GTD Technology Advice: Which NAS should I buy?

… and what is a NAS anyway?

I received the following question from a restartgtd reader who works in a small business:

Been doing some homework on Synology and CRM. 
Love that OpenERP andSugarCRM are both available
as modules. Based on specs and pricing, I'm
leaning toward the DS214+ box 
(https://www.synology.com/en-global/products/spec/DS214+).

Any thoughts?

Letter Writer

Before I get to advice, I’d like to describe why this reader and I are talking about Synology’s NAS products and not some other brand.

In the beginning …

I first *touched* a Synology NAS in September of 2009. At the time I was writing a review of Synology’s CS-406 (and their first) NAS product. NAS is an acronym that means “Networked Attached Storage.” What NASes do today, used to be addomplished by big expensive servers. For example, managing electronic mail used to be done with servers. Today, NASes manage email. FTP used to be managed by servers, today FTP is managed by NAS devices. CRM (Customer Relationship Management) used to be done on servers, today you can run CRM from a NAS.

In fact, it gets better. Not only can you use your NAS to run email, FTP, and CRM, you can run all three services, and more, simultaneously. Computers and disk drives are so fast now, server work is fast shifting to appliances like network attached storage. This is a big win for small business information technology!

Back to Synology’s NAS. Here is the cover picture I took of Synology’s NAS on my bookshelf in 2006.

synologycs406books1Source: SmallNetBuilder.com

Impressive:

The more I used the Synology NAS, the more impressed I became with the product. Having worked at Hewlett-Packard’s LaserJet group in new product management, I appreciate well developed firmware. And the more I used the Synology product, the more impressed I became with Synology’s firmware.

At first I was impressed that the NAS did not crash. Then, I was impressed with how future looking the feature set was (downloading bit torrents handed off from a laptop in 2006!). And then, when the NAS had proved itself as a solid performer, I began to attempt to trick the NAS into failure. I could not.

What the NAS felt like was firmware that was so strong that anyone could jump on it and not collapse it. It recalled to mind a story from a friend of mine. Her grandfather entered a design contest in West Virginia to build a bridge. When it was time to be interviewed about his design, he took a scale model of the bridge, set each end on a chair, and then stood on the model. And he won the contract.

Synology’s firmware, felt like the bridge between the chairs.

Why?

How could a 1.0 NAS be so solid? Well, it turns out there is a back story. Synology’s founders wanted to have the first software company in Taiwan. And to start their company, they landed a contract with a big Japanese company making enterprise disk arrays. And the software they picked to develop first, was enterprise RAID.

OK, I won’t torture you with the details of what RAID is. The point of brining up RAID is that it may be the hardest software problem to solve in enterprise software. Synology was crazy to start with enterprise RAID. But, that is where the DS-406 NAS came from. After tiring of enterprise hard drive companies, Synology designed its own hardware and moved its RAID software to their own NAS.

So What?

This story is why I begin this post with Synology. Synology started out with a lead in software quality and functionality, and it has pressed its advantage ever since. Simple, Synology in my opinion is the best possible network attached storage device on the market.

Back to the Advice … which Synology NAS should I buy?

Hey!

There is a strong inclination with the synology boxes
to buy way more than is needed, and thus, to spend 1.5x
as much as is needed. Or, more.

The important thing about Synology is, they are all the
same software, just different processors. The slowest
unit (DS411slim) is plenty fast for Prink for the next
couple years.

So I'd *nudge* you down in cost to the DS214se at $159
you throw 2 hard drives in and you have an 
indistinguishable product from the $369 DS214+. 
"Slower" = Supports only 20 people instead of 50.

If you want to install and play with the CRM software,
I cordially invite you to come over and play with my
DS508 and get a feel for it. My experience with OpenERP
is that the learning curve is a bitch. The support
materials are like man pages that cover about 20% of
what one needs to learn.

OpenERP also runs on Win 7 so you could take an old
turkey box and put it up on that. See if you like it.
But, the Synology does way more (private encrypted
cloud, media crap, email running, etc. etc. etc.) than
a base Windows or Linux box.

For example, if you wanted to move off Google (Yay yay
NSA!) you could move most of the services to a Synology
box (maybe spreadsheet and docs too, but I don't know).

bill

Isn’t saving money by buying less speed … risky?

No. As I said in my advice email, the slowest NAS these days is easily fast enough to service a small company. In fact, I think that Synology is hurting itself in a way, because they allow customers to buy more expensive equipment than is required.

Think about it. You buy a $200 NAS (bottom of Synology’s line) and you love it. Great story. But I think that so many NAS buyers are first time purchasers, that having too big a product line, has the unintended consequence of keeping a lot of potential customers on the pre-purchase fence. Choice has been shown to be de-motivating (PDF).

“I’ll just wait for the next product update by Synology.” or “I’ll wait until I have the incremental $150 to buy the black model instead of the tan model.” NASes are new, and it is hard to buy a new product category for the first time. Excuses easily satisfy fearful buyers who make them.

In closing, I would point potential NAS purchasers to this FANTASTIC product review of Synology’s DS213j. Have no fear.

bill meade

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