Hands On: Synology DS1517+ NAS

Image: Synology

Back in April, I reviewed the Synology DS916+ NAS and was quite impressed. Since then, Synology has released a new NAS, the DS1517+, a five-bay NAS that continues to build upon storage as the cornerstone of the modern network. When I received my review unit from Synology, the packing slip described the DS1517+ as a "barebones server", rather than a NAS. And that's a more accurate description of the device.

Over the next few weeks I'm going to be coming back to the DS1517+. Typically, I'd run through most of the features of a device like this and try to summarise them into one, succinct review. But I'm taking a different approach with the DS1517+. Today, I'll be covering the initial set up, configuration and basic features.

Over the next couple of weeks, I'll explore its support for virtualisation, cloud apps, disaster recovery and business continuity and other services. I want to see if the DS1517+ can live up to its claim of being more of a server than a simple NAS.

Basic specs

When I first started looking at NAS gear, there were really only a couple of things to consider; the number of drives it supported and network interfaces. But this is not really a NAS - it's a server so CPU, memory and other factors are a consideration.

The DS1517+ sports an Intel Atom C2538 Quad Core processor clocked at 2.4GHz. My review unit shipped with 8GB (as two 4GB sticks) of memory but there is a 2GB model available as well. This can be expanded to 16GB. And, while the DS1517+ ships with five drive bays, this can be expanded to as many as 15 disks using an optional expansion unit.

It supports 3.5-inch HDD as well as 2.5-inch HDDs and SSDs.

There are four gigabit ethernet support with failover and aggregation capability as well as four USB 3.0 ports and a pair of eSATA ports for connecting external storage devices, security cameras and printers.

Hard drives

Getting the most from your NAS isn't simply a matter of plugging any old hard disk into each bay. Synology has established a partnership with Seagate to offer IronWolf Health Management. This gives the Synology NAS access to the hardware sensors and software suite built into IronWolf NAS HDDs to provide intelligent analysis of drive health.

Seagate offers two variants in its IronWolf range, the IronWolf and IronWolf Pro. The Pro is designed for larger disk arrays and is designed for a higher workload rate and comes with a five year warranty, instead of three.

I contacted Seagate who supplied me with five 10TB IronWolf NAS drives so I could test out those new features with the DS1517+.

It is important to choose the right drives for a NAS. While you may get away with regular desktop drives - I have an older Thecus NAS that's been running for about seven years on five 1TB Western Digital drives - NAS drives are optimised for the different read/write requirements of network storage.

If you're serious about protecting your data then invest in hard drives that are made for your specific application.

Set up

Once I'd unpacked the DS1517+, I installed the five Seagate IronWolf drives. The installation is dead easy and didn't require any tools. The drive trays have a plastic strip down each side. I pulled the strip off, sat the drive in the tray and then pushed the strips back on. Small protrusions on the strips poked into the screw-holes on the drives, locking them into place.

Once five drives were physically installed - that tool less than 10 minutes - I connected the NAS to my router, plugged in the power and started the DS1517+.

Synology saes it easy to find the new NAS on the network for configuration. I simply typed "find.synology.com" into my browser - I tested this with Safari on an iPad and Mac, as well as Edge and Chrome on a Windows system - and all the Synology devices on my network appeared. I selected the DS1517+ and went into the configuration process.

I set the DS1517+ up with one redundant drive although there was an option to set two drives as redundant in my five-drive array. I took the default option of creating a Synology Hybrid RAID volume. SHR, according to Synology simplifies volume expansion and other management tasks. But the trade-off is that you can't use Synology's High Availability option where you can set up multiple NAS, in geographically dispersed areas, as redundant devices.

Once the drives are installed, the DS1517+ set up process downloads and installs the latest version of the Disk Station Manager (DSM) software. It's currently at version 6.1 and Synology updates this software regularly. I usually set Synology NAS devices to check for updates weekly although I'm now going to daily checks and updates given some of the recent cyber events involving SMB 1.

Once the drives were formatted and configured, I had 34.9TB of available space. I then created a number of shared folders for various types of content such as media, backups and other files. I also created some user accounts and assigned permissions to those folders as appropriate.

As part of the set up process, you can connect Synology devices to an online account. this allows you to access the content on your NAS remotely from a web browser using a custom URL - https://quickconnect.to/yourdevicename.

Moving files

One of the things I find really annoying about many NAS devices is how hard it can be to move data around between devices. Synology has made these trivially easy with DSM. By enabling the drag and drop between browsers option, I could copy files from the DS916+ to the newer and more capacious DS1517+ easily. And this option means I can set up a large file copying task without using my computer as a middle man".

One slightly annoying thing was the 25GB folder I copied is zipped before it is shipped across the network. When it lands at the other end, I needed to unzip it. While the Synology File Station software makes this easy, it seemed an unnecessary step.

I tested this with Safari on an Mac as well as Chrome. While the process was successful with Chrome, it didn't work reliably with Safari, forcing me to kill Safari.

Of course, I could also use FTP or other file sharing protocols but drag and drop is much easier.

Apps and services

Synology has assembled a substantial array of apps - they call them Packages - that add significant functionality to this NAS. They have a full suite of productivity tools include their own competitors to Google Apps or Office 365, as well as an Active Directory server, a download manager, backup tools, a RADIUS server, VPN server, media servers and more.

Most of the Packages are developed and maintained by Synology although there are a number of third-party developers as well.

What does this set up cost?

The DS1517+ is more than just a storage device. It's a server appliance that is designed to meet the needs of small and growing businesses.

The street price of the DS1517+ is about $900. Then you need to add the drives. The Seagate IronWolf 10GB NAS drives have a street price of about $560 each.

That brings the cost of the DS1517+, as I'm testing it, to around $3700.

What's next?

Later this week, I'll take a good look at Synology's productivity applications. I'll be setting these up on the server as well as running the apps on Mac, Windows and iOS devices. I'll then move on to the virtualisation support and other business/enterprise features.

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