Setting up a network-attached storage device (or NAS) is oftentimes a pain. Usually the most frustrating part is getting Windows to identify it and map it as a drive. This way, you can actually use it as it was intended, as a network storage device. In CNET Labs, I've come across many types of NAS management interfaces, be they Web-based or desktop applications. All have one thing in common in my experience: they are not the easiest devices to set up. For this reason, I was very impressed by a demonstration from Synology of its new, soon-to-be released Disk Station Manager 2.0 NAS Management Software (DSM). If you think this is a long-winded, hard-to-remember name, well, it is, but that's probably the only thing you'll have difficulty with.
First of all, DSM is a Linux-based application preloaded within the NAS device as a operating system that you can access and control via Internet Explorer 7 or Firefox. As the front-end user interface (UI) supports AJAX, unlike most Web-based UIs, allows for Windows-like functionality within the browser, including the ability to drag and drop as well as helpful Wizards that simplify the NAS management tasks. The interface is intuitive and very self-explanatory. Novice users guess fairly accurately what each button does, and after a few mouse clicks should have no problem understanding how things work. All this makes mapping a network drive to a Synology NAS device a no-brainer. While with most other NAS devices, the list of features stops here; with the DSM, it's just the beginning.
By supporting IP cameras, the DSM can also turn the NAS device into a surveillance station, which can automatically record video either by timer or by motion detection. This is an elaborate surveillance system that supports up to five cameras, and the recorded videos' quality is actually better than most tape-based surveillance systems. During the demonstration, the DSM showed multiple real-time monitoring screens using IE7 as its interface. With Firefox, it was only able to show a single monitoring screen. Synology says it is working on this browser inconsistency, and the company hopes it will be worked out by the time the software releases in April.
Another very interesting and useful feature of Synology's DSM is the Photo Station 3. With this feature, users can easily upload a folder of digital photos that Photo Station 3 organizes into a Web album. The album engine automatically creates the album interface and thumbnails. All you have to do is put photos in the designated folders on the NAS. You can then caption each photo and allow others of your choosing to view the photos online.
And that's not all, the Disk Station Manager 2.0 NAS Management Software also supports the following equally useful features:
- Expandable RAID 5 volume: Allowing new hard drive to be added and expanded in RAID5 format on the fly.
- MySQL Support: Supporting MySQL version 5.0.51.
- HTTPs and FTP with SSL/TLS: Accessing the NAS drive from the Web is made more secure, even on the entry-level NAS models.
- Audio Station: Allows user to play audio files directly from the NAS or an iPod to USB speakers, with remote control.
From what I've seen so far, Synology's NAS device coupled with its DSM 2.0 software, by far offers the most features and best UI I've come across. At the time of writing this blog, I am also expecting an upgraded Disk Station DS107+--Synolgoy's consumer-grade NAS device--that supports most of the above features. So be on the lookout for our in-depth review on CNET.com.
All of Synology's NAS devices that ship in April or later will have this new interface preinstalled. Existing Synology devices can be upgraded to this new interface for free during this time too. The DSM software does not work with NAS devices from other vendors.