Personal Cloud — Synology DS918+ Helps Us Explore the Synology Cloud

Written by Paul Moons on . Posted in Storage

Synology DS918+While it is always exciting to take a look at Synology’s latest NAS hardware, Synology’s new additions to its DiskStation Manager and support packages makes the DS918+ a powerful personal cloud device.

Read on for our exploration of these features on Synology’s latest Network Attached Storage device.

 

 

 

 

The DS918+ is the latest four bay unit in Synology’s plus series and as we have come to expect from Synology, it’s general performance and build quality is excellent. In this review we will concentrate on Synology’s new personal cloud applications, specifically Synology Office, Drive, Calendar and Moments.

Unboxing

Synology DS918+Like most Synology DiskStations, the DS918+ is a sturdy looking unit. It’s front face is dominated by four vertical drive bays with a small array of LED indicators on the left hand-side. Beneath these LEDs is a USB 3.0 port and the power button which lights up blue during operation.

The entire unit is made up of matte black plastic which matches the drive bay covers perfectly. The sides of the DS918+ sport the clever Synology cutout vents of previous units while the top of the unit remains plain and unremarkable.

Synology DS918+The DS918+ features Synology’s clever screw-less hard drive mounting mechanism with individually lockable hard drive bays. New to the line, the DS918+ allows quick access to two M.2 NVMe SSD slots via two vented (and notably unsecured) clip out panels. While we had none on hand to test with, the SSD slots allow the DS918+ to palm off read/write cache to the M.2 units to improve performance.

Synology DS918+The rear of the unit is predictably where most of the port action is however. Beneath two 92mm fans lie two Gigabit Ethernet ports, a SATA expansion slot for connecting the DS918+ to the DX517 five BAY expansion unit and another USB 3.0 port. A four prong power receptacle and a Kensington lock slot complete the rear connectivity.

Setup and Usage

Synology DS918+ ScreenshotSynology has really taken the headache out of NAS setup with its entirely web based system. Once hard drives have been installed and the DS918+ has been connected to your local network, setup is as easy as typing in “http://find.synology.com” in your browser and following the online prompts.

While the online process takes around ten to twenty minutes (depending on your network connection), it really is a matter of clicking through some rudimentary dialogues and waiting for your browser to refresh into the DSM interface.

Synology DS918+Despite our lacklustre ADL2+ internet connection, from physically installing the drives to launching the DiskStation Manager OS in our browser for the first time took us just over half an hour.

After downloading a few updates, we used the included storage manager to configure our installed hard drives to form a Synology Hybrid Array (SHA) volume. This essentially turned our two 500GB drives into a RAID 1 mirrored array.

Cloud Apps

Like the iTunes store, Synology’s NAS devices access apps (referred to as packages by Synology) via the DSM’s built in “Package Center.” The Package Center features over one hundred apps packages for download of which the vast majority are free, including many first party packages. Beyond apps made by Synology, there are numerous handy tools available for download, including Drupal, Gitlab, Joomla, Moodle, PHP, Ruby, Plex Media Server, etc. For a full list of available packages, visit Synology’s DSM Apps website.

Synology DS918+ ScreenshotInstalling packages is effortless. After loading up the Package Center app store, select the app, err.. package you want, click install and watch as any dependancies required (Perl, Python, etc.) install automatically alongside your selected package. The entire process is painless, not least of which because almost all downloadable packages are free.

Synology has recently added a number of productivity packages which form a suite. These packages include the Moments photo organiser, Calendar, the Synology Office suite and the Drive storage backend to store everything neatly. While these packages all sound (look and behave too, as it happens) like their Google and Microsoft 365 counterparts, they all run locally. From document creation to sharing and storage, everything happens locally on your private NAS.

Synology’s Drive package is your one-stop-shop for creating and accessing files across your local network or indeed over the Internet. The interface has a list of actual and dynamically generated folders with their contents displays on the large right hand-side pane. Drive has its own recycle bin and the interface really promotes simplicity and ease of use. The similarity in name, function and appearance between Synology’s Drive and Google’s Drive are clear and we’re okay with that. The interface works and it allows for super quick access to all your files in a familiar layout.

Synology DS918+ ScreenshotThe Synology Office package once again borrows heavily from it’s Google cousin. While it doesn’t technically have its own app (or DSM shortcut icon) the Office package allows the creation of Documents, Slide Shows and Spreadsheets from within the aforementioned Drive package. The interface of Office will once again be immediately familiar to anyone who has used Google Apps, although the interface is slightly more polished to our eye. The interfaces are clean and crisp and they all integrate with each other and the underlying Synology Drive to keep everything stored neatly and easily accessible.

