My brief love affair with Synology

For several years I’ve been missing the loss of my Linux file server and contemplating either building a new one or buying a home NAS. About 3 weeks ago I made the plunge and ordered a Synology DS416 from Newegg.

Setup was very easy, though I was surprised to learn the device doesn’t work at all without a drive in it. I expected there would be a built on OS volume for running native services but apparently everything gets copied onto the data volume once the drives are inserted.

As for the drives themselves, I chose 4 HGST 4TB Deskstars. I’ve been burned by all of the major disk manufacturers but Backblaze’s data makes a good case for hgst over other vendors. In a raid 5 this gave me about 12 TB usable space, more than enough for my needs.

With the disks in place and the OS installed I started copying my files over. After some mucking around with creating my own share, I ended up using the default photo and video shares since it seems those are where you must put things to use the PhotoStation and VideoStation features- two of the main reasons I went with Synology in the first place. I found this pretty obnoxious as it meant I had to separate my home videos into separate directories.

Once I got everything copied over, which took about two days, I started noticing the real problems. The main issue was the overall performance of the system. The only thing it did reasonably well was read and write a single large file — pure sequential io. Indexing photos, videos or music took ages and from what I could tell, unindexed files wouldn’t appear at all to non-admin users, meaning I’d copy over 1000 files but my wife could only see 400 of them on a CIFS mount unless I made her an admin. The CPU was also so slow that Plex said outright that the CPU was too slow to transcode anything and wouldn’t even allow me to play a 4 MB avi on my PS4 via DLNA. I knew when I bought it that the 416 wasn’t ideal for transcoding, but I didn’t realize that almost every single thing I wanted to do would require transcoding.

It wasn’t a good file server, photo server or video server, but at least it let me install Plex, right? Well, Plex on the Synology crashed every time I added or deleted a library. It got so annoying I added a “scheduled task” to restart it every minute. That on top of the “server is too slow” error.

So it wasn’t good at any of these things, but at least it was an appliance so I didn’t have to manage it myself, right? No. I had to log in via ssh to fix file permissions with manual chown and chmod commands to get Plex and the PhotoStation apps to even see my media at all. And the Synology appeared to be running Postgres 9.3 internally (which, as a Postgres DBA in a previous life, warmed my heart), but the log file was filled with “slow query” alerts — queries that returned a single element took 13 seconds! Once I started mucking around with postgresql.conf I knew it was time to call it quits. The final nail came when I found myself compiling a custom build of ffmpeg so I could re-encode all my home movies to a format that Synology or Plex might actually be able to handle.

To bring this tale to an abrupt ending, I RMAd the Synology and returned it to Newegg last night. I kept the disks and plan to build my own Ubuntu system with an Intel CPU, which surprisingly costs about the same as the DS416, and much less than any of the higher end models. A MicroATX motherboard, Kaby Lake i3, 8 GB ram, a 550-watt power supply AND a 275 GB m.2 SSD come out to nearly the same price as the Synology DS416.

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Optimum Online first impressions, January 2017 edition

I recently had Optimum Online installed at my house and cancelled Verizon FiOS, again. I think this is the the seventh time I’ve switched between the two providers over the past five or six years — at one point I had switched from Verizon to Cablevision and only lasted two months before switching back.

When Verizon first showed up on Long Island they were the upstart tv provider. Cablevision had had a monopoly for decades and provided relatively good tv and internet service. Optimum Voice had even made a sizeable dent in home phone lines — they beat the phone company at phone service! Fios was hungry though, willing to give huge deals to get people to sign up for their superior service. After a couple of years, word of mouth had the intended effect and Verizon — with faster internet, better channel choices, lower prices, better set top boxes-became the premier provider. Cablevision scrambled to compete in quality but as recently as 2015 they had inconsistent internet with asymmetrical speeds (e.g. 100 Mbps download/30 Mbps upload), bad HD picture quality, extremely slow cable boxes (3–4 seconds to change the channel) and dvr that dropped portions of the shows you recorded (several seconds worth).

So it was with great reluctance that I called Cablevision in December to schedule installation at my house. The impetus was pretty simple for me: my Verizon bill in October had been $121. In November it jumped to $234. This was due to discounts expiring after 12 months. I called to try and get the price down but there wasn’t much I could do if I wanted to keep the premium channels (the only ones we watch). So, long story short I had our home phone number ported to Optimum and went with their Silver package, with all the premium channels, two HD STBs, phone and 200 Mbps/35 Mbps internet for $165/month, with the price guaranteed for 3 years.

It’s been two weeks since Optimum was installed (I started writing this post the day of the installation) and I’ve been very pleasantly surprised with the quality of service. On the TV side, the picture quality is excellent, the STBs are MUCH faster and more responsive when changing channels or navigating menus, and the DVR works well. The only negative I can think of is the remote doesn’t have a skip-forward button like the FiOS remotes, though with On Demand included for the premium channels we have, there’s not a lot of need for DVR. The internet is reasonably close to what they advertise — usually around 150–160 Mbps download and 37 Mbps upload. The closest I’ve gotten to the advertised 200 Mbps has been 194, and that was just once.

Speedtest.net result from Jan 21, 2017

I was also impressed with the installation itself. In the past the technicians who came to my house to install Optimum didn’t leave me with a great impression. Sometimes they were obviously third-party contractors who showed up in a plain white van with an Optimum magnet attached to the side, looking very sloppy, and seemed determined to drill new holes in the side of my house to run the line in despite the fact that we obviously had the service before, so existing lines must be there. In any case, this time the tech was very professional, calling ahead of time to ensure I was home, and he installed everything quickly and neatly. He also wired the phone service into our existing house phone line, unlike previous times we’ve had Cablevision when the techs said that wasn’t possible.

Optimum provided a Sagemcom “smart” router, which provided good signal, but attempting to access the management UI (192.168.1.1) redirected me to router.optimum.net with a very restricted UI. It appears Optimum requires you to make changes in their web portal, and those changes then get pushed into your router. I’m very not-Ok with this as this means my wifi passwords etc are stored on their server. Additionally, there appeared to be no way to configure DHCP on the Sagemcom router to set the DNS server for DHCP clients to anything other than itself, and its built-in DNS server/proxy was timing out randomly, causing everything to break when DNS lookups failed. After an hour trying to wrestle with it I ended up removing the Sagemcom router completely and re-enabling NAT & DHCP on my trusty TP-Link Archer C7 router, which I’d been using as a WAP previously. Since removing the Optimum router from the network everything’s been great, and all my LAN clients are hitting 8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4 as DNS servers.

So like I said, so far I’ve been very pleased with Optimum.

Mac Drivers for the HooToo USB-Ethernet adaptor

I bought this HooToo USB-Ethernet dongle about a year ago for a vacation and never bothered trying out the wired Ethernet functionality until tonight.  I was dismayed to learn that it didn’t work without a driver, and having long since lost the disc it came with (nevermind that my MacBook Pro has no disc drive) I tried to find drivers online.  HooToo’s website is garbage and they don’t even mention this device at all on the site.  After some more extensive digging, I found a product on Amazon that looks identical to mine but with different branding.  On that page the seller states that the device uses the “ax88179” chipset.  Googling for that led me to this page, which has the Mac driver right on it.  I installed the driver, rebooted, and now have USB-to-Ethernet so I can copy from my laptop to desktop at Gig-ish speeds!  Yay.