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Long Term Review: Synology DS409

Over the past three years, my primary home NAS has been the Synology DS409; in this time, I’ve built my own NAS solutions as well and have trialled a number of home-build solutions but my core home NAS remains the DS409.

When I bought the DS409, I looked and considered a number of competing solutions; Drobo and QNAP boxes came highly recommended and there are still plenty of people who swear by them.

The build quality of the DS409 is excellent and still looks pretty much good as new but then again it is not as it I am kicking it across the room on a regular basis. I give it regular clean-out with compressed air, just to blow the dust out of the fans; it still runs quiet and cool.

It currently has 4x1Tb Western Digital drives in a RAID-5 format; it has an additional e-SATA drive attached to it to provide additional storage. These are carved up to provide NFS, SMB and iSCSI shares.

As well as providing traditional file-sharing capability, it is also the print server for the house and also works as a DNLA and an Airplay server. If I didn’t have a separate web-server, VPN server etc; it could also do that for me.

You can integrate into an Active Directory domain if you so wish and you have a variety of options for backing up; you can use an rsync-based back-up solution, back-up in to the s3 Cloud or simply back-up to a locally attached external disk.

Synology continue to support and update the DS409 with firmware and features; the feature-set is constantly being improved features like Synology Hybrid RAID which allows mixed sized drives to be used in a similar way to the Drobo; to CloudStation which enabled your Synology device to work as a private Cloud-storage device.

Synology are constantly improving their software and it is fairly admirable that they continue to update their software for products which they no longer sell. The user interface has improved significantly over time; it is simple and intuitive and if you need to, you can always drop back into the Linux command-line. Having access to the Linux command line means that there are a number of third party applications which can also be installed, it is a very hacker-friendly box.

The only thing it really lacks, is significant integration with VMware but most home-users and probably most small businesses will not miss this at all.

When the time comes to replace my home NAS, Synology will be top of my list.

Highly recommended.

Death of the Home Directory

Well, when I say that the Home Directory is dying; I mean that it is probably moving and with it some problems are going to be caused.

As I wander round our offices, I often see a familiar logo in people’s system trays; that of a little blue open box. More and more people are moving their documents into the Cloud; they really don’t care about security, the just want the convenience of their data where ever they are. As the corporate teams enforce a regime of encryption on USB flash-disks; everyone has moved onto Cloud-based storage. So yes, we are looking at ways that we can build internal offerings which bring the convenience but feel more secure. Are they any more secure? And will people use them?

I suspect that unless there are very proscriptive rules which block access to sites such as Dropbox, Box, Google Drive and the likes; this initiative will completely fail. The convenience of having all your data in one place and being able to work on any device will over-ride security concerns. If your internal offering does not support every device that people want to use; you may well be doomed.

And then this brings me onto BYOD; if you go down this route and evidence suggests that many will do have yet more problems. Your security perimeter is changing and you are allowing potential hostile systems onto your network; in fact, you always probably did and hadn’t really thought about it.

I have heard of companies who are trying to police this by endorsing a BYOD policy but insisting that all devices should be ‘certified’ prior to being attached to the corporate network. Good luck with that! Even if you manage to certify the multitude of devices that your staff could turn up with as secure and good to go; that certification is only valid at that point or as long as nothing changes, no new applications installed, no updates installed and probably no use made of the device at all.

Security will need to move to the application and this could mean all of the applications; even those familiar applications such as Word and Excel. Potentially, this could mean locking down data and never allowing it be stored in a non-encrypted format on a local device.

The responsibility for ensuring your systems are secure is moving; the IT security teams will need to deal with a shifting perimeter and an increasingly complicated threat model. Forget about updating anti-virus and patching operating systems; forget about maintaining your firewall; well don’t but if you think that is what security is all about, you are in for a horrible shock.


Into the Pit

Well, it seems that mobile has really come of age and the standard sysadmin tool of SSH really doesn’t cut it any more; anyone who has suffered the frustration of a dropped connection in the middle of doing something or just shutting their laptop lid by mistake when docking is going to love MOSH.

MOSH is a replacement for SSH which supports roaming and intermittent connections; actually, you still need SSH to make the initial connection but when the connection is made, it is handed over to the mosh-server. There are many cool things about MOSH; firstly it doesn’t run as a daemon and in fact, you don’t even need to get your friendly admin to install it for you. You can happily run it from your own home directory; of course, I would suggest that you do get your friendly admin to install it for everyone and themselves!

For laggy connections, MOSH does not wait for the server to respond before displaying what you’ve typed; on a laggy connection, it’s a bit reminiscent of using the old mainframe terminals but much, much nicer. On an unreliable connection, MOSH will underline outstanding actions so that you should never get lost. This even works with VIM and other full-screen editors, this will be a bit of mind-f**k at first but you’ll soon get used to it.

