The market for network-attached storage units has expanded significantly over the last few years. The rapid growth in public cloud storage (Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive and the like) has tempered the expansion a bit amongst consumers who are not very tech-savvy. However, the benefits provided by a NAS in the local network are undeniable, particularly when public cloud services can act in a complementary manner. Enterprise users obviously need NAS units with different performance and feature requirements. Our NAS reviews have focused more on the performance aspect. With feature set and ease of use becoming important across all market segments, we believe that a qualitative evaluation of the different commercial NAS operating systems is needed to educate consumers on the options available. The core features were addressed in a comprehensive overview last month. Today, we take a look at three of the top value-additions to NAS operating systems.

Introduction

The core aspects of NAS operating systems include the user interface, storage management features and services and configuration of the network ports. These are closely tied to the hardware. Value-added features can be either on the hardware or software side. As an example of the former, some vendors ship NAS units with HDMI ports - these ports can be used to either drive a display for a software media player like Kodi or a video management system to view feeds from surveillance cameras. Our focus in this piece, however, is on the value additions from the software side.

The advent of smartphones has led to an explosion in the amount of user-generated multimedia content (photos and videos). Music collections (iTunes libraries and the like) also add to the consumers' digital multimedia content. Heavy users are loath to rely on only the public cloud for backing up or accessing these files. Many NAS vendors, therefore, make it a point to simplify the serving and management of such multimedia content. Media services form one of the most important value additions in NAS operating systems.

The transition from analog to digital surveillance (CCTV to IP cameras) has made video surveillance cheaper and simpler to set up for both home and business users. However, the storage of the recorded video is a challenge, and many NAS vendors have dedicated hardware lineups for NVR purposes (network video recorder). However, for the casual users with 3 or 4 IP cameras, a NAS unit can easily double up as a NVR while performing other duties. Simplifying the set-up, usage and control of IP cameras in the network is another value addition that NAS vendors have targeted.

The average consumer's first introduction to a seamless backup and sharing strategy has most probably been through public cloud services such as Dropbox. These services allow data to be accessed from anywhere on the Internet while using an authenticated device. NAS vendors have realized that these types of services have resulted in users demanding two things - being able to back up the content that they store on the NAS to one of more public cloud services, and, provision of features available in public cloud services such as seamless access to content over the Internet and simplified content sharing. Consumers also want to be able to access the data on their private NAS from the outside network over the Internet. This 'cloud' aspect has also become an important feature expected by NAS users.

In the rest of this article, we will go over each of the above value additions in detail and see how various NAS vendors and their operating systems tackle them. The following vendors and OS versions are currently covered in this article

  • Asustor [ ADM 2.6.5R9N1 ]
  • Netgear [ ReadyNAS OS 6.6.0 ]
  • QNAP [ QTS 4.2.2 ]
  • Synology [ DSM 6.0.2-8451 Update 2 ]
  • Western Digital [ My Cloud OS 2.21.19 ]
  • ZyXEL [ FW v5.20(AATB.0) ]

It must be kept in mind that many of the value additions come in the form of add-ons (either first-party (NAS vendor) or third-party). The exact version of the relevant add-on is specified in the specific section where the feature is addressed.

Multimedia Features
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  • jb510 - Thursday, December 22, 2016 - link

    Syno does now seem on top of things, but it's worth remembering SynoLocker and how slow their response to that security disaster was. Reply
  • ganeshts - Thursday, December 22, 2016 - link

    Thanks for the feedback. In the first piece, I had a table with the last stable firmware release date - that should give an idea of how prompt the NAS vendor is in fixing security holes. The eventual plan is to condense all three articles (that will include the Part II of this piece) into one article that will be kept up to date. Reply
  • Impulses - Thursday, December 29, 2016 - link

    Sweet Reply
  • The_Moves - Thursday, December 22, 2016 - link

    There are only 3 things that I don't like about Synology, I own the NVR 16 w/ 9 licenses. One is that the mobile view is so incredibly slow when accessing over the WAN. Its a great when on the local network, but when not local the streams for the cameras are still displayed in full resolution and at their recorded FPS. You can specify the substream, but even then it doesn't adapt well. The second gripe about the NVR216 is that it requires a 1080p monitor. The instructions don't say that it has to be this... Third, they are slow to support manufacturer new models of cameras - i'm still waiting for support on Hikvision 4mp IP Camera support - I use native ONVIF which works just fine. Other than that, they system is good all in one solution. One cool feature is the audible alarm when there is an serious issue detected with the device itself. I had a hard drive fail and got a call from the store saying the device was making noise - it was an audible slow beeping alarm.

    But for more features in an NVR solution I went to Blue Iris.
    Reply
  • The_Moves - Thursday, December 22, 2016 - link

    dang, first post and there are typos with no way to edit them :-( Reply
  • shelbystripes - Thursday, December 22, 2016 - link

    I am irritated by the Plex transcoding support for Netgear. I love Synology and their DSM, I think it's a well-featured NAS and recommend it to others. If Plex can enable hardware transcoding on a Netgear NAS, there's no reason they can't on the Synology models with an Annapurna ARM CPU, at least.

    The fact that the Netgear NAS (and Nvidia Shield TV) can support hardware transcoding in Plex Media Server was a shock in general. On the Plex forums, hardware transcoding is easily the most requested feature and has been for years, and we've been told that the Plex team can't really add hardware transcoding because they've heavily customized an older ffmpeg build and can't easily upgrade to a newer version that supports it.

    There's open-source support for hardware transcoding on a few different architectures in ffmpeg, so if they can add it now, there's no reason they can't add it more widely. As a Plex Pass subscriber I'm annoyed that my needs aren't really being met, because of some marketing partnership they have with Netgear and Nvidia.
    Reply
  • heffeque - Friday, December 23, 2016 - link

    QNAP solved this issue by creating their own "Plex".
    In their 4.3 version (still in beta, all 64bit) the included VideoStation is no longer a "YouTube" kind of service as shown in this article. Now it's almost like Plex (or Emby for that matter), and it'll support live transcoding.
    QNAP will have a killer OS once 4.3 is out and all 3rd party programs are updated accordingly.
    Reply
  • jsntech - Thursday, December 22, 2016 - link

    Ganesh - I've been enjoying your NAS coverage for a long time. Watching these COTS products improve and evolve is great to see.

    I would love to see you/AT do a feature on a 4-8 bay micro-tower (e.g. link below, though I wouldn't recommend HP for their abysmal service and policies) running FreeNAS. Aside from pretty good NAS performance, the plugins available for FreeNAS pretty handily compete with features from COTS alternatives, and in many cases far exceed them IMHO. Just a suggestion from one piddly reader. Cheers!

    https://www.hpe.com/us/en/product-catalog/servers/...
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Thursday, December 22, 2016 - link

    Thanks for the feedback. The plan is to eventually expand coverage to more than the six vendors we have in the current set of articles. I will probably evaluate FreeNAS / NAS4Free in a custom build like this one : http://www.anandtech.com/show/9508/asrock-rack-c27... ; However, this is a plan for the long term. Short term is to get the second part of the value additions out as soon as possible. Reply
  • LordanSS - Thursday, December 22, 2016 - link

    Thank you, Ganesh. Your efforts are truly appreciated. Reply

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