disk will be formatted during the setup process. As described in the first post of this series the installation procedure is started via a Synology desktop application which is called "DS Finder" and which available (at least) for Windows and Mac OS X. The Disk Station is detected via WLAN if it has been connected to a WLAN router. If the DS has not been set-up before, the DS Finder will list it as "Not Installed".
One thing you have to ensure at this point is that you have an installation file of DSM, the Disk Station operating system available, which can be downloaded from Synology. On the next screen you are asked to tell the program where this installation file is located.
After having started the installation process it is time to go for a loooong coffee break. For my 1TB WD hard disk (from the Time Capsule) the formatting and installation process took about 5-6 hours...

System Configuration

When the coffee break is over, it is time to login for the first time to the system. This can be done via the DS Finder tool -which opens a browser window - or via a web browser. The Disk Station is available at
<ip address>:5000
At the first login you have to use the default admin account, which does not have a password per default. The first configuration I did was giving the admin a password...
If you don't want to access the Ds through DS Finder (which I didn't want either) it is good to assign the DS a static IP so you can be sure which IP:5000 combination to type in the browser. One can do this by opening in DSM:

System Control --> System --> Network

On the tab "Network Interface", LAN settings you can choose between automatic IP (DHCP) and manual IP assignment. To assign a static address, choose "manual" and enter network config data of your choice.
Work in progress...

Creation of Users

The next thing to do is to think about users being allowed to access the DS. This can be done via the Control Panel which is available on the DSM desktop:



The standard administrator user "admin" has no password assigned by default. One should change this as soon as possible if unauthorized access shall be avoided.
Other users can be created and managed via the "User" admin tool. It is possible to create users with different levels of authorization and detailed access to folders and programs.

Creation of Disk Spaces and Folders

After a successful system installation it is time to create (logic) drives on the disk. This can be achieved by a program called "Disk Manager" which comes with the standard installation of DSM:


Via Storage Manager it is possible to create logical drives:


Note: on the screenshot, the drive has already has been created.

After the creation of a logical drive it is time to create folders on the drive.

Accessing the Disk Station Content via iPad (iOS Devices)

To begin with: it is not possible to access music files stored on the DS via iTunes on the iPad which seems to have restricted capacitites compared with the full fledged version on a PC. However, it is possible to access Music via iTunes on a Mac or Windows PC (see section below).
Nevertheless, it is possible to stream media files (music, video, photos) to an iOS device via special apps Synology provides for free in the app store. All in all there are 6 apps for iOS available, apps for Android & Windows Phone are available too:

  • DS Audio: streams music to the mobile device in a player similar to iTunes
  • DS Photo+: photo browser for the mobile device
  • DS Video: streams videos stored on the DS to mobile device
  • DS File: gives access to the DS file system
  • DS Download: didn't check

Accessing the Disk Station Content via Play Station

Getting access to my PS3 was a harder one. But this was not so much due to the PS3, but due to the features of the Airport Express which I use as WLAN router and DAC interface to the HiFi amplifier. To the details:
In the beginning, my Airport Express wlan configuration used the "Autochannel" option to determine the wlan channel the Airport uses. Having this option set, it was not possible to get the PS3 connected via wlan. I checed a couple of community threads and finally found a hint that helped me: if you are running your Airport Express / PS3 setup in an environment with some other wlans that interfere, the Airport switches to wlan channel 13. This seems to cause problems with the PS3. I cured this by manually setting the wlan channel of the Airport to some channel lower than 13 and the setup works ever since.

Back to the Synology-experience: After having fixed the network problems, the DS was automatically recognized as media server by the Playstation. for each category of the PS3 content (music, video, photos) a new folder icon appears giving access to the content stored on the DS. I can now stream music, video and photos directly to the PS3 without having the need to store the content there - very satisfying!

Accessing Music on a PC

The integration with a PC (Mac or Windows, Linux I don't know...) is straight forward. You can connect to the DS via a file browser and open files from there. You can open your iTunes library residing on the DS to listen to music´. Alternatively, you can run an iTunes Server on the Disk Station (available for download in the DS control panel). This iTunes Server makes the music stored in a directory called "Music" available as shared iTunes library. Note that this "iTunes Server" does not work as source to stream music to e.g. an iPad. You need to have a fully fledged iTunes on your remote machine to acces this iTunes Server on the DS

Summary

In the first blog post after the crash of my Time Capsule I formulated a couple if things I wanted to achieve with a replacement for the device:

  • Separate the disk from the WLAN router to avoid collateral damage if one of the devices breaks
  • We wanted to realize a setup which allows streaming music directly from the disk without the need to have a computer running
  • Connection to our HiFi equipment
  • Price should be kind of reasonable
  • With the TC I did the data backup manually, it would be nice to get this automated in a RAID array
  • What I got from reading a couple of forums, it would be nice if the device to come had an iTunes server on board.
  • I wanted as well to connect a PS3 to the disk to view photos via the PS3
Summarizing I can only say that all of these goals have been achieved. Up to now I cannot judge about the RAID functionality as I did not install a second hard disk yet, but I assume as it is one of the main characteristics of the DS212j that this will work without major problems.

Update from April 2013: I installed a second disk about a half a year ago. My initial assumption was right: istallation and setup of the second disk worked without problems. I created a RAID array with the two disks and it works ever since. Up to now I fortunately didn't have the chance to check that the RAID backup works, as none of the disks crashed.
All in all I am VERY content with the new setup. Streaming to the iPad works perfectly, the output to the HiFi amplifier via the Airport Express works seamless too. The only complaint I have about the Airport is the  limited number (only 1) of ethernet cable sockets the device has. The cooperation between the DS and the PS3 works as well very well, even if there was an Airport-induced challenge to master.

I hope that my article will help you to take your own decision, and you enjoyed reading.