It is still missing some SSH functionality but it appears to be coming on quickly.

MOSH is cool but there’s a catch; there’s no Windows client yet, I’m sure someone will get round to it. And there’s no mobile clients yet as far as I could tell; it is crying out for an Android and iOS client to become truly awesome.

But give it at go; I think that it’ll eventually become my default remote client…

MOSH can be found here

Do you need a desktop?

Work provide me with a laptop which spends most of its time locked to my desk. It’s quite a nice business laptop but really I can’t be bothered to carry it around. On occasion, when I’m working from home and realise that I am going to need access to some of corporate applications which require VPN access, it’ll come home with me but mostly not.

To be quite honest, even my MBA doesn’t travel that much, up and down the stairs is about as far as it goes. It is quite the nicest and most practical laptop that I’ve ever owned but I think we are getting close to the stage where a tablet can do almost everything that I need where-ever I am.

I was thinking as I was working today whether what I was doing required the traditional desktop experience and could I simply use my iPad as the access device instead. The answer is mostly yes, almost all the applications that I use are generic enough that there are good enough replacements on the iPad or they are accessed by a web interface anyway.

There are a few blockers tho’ at present

1) at present I can’t get my iPad onto the corporate wireless, this means that I can’t access a number of key applications due to ‘security’ restrictions but I can access email which appears to be our preferred file delivery/transfer mechanism.

2) I need a real keyboard to type on, there is a limit to how much I am prepared to type on a screen keyboard. I could overcome this relatively easily by bringing a bluetooth keyboard in.

3) Wired Ethernet is a necessity when working in some of our data centres or secure areas.

4) Unfortunately, I struggle without PowerPoint and Visio unfortunately; I can cope without Word, Excel is a little more problematic but it’s manageable. Keynote is nice but it makes a real mess of rendering PowerPoint in my experience.

5) Working on an external display is often a much nicer experience than using the tablet screen, even tho’ the retina display is the wonderful. But I have both the HDMI and VGA dongles which gets round this. But I wish that Apple could find a way to put a mini-DisplayPort on the iPad as using the adapters means that I loose any chance of using a USB device. Not important most of the time but very useful for transferring files from cameras and other devices.

But then I started thinking some more, perhaps I don’t really need a tablet either for work. Perhaps a smartphone which I dock would do? What we could do with is a standard dock for all mobile devices which charges, displays on an external screen and allows input from a standard keyboard/mouse.

Planes, trains, hotels and the like could simply provide a dock and you would end up carrying even less. At that point a device the size of a Samsung Note or Kindle Fire becomes a very interesting proposition.

And yet, I still expect to keep my PC desktop for some time….why? It’s still the best serious gaming platform out there. But for almost everything else I could probably manage with a mobile device.

Local Storage, Cloud Access

Just as we have seen a number of gateways to allow you to access public cloud storage in a more familiar way and making it appear as local to your servers, we are beginning to see services and products which do the opposite.

To say that these turn your storage into cloud storage is probably a bit of a stretch but what they do is to allow your storage to be accessed by a multitude of devices where-ever they happen to be. They bring the convenience of Dropbox but with a more comfortable feeling of security because the data is stored on your storage. Whether this is actually any more secure will be entirely down to your own security and access policies.

I’ve already blogged about Teamdrive and I’ll be blogging about it again and also the Storage Connector from Oxygen Cloud in the near future. I must say that some of the ideas and the support for Enterprise storage by the folks at Oxygen Cloud looks very interesting.

I do wonder when or if we’ll see Dropbox offer something similar themselves, Dropbox with it’s growing software ecosphere would be very attractive with the ability to self-host. It would possibly give some of the larger storage vendors something to consider.

These new products do bring some interesting challenges which will need to be addressed; you can bet that your users will start to install these on their PCs, both at work and at home. The boundaries between corporate data and personal data will become ever blurred; much as I hate it, the issue of rights management is going to become more important. Forget the issue of USB drives being lost, you could well find that entire corporate shares are exposed.

But your data any time, any place is going to become more and more important; convenience is going to trump security again and again. I am becoming more and more reliant on cloudy storage in my life but for me it is a knowing transition; I suspect for many others, they are simply not aware of what they are doing.

This is not a reason to simply stop them but a reason to look at offering the services to them but also to educate. The offerings are coming thick and fast, the options are getting more diverse and interesting. The transition to storage infrastructure as software has really opened things up. Smaller players can start to make an impact, let’s hope that the elephants can dance.

Shiny, shiny..but I fancy a slice of Pi!

So I’ve splashed out on a new iPad; I had an original iPad which was being eyed up avariciously by little Bod and I decided to make us both happy. I’m a great Dad like that, deeply unselfish ;-).

