Setting up hard drives and booting your NAS

Posted on April 29, 2011

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So you’re ready to slap those hard drives in your Synology and get going?

There are basically 2 steps:

  1. Install the hard drives into the NAS – Approximately 20 minutes
  2. Format the hard drives in the NAS – Approximately 2 hours per terabyte

Yeah, step 2 is a joy kill, but at least you can check out the UI while the drives format.

Synology’s official documentation:

The Read This First printed piece in the box tells you to look at the documentation on the CD, but only the Quick Install Guide is there, and not the valuable User’s Guide.  I’ve included the PDFs on this blog for your reference as well.  Synology DS411j Quick Installation Guide and Synology DiskStation User’s Guide.  They are worth reviewing, but below is my straight forward take on how to get your hard drives installed and configured.  Synology also has a wiki for getting started that goes over the basics.  It can be found here.

Step 1 – Installing Hard Drives

Open your Synology NAS by using the 4 thumbscrews in back.  Once opened pull out the hard drive trays.  They should slide out easily.  While not the sexy all aluminum MacPro drive trays, they work just fine.

Back of Synology DS411j with empty drive trays

Here is a view of the NAS with no drive trays in it.  You can see the Marvell ARM CPU in the center.  You can also see all 4 SAT connectors on the back waiting for your new HDDs.

Inside view with drive trays removed. Marvell ARM CPU and 128mb on board RAM

Use the supplied screws to secure the hard drives to their trays.  You use the longer screws to secure the side rail to the drive.

Place your hard drives (HDDs) into the 4 trays as shown.

Slide the drive trays back into the NAS.  Make sure you feel a solid fit.  Backdoor should close easily.  At this point you can add the optional cord clip as well as using the secure lock hole if you have a standard laptop locking cable.

Go ahead and connect the rest of the cables to the NAS:

  • Power Cord cable to AC outlet
  • Ethernet Cable to router (I strongly recommend tossing the CAT 5e cable and buying a CAT 6 cable that reaches your router.  I do NOT recommend using a WiFi USB adapter with your NAS).

Step 2: Formatting the Hard Drives Installing DSM

Okay I made step 2 sound easier than it actually is.  You really need to go through the setup process for your Synology, but trust me the documentation and the sheer number of features will have you lost in the woods in no time.

Use the steps below to get the Operating System Disk Station Manager (also commonly refered to as: DSM) installed on the Synology and then immediately go to formatting the drives.  These steps were done using DSM 3.1.  If there are any corrections needed for DSM 4 please comment.

Once that process is initiated you can then play in the UI woods while the drives are formatted over the next 24 hours.  Actually it took 22 hours in my case, and I know this because I played in the UI woods for most of the day until I was bored, frustrated and lost and then once I figured out how to format the drives I had to wait FOREVER before I could actually copy data to the NAS from my Mac.

Let’s get started…

Press and hold the circle power button on the front of the Synology unit for a second or more.  Wait for it to boot up and stay a solid blue color.

Back on your Mac.  Make sure your Mac and your Synology NAS are both connected to the same router.  Put the Synology CD into your Mac (Mac Airbook users will have to download Synology Assistant from Synology’s website).

On the Synology Install CD you’ll see a folder called MacOS X.  Inside there you’ll see the Disc Image SYNOLOGY-Assistant.dmg,  Double click it and it will mount the disc image with the application “Synology Assistant”  Drag this application to your applications folder and to your dock for easy access.

Double click Synology Assistant to run the application that will setup and find your Synology NAS.

You will be prompted to install the Operating System on your Synology.  This OS is called DSM or Disk Station Manager.  It is a Linux operating system.  Synology Assistant will ask for the .pat DSM install file.  You can find this on your Synology CD or download the latest Disk Station Manager here.

If you have problems installing the latest DSM firmware on your Synology please check to see if your router’s firewall may be preventing your from installing (thanks to Jason for reporting this issue with his Linksys router).

Installs DSM, but doesn't format the drives (skips step 2.2)

Synology Assistant will walk you through the process.  Once done you’ll be able to start the actual Step 2 of formatting and checking the hard drives.

Step 2 REDUX: Formatting the Hard Drives

If you are like me, you’re amazed at how quickly the initial setup has gone and how you can jump right into your NAS without formatted drives.

To finish this last step, log into you Synology NAS.  You can do this by double clicking on Synology Assistant application (download or install from CD) which will detect the NAS, and then when you choose connect it will do what a Safari or any other web browser URL would do and that is load your Synology’s IP address:  In my case it was http://10.0.1.18 (your IP address is assigned by your router if you are using DHCP.  Go ahead and bookmark your Synology’s address in your web browser to save time next time).

Login with your username and password (if you did the Quick Install your login is: Admin, password is blank).

Synology Login Screen via Web Browser

You will then be ushered into the wonderful almost Mac like User Interface of you Synology NAS.  The Blue Drop Down Arrow in the upper left corner is the KEY to accessing the features on your NAS.  You can drag and drop items within the window as if you were in your own OS, but remember this is a web browser view of it, so certain actions can take you off this view like any other web page would.

