Honestly, you would think that with all the preparation and research I’ve done at this point the decision would be easy. I wish! For me, deciding is always a struggle.
This is the fourth, and hopefully final, post in the “Do you need a NAS for your home computer system?” series of posts. If you want to catch up, the first one is here, the second one is here and the third one is here.
Narrowing the Field: Cloud Integration
For the unfamiliar, let me say that there is an incredible array of manufacturers of NAS devices and hard drives suitable to use in NAS devices. Any factor in the “desires and constraints” that helps to narrow the field is a great factor on which to start the search. Therefore, I began by looking at the brands that have already created an integration with the BackBlaze B2 storage service. By “integration”, I mean the software provided by the NAS is already aware of and will easily communicate with the cloud backup service. I just set up the software on the NAS, and that software insures that backups are made to the cloud as required.
This constraint effectively limits my search to two brands, Synology and QNAP. As I said, the overall field is huge, and the various reviewers seem to each prefer a different set of 5 to 10 models with very little overlap among those sets, so I am actually grateful to have the field narrowed to two brands.
Regarding the integration with the cloud backup of choice, reviewers of the two brands indicate that QNAP’s “Hybrid Backup Sync 3” is the best backup and synchronization solution, being the easiest to use and the easiest to customize. This means it will not only work well with the cloud service I target now, but should adapt well if I need to move to a different cloud service.
Score 1 for QNAP.
Constraints that Don’t Constrain
The integration to BackBlaze B2 narrows the field, but once that set of possibilities has been defined, some of the other constraints turn out to be less than helpful.
Apple friendly interface and software – Both of these brands of NAS explicitly support the Apple file system and the Time Machine app. They of course will support Windows users as well, but it is their Apple performance that is important in my network. One reviewer (NASCompares.com, sponsored by SPAN.com) indicates that the Graphical User Interface (GUI) for the Synology is more “Mac-like” than that of QNAP, but only slightly more user friendly. He also indicates that the QNAP has better, although slightly noisier, performance than the Synology.
Looking just generally at the support for Apple files of all types, and support for iOS devices, I come to the conclusion that both NAS brands do a fine job of supporting Apple users. Both brands also support Apple CarPlay, which is the way our devices integrate with the truck’s entertainment and mapping system when we are RVing. Absolutely not an important issue to me, but good to know. I have to declare the support for Apple a draw between the two makers.
Hosting our shared files – Interestingly, the Synology software includes its own “Office” solution, which supports native Word, Excel and PowerPoint files, as well as providing its own native office formats. Since we’re using the Apple office suite right now, that might not be such a big deal, but it is something to keep in mind. I do a lot of Google Drive docs, and I could just as well, and more securely, keep those files on the NAS. I could still reach them from anywhere over the internet, and I wouldn’t have to worry about Google being hacked.
On the other hand, QNAP features a full-fledged document management system. This means all documents can be “added to” the document database, and indexed and searched quickly through the NAS. If we were doing a lot of scanning of receipts, capturing web pages and the like, this would be a winning feature.
If our shared files were primarily Office/Google Drive types of files, Synology would be ahead on this point. However, our shared files are primarily Apple Photos library files, video files and Apple Music files. Again, reviews indicate that QNAP is a bit better media server than Synology, and QNAP includes an HDMI connection to “hard wire” to the directly to an internet capable TV or Apple TV appliance.
I sort of like the idea of being able to use my own “cloud” for spreadsheets and documents, but I’m more concerned about the photos and music files than I am office suite files. I guess QNAP comes out slightly ahead here, prioritizing performance over software.
Streaming our Apple Music to the entertainment system – Both brands are strong here, although the greater streaming support and direct HDMI connection means the QNAP would be ahead on streaming videos, should we start doing that. We have only a few videos available now, but it pays to be prepared for changes in user behavior once a new resource is available. Which is a round about way of saying “you never know, we could start collecting digital video”.
It’s really close, but I’m giving this point to QNAP.
Connecting to and synchronizing with the BackBlaze B2 storage cloud – Yes, this is the constraint I started with, and the QNAP “Hybrid Backup Sync 3” software appears to be the stronger client of the two, so this point goes to QNAP, but there is really nothing wrong with the Synology integration with BackBlaze B2.
Which really leaves me with choosing between a better GUI or better overall performance. Worse, in this case “better” is measured in micro increments. So, it appears to me this decision may realistically come down to cost.
First, which of the many models from each brand are in contention: the Synology DS220+ 2GB vs the QNAP TS-251D 4GB. These are the home network / prosumer entry level models, each having 2 (empty) bays for the hard drives. Neither company makes hard drives, but they do have compatibility lists. The Seagate Ironwolf series will fit either one, and Seagate’s Ironwolf series is well reviewed and competitively priced. These won’t be the least expensive drives, but they are “safe” for a consumer like me; that is fairly techie, but not a hardware geek.
Now here’s the rub: I’m finding the Synology with only 2 GB of RAM is actually cheaper than the QNAP with 4 GB of RAM. And yes, if I were to get an extra 2 GB of RAM to put into the Synology, the prices would be about the same. Great, another “coin flip” attribute.
In the end, I’m leaning toward QNAP because of the HDMI port, and the empty PCIe expansion slot, neither of which Synology has. This isn’t because I know for sure I’m going to use either of these features, but because I want to have them should I decide to use them later on. Overall, getting those extra features isn’t costing me anything.
Just goes to show: you can do all the research you want, but in the end your decision will be emotional, more than rational; or you might just flip a coin. Still, it is better to start with the research to narrow the choice to actual feasible models before emotion takes over, right?