There’s little to write which has not already been written, the screen is gorgeous and leads to interesting speculation about the screens which might make appear in the more traditional Apple products and it is certainly snappier than the original.

I’ve tried the voice input and it works surprisingly well; a big chunk of this has been dictated using it but I am not entirely convinced by voice input in general. Still if anything, it might be good discipline for me as I allegedly talk very quickly at times.

It’s just a better iPad and if you like the iPad you’ll like it and if you don’t like the iPad, you’ll still not like it. But it does get better with each iteration, I still think that the trick with Apple tech is to take every other iteration; that way you get a reasonable delta between them.

I think that for most people, an iOS based device could replace their home computer which leads me to wonder why Apple haven’t gone the whole hog yet. An Apple TV with access to the AppStore and a keyboard&mouse could for many replace their home computer. Of course, Apple would have to allow iOS to use a mouse but it might well be worth the compromise.

We have a device which is pretty close to that in the form of the Raspberry Pi, a device which is closer to Apple’s roots than any of their current devices; I can certainly see Woz appreciating what they are trying to do with the Pi.

Hopefully the Pi will generate a new ecosphere around it and show the way. It would be nice to have a device that was affordable, open and useable. It might just be the spur for all of the big boys to do something similar. I do like my shiny, shiny but I do sometimes hunger for old days.

Personal Cloud Storage

As long term readers and followers of this Blog will know, I really like Dropbox but there are issues with it; especially around security and potential access of others to my data and I have stopped storing confidential data in it. What would be ideal would be for me to host my own Dropbox server but unfortunately, they’ve not gone down that route.

However, I have been introduced to a promising contender; Teamdrive are a German software company who have developed something similar to Dropbox but with the added advantage that you can host your own Teamdrive server on your own hardware.

My friend Rose is doing the PR for them and kindly got hold of license for me to play with so that I could set up my own environment (note: there is a free server license which is limited to 10Gb, the unlimited license appears to be €99 per year).

One of the nice things about the Teamdrive server is that they provide a version which will run on a Synology Home NAS; so I downloaded that and I installed it, quickly VI-ed the configuration file and fired it up. The Windows and Mac versions of the server appear to have a nice GUI so that you don’t have to edit configuration files but there are few options and the lack of GUI for the Linux version is no hardship.

I downloaded the latest Teamdrive Client for my MacBook; installed that and pointed it at the newly installed Teamdrive server. The process of getting it attached was painless and worked quickly and easily.

Teamdrive allows you to configure an existing directory as a Teamdrive share or in Teamdrive terminology, a ‘Space’ or you can create a new ‘Space’ and start from that. Once you have created a ‘Space’, you can invite other users to the share. Please note, it appears that they already need to have registered with Teamdrive to be invited. Not entirely sure why this should be the case if you intend to run an entirely private service.

Running your own server is interesting because it allows you to see how the files are stored on the server; they are encrypted and hence even if someone manages to get access to the server; the files should stay secure. I haven’t looked too closely at the encryption yet, so I can’t really vouch for how secure it is. However storing the files like this does mean that they cannot be shared using another protocol such as NFS or SMB from my Synology.

All in all, Teamdrive appears to be a solid shared storage implementation with the added attraction that you can run it privately. There are iOS and Android clients in development but I’ve not tried them, this is a bit of a hole in the Teamdrive story at present. The other advantage is that you can scale a lot more economically than the hosted competitors

p.s Matthew Yeager has recommended a product called Appsense Datalocker which works with Dropbox to provided an encrypted solution. I’ve just started to have a play and it looks most promising.

Seven Languages in Seven Weeks..

I keep meaning to start some kind of coding again; I’m not really sure but I think I should. I’ve not donated to an open-source project in years and I feel a little guilty. Still I’m not really that great a coder, I like to dive in and out. So I came across Seven Languages in Seven Weeks and it seems the ideal book for a dilettante like myself.

Published by the Pragmatic Bookshelf, it aims to give you an taste of

  • Ruby
  • Io
  • Prolog
  • Scala
  • Erlang
  • Clojure
  • Haskell

By necessity, each section is fairly brief and actually split into three days; so you could do Seven languages in Three Weeks if you wanted.

So far, I’ve got through the three days of Ruby and I must say that it does give you just enough of a taste of language for you to start to write simple code and might even be able to achieve something useful.

The end of chapter exercises are a mix of practical programming exercises but also getting to do your own research. For example, the book tells you where to get the languages from but it does not waste paper telling you how to install them. You are expected to be competent enough to figure this out for yourself.

I would say that if you already have some coding experience and are willing to use Google; you will enjoy this. It’s not a programming primer and it is not going to turn you into an expert in any of the languages but it’s enough to get you started.