Welcome to your Synology NAS

The items on your “desktop” in the web browser window are just shortcuts of items found under the light blue drop down arrow that lets you access all your options.  Go there now and select Storage Manager.  Any of these icons can be dragged out onto the blue “desktop” if you want easier access to them. Launching Storage Manager will let us format our new hard drives so that we can start the process of copying data over.

Using DSM 3.1’s Storage Manager to format the drives:

You can access Storage Manager thru the Main Menu Blue drop down arrow in the upper left or thru Quick Start’s “Set up a volume and create a shared folder” option.  The default choice when you hit create in the volume tab, is to go with one “quick” single volume across all 4 hard drives because it gives you the best performance.  I would caution you from doing this simply because if you later want to add another volume later without adding additional HDD (Hard Disk Drive) capacity you’ll have to delete the volume (and it’s data) and start all over again.

The biggest reasons on why you may want more than 1 volume are if you are going to use Apple’s Time Machine for backups or if you want a Public and a Private area on your NAS.  Apple Time Machine by default uses all available disk space so keeping it on a separate volume makes sense.  Also keeping personal files separate from a public volume where you allow public access (file transfer, FTP drop box, photo uploads, hosted web pages, etc.) is an important security step.

The optimal RAID and HDD format choice for most folks is to go with: Synology Hybrid RAID (SHR) with 1 spare and EXT4 disk formatting (see additional info below for more info).  SHR has the advantage of being able to use different size HDDs (Hard Disk Drives) and allows you to swap out drives with larger capacity later (as opposed to traditional RAID).

Single Volume Quick Setup - 22 hour disk check


Step by Step on Custom Volume Setup:

If the “create” or “edit” buttons for volume is grayed out then you’ve probably already allocated all the available space.  If you are trying to create more than 1 volume you may have to delete all the volumes and try again.  I would practice without the disk check until you figure out the process, and then do it all over again this time doing a complete disk check (about 22 hours on a 12TB setup).

  1. Goto Main Menu (upper left corner arrow) > Storage Manager > Volume > Select Create Button.

    No Volume Set Yet

  2. Choose “Custom” and select “Next.”
  3. Choose “Multiple Volumes on RAID” to allow for more than 1 volume on your NAS.
  4.  The only choice you should get on the first go around is “Create a new Disk Group”
  5. For best data protection and to allow you to grow beyond any one drive’s capacity it is best to always have all Disks selected.  Only if you are doing a specific RAID setup on a subset of the drives would you select individual drives.
  6. The standard warning, but you should note just how easy it is to wipe existing drive configurations.  This is the only prompt you’ll get, you won’t get prompted with are you sure, or a request for password (you’re logged in as Admin so Synology assumes you know what you are doing).  Click Yes (and in the future make sure you keep backups of your important data beyond the reaches of your NAS).
  7. Choose “Synology Hybrid Raid (SHR).”  It gives you all the flexibility without any of the rigidity of normal RAIDs.  If you need to learn more about RAIDS click here.  RAID 1-10 offer some data protection.  JBOD (stands for Just a Bunch Of Disks and is not a RAID, it offers storage across multiple drives of various sizes) and RAID 0 offers fast data performance of interleaving data between drives (super performance at the cost of if 1 drive goes bad then both interleaved drive’s data is lost).
  8. After choosing Synology Hybrid Raid you are prompted with a choice for 1 or 2 disk backup.  This basically means that out of your 4 hard drives, redundant data from the other drives exist on 1 or 2 drives.  Choosing 1 disk means you have 75% access to your storage with 25% reserved for backup in case any one drive fails.  Choosing 2 disk means you have 50% storage capacity with 50% reserved for backup in case you experience 2 drives failing before you get a chance to replace and rebuild the drives.  In general it is highly unlikely that 2 drives will fail at once, so going with 1 disk fault tolerance is fairly safe as long as you replace and rebuild a failed hard drive as quickly as possible.
  9.  Perform disk check is very important.  It allows Synology to test every single bit on your hard drive and helps ensure that if you have any drive problems they are likely to be found with a disk check.  Be warned though that disk checks take a long time!  Plan on 2 hours of disk checking for every 1 TB of drive space.  12TBs would translate to 24 hours of disk checking.  I always thought this option should come at the end, and not before other important choices, so if you want to play around with a couple of scenarios then skip this step until you are ready to implement your scenario (you can delete the volumes and start again).
  10. Learn from my mistake, and make sure you type a lover GB than the default that is given.  Otherwise if you go with the default it is the same as hitting MAX, which means use all available disk space for a single volume!  Decide how many volumes you want and what size for each one.  Synology DSM never asks you up front how many volumes you want, it only offers the ability to “create” a volume if there is unspoken disk space.  If all the space is already allocated you can’t create a new volume without deleting one to free up space.  In my case notice that my 12TB of unformatted space is shown as 8.17 TB after accounting for formatting and 1 disk backup data protection.  In my case I created a volume with 5 TB  (entered as 5000) with 3.3TB left over for me to go thru this process a second time to create a 3.3 TB second volume for use with Apple Time Machine backups.  It is important to note that what ever size you set aside that it is always set aside and can’t be reduced later.  The “edit” button can be used after volume creation, but only to increase the size of a volume using unused space (it can never decrease the volume’s size unlike Apple Disk Utility’s ability to resize or add partitions on a Mac drive).
  11. You’ll be prompted to confirm your settings.  In my case you can see my mistake of keeping the 8370 GB (8.37TB) of allocated space.  Once you verify your settings hit Apply and wait.  If you are just testing the water and saying no to the “perform disk check” it should be done fairly quickly (a few minutes at most).  Once you are ready to really commit make sure you turned “perform disk check” back at step 9 and then click “apply” here and be prepared to let your NAS do it’s thing for the next 24 hours (1/2 day for you 2 drive Synology NAS users).
  12. Once you are done, go thru the steps again to setup your second volume.  Once all your volumes are setup be sure to read about how to do S.M.A.R.T. tests on the drives as discussed below.

