Two weeks before Christmas, my server died. I had all my data safely backed up – but on an expansion chassis that required a functioning server to access.
I confess, it took a long time for my Synology DS-1517+ to die; performance was slowing for months. It slowed so gradually that I didn’t really notice – except that copying files to the server took longer and longer. But, now, it was dead.
The only bright spot – if there was one – was that, hopefully, the drives containing the data were “probably” OK. It was just the server chassis that kicked the bucket.
After researching the Synology website, I bought their latest 5-drive desktop server: the DS-1522+. If everything went as planned, I would simply move the drives from the old unit, slide them into the new unit and, if the gods of data transfer were with me, everything would reset to normal.
The reality was not quite that simple, but after a few high-stress moments, all my data was safely recovered and I’m back in operation. Here’s what I learned.
The Synology DS-1522+ is an excellent choice for a small office server. As I noted in my reviews from Nov. 2022, “For absolute speed, nothing beats storage directly connected to your computer. But nothing is better at sharing than a server. The Synology DS-1522+ is an excellent choice for any small workgroup.
“Fully Mac & Windows compatible, with vast configuration options, the DS-1522+ server delivers the maximum data transfer speeds your network will support. While speeds depend upon a number of factors, the capability of the server will not be a limitation.”
Upgrading to this system was a very smart decision. Server speeds more than doubled!
Price: $699 from B&H Photo
Price is for an empty chassis. Adding drives increases the cost.
Synology support is excellent – though not fast, answers can take a several hours, generally overnight. Their advice helped me figure out what the problem was and what was necessary to fix it.
All Synology servers come with a three-year warranty. If my server died within the warranty, they would simply have swapped it out for a new unit. But, of course, it didn’t. I bought the server about five years ago.
Worse, though, was that when I bought my first Synology server – with zero knowledge of how to configure a server and no money to hire someone to set it up – I chose the wrong file system.
Synology supports two file systems: BTRFS and EXT4. I originally picked EXT4 because I recognized the word “Linux” in its description. It took me several years to realize this choice was a mistake. In every regard, BTRFS is a superior file system, but, sadly, once a drive is formatted, the file system can’t be changed unless all data is removed and the drives are erased and re-initialized.
UPGRADING THE SERVER
Upgrading servers would normally take less than 15 minutes assuming the following conditions are true:
In this case, Synology makes upgrading server hardware fast and painless: just move the drives from the old unit to the new one. Most DS servers manufactured by Synology over the last several years support this disk transfer.
I will leave to others far more technical than me to describe the details of BTRFS. From my perspective there are three big advantages:
This is my “server closet.” Yup, an actual closet. The DS-1522+ on the right, DX517 expansion on the left, and a NetGear 18-port 10G switch underneath. Firewalls and Internet modem are on a lower shelf (not shown).
The DS-1522+ holds five drives providing about 60 TB of total storage. I use the DX517 expansion unit to backup the main server. It has roughly 30 TB of total storage.
Along with the server chassis, I also bought the Synology 10 Gbps Ethernet Module because my Mac Studio has a 10G Ethernet port.
NOTE: If your network supports 10G, the faster Ethernet makes a BIG difference in transfer speeds.
I will probably also add one 400 GB M.2 SSD as a high-speed cache to speed transfers, but I haven’t bought it yet.
Once the server chassis arrived, the 10G port was attached and the drives installed – which took an hour – it was time to power up.
NOTE: There was some level of nervousness at this point, because I wasn’t really sure whether it was the older server or the drives that failed.
The server took about a minute to boot up, then two-three more minutes for the drives to come online – but come online they did. My life was no longer passing in front of my eyes.
Next, before doing anything else, I upgraded DSM 7 (their operating system) to the latest version and rebooted the server. This took 10-15 minutes.
If the drives were properly formatted, I’d be back in business. But they weren’t.
To reformat the drives from EXT4 to BTRFS requires copying all the data from the drives somewhere else, so they can be erased and reformatted. Then, copy the data back.
But I had 36 TB of data! I didn’t have any “spare” drives that were that big…. except, I did have the DX517 expansion unit, connected to the server via a SATA connection.
Hyper Backup is a DSM utility that backs up data from the main server to an attached expansion unit or cloud storage. You specify which shared volume – or volumes – you want to back up, where the backups should be stored and how often you want them backed up, and Hyper Backup does the rest, including data verification.
My RAID has five volumes on it. The smallest is 1 TB, the largest is 30 TB. Using this utility I backed up all the data from the main server to the expansion unit. The backup process took roughly three days – about a terabyte every 90 minutes.
Once these backups were done, the second stress point arrived: Erasing all the drives in the server, reformatting them to BTRFS, then copying the data back.
Fortunately, the reformatting took less than ten minutes, but restoring the data from backups (my third stress point – was all that data safe?) again took several days.
(DS-1517+ measured by AJA System Test v220.127.116.11, using a 16 GB, 4K, 16-bit RGB file.)
This is the old DS-1517+ server – back when it was working properly and loaded with 36 TB of data. In practice, most of my file transfers averaged around 225 MB/second.
NOTE: 1G Ethernet limits transfer speeds to a maximum of 125 MB/second.
(DS-1522+ measured by AJA System Test v18.104.22.168, using a 16 GB, 4K, 16-bit RGB file.)
This is the new DS-1522+, again loaded with 36 TB of data. In practice, I regularly see file transfers at more then 500 MB/second. (If I install the SSD cache card, I would expect upload transfer speeds to approach the wire speed of 10G Ethernet.)
I am convinced this performance improvement is due to two factors:
I am very happy with the Synology server, but, more importantly, that Synology’s software tools for data backup and restoration worked perfectly. While I lost a few days transferring files and had a bit more stress than I would like, my data was safe. Now that the process is over and I better understand file systems and backup software, I have all my data back – and double the system performance.
These are two excellent things!
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