Worth a look….

Three is the Magic Number?

I never thought that I’d keep this going so long but it is now three years that I’ve been writing this blog. It’s still fun to do and keeps the mind going; sometimes I think it’s getting easier and then at times, I just sit here writing and re-writing the same sentence again and again!

It amazes me that people come and keep coming back to read more. It also amazes me when people actually write nice things about the blog even when I’ve been very critical of their company; the vendors have been incredibly supportive (no, no money has changed hands) as have my fellow bloggers.

I look back at some posts and wonder ‘what the hell was I thinking?’ and then there are others which I can read with pleasure. There are the posts which I know have changed things; encouraging and badgering  EMC to include VP as part of the standard stack with Symmetrix is something I am quietly proud to have influenced.

Its been interesting to watch the take-over shenanigans as the tier 2 companies have been gobbled up; leaving only NetApp really retaining its independence.

And now we have new wave of storage start-ups; many virtualisation focused and many trying to figure out the best way to deploy SSDs. How many of these will grow into take-over targets and can any of them become the next NetApp?

Then there is the growth of Cloud and what that means; does Cloud mean anything? It certainly still seems to mean many things to many people. From the consumer cloud to the private cloud; Cloudwashing is the order of the day!

So dear reader, thank-you for reading, thank-you for commenting and thank-you for the generally nice things you say about the blog.

Here’s to the next year and beyond.

Two Fat Ladies

We have just seen the release of VMware Workstation 8 and the developer release of Windows 8. Both promise significant changes and improvement in usability.

As a fan of both of them in version 7; I was interested to see how these new versions are stacking up.

VMware Workstation 8

I have used Workstation since it’s public beta releases and have upgraded to every version since then paying my own cash; it is fair to say that I like this product. For me, it is VMware’s defining product and it is what made VMware cool.

Workstation does have competitors now; VirtualBox is an excellent product and is free; even VMware’s Player is probably sufficient for most people having gone beyond a mere Player into a useable desktop virtualisation tool for most people.

So why upgrade to Workstation 8? Well, I suspect in my case, it has become habit but 8 does have some significant improvements.

Firstly it can take advantage of the power of the new chipsets around; virtual machines can have up to 64GB of RAM and up to 8 virtual cores. It can also run 64-bit nested virtual machines for those of you who are simulating virtualised data-centres on your desktop. And there is a new UI; which is prettier, more useable and feels a bit snappier.

But the most significant improvement is the way that Workstation now integrates with vSphere and vCenter. From Workstation, you can connect to other VMware ‘servers’ and work with both local and server based VMs from within workstation. You can configure and install VMs from the Workstation console; for those of you with home-labs, this is really nice.

Workstation can also work as server and you can share your VMs with other Workstation users; another Workstation user can talk to your VMs and utilise them. Quicker and easier than copying them around the network. And yes, there are security controls that you can put in place.

You can copy a VM from your workstation to a vSphere server and have it instantiated there. Note that this is not a live migration and it is also one way. You cannot drag a VM back to Workstation to work on.

All in all, it’s a pretty solid release and an improvement on what has gone before.

Windows 8 Developer Preview

Microsoft have made available a Preview release for Windows 8; in theory aimed at developers, it is available to anyone. It comes with the new touch focused interface and a raft apps for you try. It also comes with developer tools obviously.

The new interface will be familiar to anyone who has seen or used a Windows Phone 7 and it is based on the Metro touch interface with live tiles which reflect the state of running applications.

The more familiar desktop is accessed as a app or comes up when you access an application which uses the Windows desktop. A familiar desktop with recycle bin, task bar and ‘Start’ button appears. But beware, the ‘Start’ button reopens the Metro-orientated Start screen again; the Start menu has gone.

I didn’t really get any further than a quick play and I can’t say that  I especially like the changes. I am not convinced that an interface designed for touch actually works especially well with a Mouse and Keyboard. I found the lack of Start menu driving me mad; I don’t want to be flung back to a full-screen menu when I’m firing up a new app; bringing up control panel etc, etc.

But I’m sure I’ll get used to it and start to find my way around.  I don’t like this release as much as I liked Windows 7 but it’s new interface and brave reboot by Microsoft.

Two Fat Ladies?

And to tie things altogether; I installed the Windows 8 Developer Preview into Workstation 8; there is no Windows 8 option yet but I believe that there was that option in the Workstation 8 beta, so it cannot be far off. The Windows 7 options work fine as long as you do a manual install; if you let Workstation try to do the install, it gets itself into an endless reboot loop.

So there we go;  Two fat ladies, Wobbly wobbly – All the eights….88

It was too good a title not to use, so sorry for any offence.