Once you hit the create button be prepared to wait a VERY long time.  I give a rough estimate of 2TB per hour.  My 12TB of unformatted storage took 22 hours to complete.

For more information on using Storage Manager go to Chapter 4 of the  Synology DiskStation User’s Guide.

FYI – As fas as I know I don’t see any way to rename the names of a volume (Volume 1) or disk group (Disk Group 1).  It’s annoying, but livable.

You also don’t need to keep your web browser open while doing the disk check.  You Synology NAS will continue to setup and check your disk without the web browser.  If you set up notifications you’ll get an email or SMS message letting you know when the drives are setup.

While the drive is being setup it is a good time to explore DSM and look at all that it has to offer.  Once the drives are setup you can look at specific posts on how to setup Time Machine for backup, setup your iTunes NAS server, a Apple Filing Protocol (AFP) to use your NAS as an Apple File server, and many more fun things to do.

Additional behind the scenes info on SHR and EXT4 for those interested:

Synology Hybrid RAID (SHR) is a multi-configurable RAID setup where Synology looks at the number of drives you have and then presents the options you have.  If you have only 1 HDD then you will not get any data protection options.  Synology’s Hybrid RAID is an umbrella for choosing RAID 1, 5, 6 or 10.  The biggest advantage SHR has over classic RAID is that it allows dynamic resizing when adding/replacing storage.  This allows you to add additional hard drives and reconfigure without having to start over.  For tips on choosing drives read my previous post: “Choosing the hard drives.”

For those of you new to using RAID here is the basics:  RAID 1 is mirroring of hard drives where you have 2 or more hard drives, and 1 is the mirror backup of the other.  You achieve 50% of your disk capacity (i.e. two 3TB drives would give you 3TB of your 6TB of storage space and 3TB for backup mirroring).  RAID 5 is where you have data backup protection when all the hard drives are working, and if only 1 hard drive goes bad the other drives can rebuild a new drive to return to backup protection.  You can achieve 75% of your disk capacity (i.e. four 3TB drives would give you 9TB of your 12TB of storage space)  If more than 1 drive goes bad at a time there will be data loss.  RAID 6 is where you can lose up to 2 hard drives at once and still operate.  In a 4 bay NAS like Synology DS411j you would only achieve 50% capacity (same as RAID 1), but in NAS units with more than 4 drive bays your capacity percentage would go up.  This option is commonly used on 5 drive or higher setups.

Synology uses Linux disk formatting EXT4 on the hard drives.  This allows for large capacity hard drives, like 3TB models, to be fully recognized and formatted.  On Macs we are used to HFS+ formatting our HDDs.  PC users usually format NTFS or FAT32, but legacy issues impact using larger drives like the 3TB models as a single volume.  In Synology’s case you don’t need to worry about it creating a single volume across all 4 of your HDDs.  DSM allows other devices like PlayStation, X-BOX, PCs, Macs, etc. to access data on the Synology by hosting whatever file interface they need to get data off the EXT4 formatted hard drives.

Using S.M.A.R.T. Test to verify all went well:

Okay if you are still reading this long blog then you are probably someone who likes to look before they leap.  To ensure that the format went well you can go back into Storage Manager and run the S.M.A.R.T. tests on each individual drive.  SMART stands for Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology that is implemented by Synology for use on our NAS.  It is very helpful in predicting drive failure.  Using HDDs that are on Synology’s approved list means that SMART items like temperature, turning on the fan, accurate reporting of drive failure, doing background drive testing, are all supported.  Once you’ve run both the quick test and the full SMART test you will have a baseline if the drive later fails.  As soon as an issue is reported it is important you swap out the hard drive with an identical spare if possible (hence the reason for buying an identical spare in the first place).

S.M.A.R.T. Extended test of 1 of the 3 - 3TB drives

If the SMART tests all pass then congrats!  You are now ready to start using your NAS!!!