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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