Rather innocently I purchased a simple Network Attached Storage device to perform a couple of simple chores. Little did I know it would quickly turn into a Hydra poking itself into niches all around our home. I could have saved myself trouble and likely a fair mount of money in the long run if I had realized this thing had a secret plan to take over the world (ok, just my network).
Over the years we outgrew our previous network backup solutions which initially relied on AirPort Extreme + an external HDD and evolved into an iMac running MacOS Server providing a network Time Machine destination[footnote title=“…”]both both became very unreliable over time[/footnote]. The iMac was also our Network Video Recorder (NVR) using the Security Spy software package. Along the way our daughter started monetizing her YouTube videos and all at once the iMac was overloaded from both a CPU and HDD storage standpoint.
I decided it was time for a purpose-built device for network backups and to record the video from our security cameras. My needs seemed modest: backup a few Macs and record video from a couple of cameras. Surely I had no need for a high end device and no need for a ton of storage. I bought a NAS[footnote title=“…”]a Synology ds416play[/footnote] and a couple of Seagate drives and had the NAS up and running quickly. But then it happened. Some serious feature-creep snuck through the backdoor.
After the NAS had been running well for months I started poking around the admin UI and noticed some
shiny new playthings additional useful features. At the time our iMac was also our media server using Home Sharing in iTunes to stream music, home videos, DVDs etc. This rarely worked well - it was often necessary to quit and restart iTunes to get the media to show up on our AppleTV or iOS devices and sometimes we even had to reboot the iMac to get it to work[footnote title=“…”]Yeah, iTunes software is crap[/footnote]. I had played with Plex Media Server a bit on the iMac and when I saw there was a Plex package for Synology I set that up in what amounted to a single click. A bonus is that Plex on the Synology supports hardware accelerated transcoding of videos. Moving the media files from the iMac to the NAS was painless [footnote title=“…”]but time consuming[/footnote]. Getting the media files named in a way that Plex would handle correctly was a big pain in the ass because it works completely differently than iTunes[footnote title=“…”]maybe I’ll post about that some day[/footnote]. Once I discovered and ran some tools to help with the media naming transition Plex proved to be an awesome media server. Much more reliable than iTunes. So at this stage my little box became a combination of NAS + NVR + HTPC and I was filling up the empty bays with additional disks. But the invasion wasn’t over…
We have several brands of HomeKit devices for home automation [footnote title=“…”]see my Tools page for more info[/footnote]. The earliest are Belkin WeMo switches which don’t work with HomeKit[footnote title=“…”]which I would not recommend[/footnote]. I heard of a package called HomeBridge which, when running 24/7, added HomeKit support for WeMo. I initially rejected the idea of installing this home-brew package on the NAS since I considered the NAS “mission critical” for our household. That was until I heard it was possible to run HomeBridge in a Docker container[footnote title=“…”]Docker is a great piece of IT infrastructure software that makes it easy to run images on top of host OS such as Windows, Linux and MacOS [/footnote]. Installing Docker was quick and easy. Installing HomeBridge was easy as well but configuring it properly was tricky and required quite a bit of trial and error. However once configured HomeBridge provided trouble-free integration of our WeMo devices [footnote title=“…”]I could now use Siri to open and close my garage door[/footnote]. Time to add one more duty for my little NAS box: now we’ve got a 4 headed Hydra with NAS + NVR + HTPC + Virtualization Server.
Docker containers are like potato chips: no one can eat just one. As things stand I have five different containers running on the NAS performing a wide variety of tasks. The great thing is that if one of those crashes it has no effect on the mission critical uses of the NAS [footnote title=“…”]and the container will automatically be restarted[/footnote]. I recently began running Apache on the NAS to serve up files formerly hosted on my Digital Ocean VPS [footnote title=“…”]these are consumed by IoT custom devices at home and accessing them became problematic when I further locked down my VPS[/footnote]. So at this point I had managed to bring to life the 9 headed Hydra of legend: a NAS + NVR + HTPC + Virtualization Server x 5 + Web Server.
I’m really pleased with the Synology NAS. It is very easy to manage and very cost competitive versus the home-brew devices I’ve seen spec’d for doing anything like this. Mine is serving 9 different uses and doesn’t even break a sweat. The CPU has no trouble handling the workload [footnote title=“…”]I upgraded the RAM from 1GB to 4GB[/footnote]. The lesson learned is I wish I had either gone with larger hard drives or purchased a 5 bay or expandable model. Adding storage capacity to mine would require replacing all 4 HDD or replacing the NAS box with a much more expensive model. So my advice is if you’re buying a NAS be sure to realize it may turn out to be much more useful than you imagined and to give yourself healthy room for expansion.