Over the past few years I’ve heard a lot of good about Synology. As a networking geek, being attracted to something like a Sinology makes some sense. What has held me back from these devices is one simple fact – I don’t use that much storage. The large majority of the space I use is for photos and music at 104GB and 30GB respectively. All this is stored either locally on my Mac or an external hard drive connected over USB. iTunes Match allows me to reduce the 30GB significantly if I want and the external hard drive is only 15% used. I repeat I don’t need much storage space.
My wife is similar. She keeps everything on her computer. 250GB or so of space later and she has all her photos, music, and documents. Between the both of us we use less than 500GB.
As an exercise, I was curious whether it made sense to purchase a Synology NAS for us to store our data compared to various methods of DAS. I was able to find some USB 3.0 external hard drives providing 4TB for about $130. One per person makes it $260 for plenty of storage each.
Choosing a Synology isn’t as easy. While I love the idea of a rack mountable NAS, I decided a regular form factor is better and more flexible for the future. A 1-bay NAS doesn’t make much sense and a 2-bay NAS is only slightly better. 4-bay seemed like a sweet spot so the DS414 or DS414j looks to be a good option. The DS414j is decently less expensive, but lacks hot swapping so I opted for the DS414. This is $470 right off the bat.
2TB hard drives feel a bit small today for something which is supposed to store a ton of data. 3 or 4TB drives seem to be a better happy medium between price and size today. I priced 4x 4TB drives for $656 or 4x 3TB drives for $458.
Considering price alone, $260 v. $1,000+ should be a pretty simple answer. Both options provide the same amount of storage. Price isn’t the only consideration though.
Versatility. Each brings their own benefits. A USB drive can go wherever you go. After that, I consider NAS to be more versatile. It can serve data over multiple protocols and be accessed by many computers simultaneously.
Simplicity and Ease of Use. This one goes to the USB drive. Plug it in and go. NAS requires configuration on both the server and client.
Performance. This one is probably tough since I haven’t done much testing of USB 3.0 However, some reports online show USB 2.0 is faster than Gigabit Ethernet, leave alone 802.11n which maxes out at about 150Mbps in many situations. USB 3.0 is going to make this one a much easier question as I’m sure USB 3.0 is faster than Gigabit Ethernet or even 802.11ac under either wave 1 or wave 2.
Backup. This is one where NAS wins. Amazon Glacier allows for archival storage for $0.01 per GB per month. 8TB of data would be $40/month. Backblaze is unlimited data for $5 per month but they also require the drive to be accessed once every 3 weeks or the data is deleted.
Reliability. NAS will probably win this one as well. A USB drive is a single point of failure and not an overly reliable one at that. The NAS would probably be running RAID. The only way the NAS would be less reliable is if the server itself dies and then it’s actually worse.
I love the idea of a new toy. What geek doesn’t? But when I weigh these options, the USB drive’s price and simplicity give it a hard to beat combination. The biggest push towards a NAS would be if we had kids who needed to store data. Then 4 USB drives becomes $480 and it’s a much easier sell. I’ll continue to weigh whether I should get a NAS but the initial numbers make it hard to justify.