We created a number of documents all three formats and found the experience smooth and easy and it has to be said, not unlike that offered by Google’s suite of apps. Even the Still in beta Slide Show worked well, allowing us to create a basic slide show without coughing up any hairballs.

Synology DS918+ ScreenshotWhile it may unfairly minimise the slickness of the interfaces and the way they run on user hardware, the Synology Office is essentially a port of the Google Suite: Commenting and sharing both feature in Synology office and they behave just as you’d expect. If you like Google Suite and the way it works, Synology’s Office package offers zero learning curve along with the majority of functions you have come to expect from a cloud office suite.

Calendar and Chat continue this trend with slick, familiar interfaces and full integration with the rest of the Synology Office suite. It’s not a stretch to suggest that a small business could easily transition from reliance on Google or Microsoft 365 to Synology’s equivalents with minimal fuss. While we only took a cursory glance at the Chat, we enjoyed how smoothly the Calendar package was running on the DS918+ hardware.

Synology DS918+ ScreenshotFinally, the last package we interacted with during our time with the DS918+ was Synology’s new photo organisation package, Moments. Moments is predictably a Google Photos clone which works with a variety of photo file formats, including RAW files. Moments can also organise videos albeit without the analysis voodoo it performs on photos.

Synology DS918+ ScreenshotVoodoo? Well, after uploading a variety of photos from our personal collection, Moments automagically began categorising our photos by subject. As the image included can attest, the Moments package correctly identified a number of different subjects in our sample photos including, planes, ocean scenes, cityscapes, temples and even correctly identified two drinks from the Selfie Coffee cafe!

While this sort of deep learning technology is becoming more and more prevalent, it is great to see Synology’s NAS units at the cutting edge and despite their relative infancy in this area, working remarkably well. The Moments package is also able to categorise photos using facial recognition technology as well as embedded geolocation tags.

Synology DS918+ ScreenshotWorking in a Firefox browser window from the DSM, we found all these packages operated smoothly and reliably on our 8GB equipped DS918+ review unit. Also, like many previous Synology packages, DriveMoments and Chat have iOS and Android partner apps which can be downloaded for free from their respective app stores. There is no word on whether Synology will create a mobile version of Office or if document creation will be integrated into the mobile Drive app but it wouldn’t surprise us if this functionality appears soon.

While these products all behave and look very similar to Google’s cloud offerings, Synology’s cloud productivity packages differ in one important way. All the packages and data stored within Drive (and are created in the Synology Office suite) are stored on your hardware. This makes the cloud personal with both physical and network security and safety fully customisable to meet your own personal needs. And all of this without ever having to consider how a third party company might use (or lose!) your data.

Synology DS918+ ScreenshotFinally, it is worth noting is that we tested many of these packages in beta form but as of writing most of these have transitioned to fully fledged 1.0x releases. Like the constant DSM security upgrades, Synology updates package stability, functionality and security regularly.

Selected Specifications

CPU: Intel Celeron J3455
System Memory 4GB DDR3L; Upgradable to 8GB (as tested)
Drive Bays: 5
M.2 Slots: 2

Maximum Internal Storage Capacity: 48TB
Maximum Total Storage with Expansion Units: 108TB

USB 3.0 Ports: 2
Network Ports: 2 RJ-45 1GbE LAN Port with Llink aggregation and failover support

Dimensions: 166 x 199 x 223mm
Weight: 2.28kg

Power Consumption: 28.8W (access); 12.6W (HDD hibernation)
Noise Level: 19.8dB(A)

Warranty: 3 Years

Conclusion

Synology DS918+In our time with the DS918+, we really grew to appreciate what solid hardware and superb software can do. Both Synology’s DSM and hardware have been incrementally improving over the years and its from this solid base that Synology have successfully ventured into Office collaboration and photographic storage.

Coupled with the DS918+’s hardware and the stability and smoothness of DSM, users opting to extract even more use out of their NAS devices can rely on Synology to deliver solid performance and a slick user friendly experience.

If you want to free yourself from the large companies hoarding data in the cloud without losing the ability to aceess your data anywhere anytime, the DS918+ coupled with Synology’s Office suite may be what you have been looking for.

The DS918+ with 4GB RAM is available now for a street price of just under $800AUD. The 8GB upgrade kit is available for an additional $200AUD. For more information about the DS918+ please visit Synology’s product page.

The apps packages mentioned: Synology Office, Drive, Calendar, Chat and Moments are all free to download in the DSM Package Center.

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