QNAP TS-269L: A User’s Tale (Book 2)

So following on from my previous post, I’ve installed the hard drives into my QNAP TS-269L NAS, powered it on and downloaded and installed the ‘Qfinder’ software to detect the drive and perform initial setup.

My home network has DHCP services provided by the ADSL router which would be the same for most people so the device picked up an IP address on startup and the Qfinder software detected it immediately.

I was guided through a wizard that configured low level settings like server name, date/time, password for admin account and also prompted me to upgrade to a more recent version of the firmware (and reboot).

This software has options to assist setting up storage folders, mapping drives and configuring advanced network settings (the device actually has two Ethernet ports so there are some sophisticated options available here if needed).

Overall it was a pleasant experience, but all the high level options such as configuring services and installing add-ins is done via the web interface, which can be obtained simply by double-clicking the required NAS in the list (Qfinder will manage more than one QNAP NAS if others exist on your network and this opens up yet more options such as replicating data to a second unit in real-time).

The QNAP Web interface

Initial impressions were very favourable, with large, friendly (but not cutesy) icons and various status indicators and quick links dotted around the place.  The interface is very dynamic, with things opening independently in their own draggable windows and there are lots of nice touches.  The dashboard is particularly attractive and is a good overview of the system, including any tasks that may be running in the background:

QNAP Dashboard

Tip: It is a matter of personal preference, but there is an option in the menu in the top-right to switch to a ‘tabbed’ view which ditches the individual windows in favour of tabs which will bring each opened section to the front and I much prefer this since I never found it necessary to see two windows at once.

Clicking the Control Panel icon gets to the meat of the system:

QNAP Control PanelI’ll run through most of the options and highlight the things I altered to achieve my goals.  For some background, my environment and use cases are:

  1. Mixed environment of a couple of Windows laptops and an Apple Macbook Pro, all of which need to access the data on the drive
  2. I want to backup the laptops to the NAS.  The Macbook uses a Time Machine already but the QNAP supports the Time Machine protocol so theoretically can take its place
  3. I want all my digital multimedia files to be playable directly from the device via HDMI into my amplifier.  And I really mean direct – if I have 24 bit/96 khz FLAC then I want that decoded and sent to the amplifier as a bitstream of the same resolution ready for D/A conversion
  4. A ‘nice to have’ is the use of DLNA to make the files available to other devices (such as the networked Panasonic Bluray player in the bedroom)
  5. If possible, allow the playing of music off the device through the hifi without needing the bloody television turned on just to navigate the system
  6. Tune the system by removing or disabling anything I don’t need without sacrificing reliability
  7. Oh yeah, and before I forget again, I need a way to backup the contents of the device itself since the bulk of its content is only held there

With that in mind, let’s begin …

General Settings

These mostly mirror the settings that are available in the Qfinder software and I didn’t change anything further at this point.

Storage Manager

As it suggests, anything to do with storage is contained here, including configuring RAID, encrypting the file system and a bunch of hardcore options for iSCSI which I won’t pretend to understand or need.

The important part to check is that the physical disks are listed correctly, and the logical volume is configured correctly – in my case a mirrored volume.

QNAP Storage ManagerThe system supports S.M.A.R.T monitoring to check the health of the hard drive(s).  For what it is worth I configured it to do a complete test once a month in the hope of some advance warnings of any issues.
Tip: I set it to do a full scan at 9am on the first of each month and applied it to both drives.  It is now New Year’s Day and I’ve just realised why things seemed a little slow – it has been running the scan for almost the entire day.  I have now changed it so it will run at 1am and have staggered the drives so drive 2 will scan on the 2nd day of the month.

I must admit I don’t recall exactly what I did to initialise the discs for the first time – there were a couple of steps to select the configuration of the hard-drives between RAID 0 or 1 for example, and it went away and formatted the drives for first use and then spent time synchronising the mirror.  During that time I was still able to write some files to continue my testing, but I rebooted part way through and it restarted the synchronisation again so probably safest to let it run through to the end (a few hours for my 3TB drives).

Network

There are some hard-core settings here and I didn’t change anything.  On the ADSL router however, I did set up the NAS as a static IP address based on MAC address so it will always be identified via the same IP address which I figured would make life easier when accessing the web interface and is one less thing to think about when debugging network issues.

Security

You can create access rules here to allow/block IP addresses from accessing the device.  I didn’t change anything as all ports are blocked via the router in my situation.

Note that there are various options to allow the device to act as a ‘personal cloud server’ so you can access your files externally.  That would require external access to the device and I’m not sure what is involved to allow that to happen – for me this feature isn’t worth the potential downside and for those occasions I wish to share files between home and work for instance I either copy them to a USB stick or use a genuine cloud service such as SkyDrive or Google Drive.

Hardware

Some general options here to control the fan and hard drive standby mode.  I can’t think of a downside to allowing the hard-drive to go to sleep after 30 minutes of inactivity so it is worth turning this on if not on already.

Power

Some more hard-core options to reduce power consumption.  I left these alone but changed the ‘Power Recovery’ option so that the unit remains off if there is a power failure and then the power returns.  I figured if the power went off for some reason then it would be safest to leave it off and switch it on manually.  If you need to access it remotely then use one of the other two options.

Notification

You can setup an email account to be notified of system alerts and warnings.  This actually requires you to enter your email password as it uses your provider to send the email rather than a generic SMTP server.  My old Western Digital MyBook Live didn’t require this and must have used their own SMTP server and some sort of authentication to make sure requests only came from genuine devices.
Given the amount of stuff I have tied with my Google/Gmail account, I tested this out but felt safer removing my details and will rely on logging in every now and then to check what is going on.

SMS is supported as well but once again required credentials for a provider of such services.

Firmware Update

The system can check for new firmware automatically so just let it do its thing.

Backup / Restore

This allows you to save system settings to a file and restore them again, or reset to factory defaults.  Worth keeping a working copy in case you screw something up.

External Device

This is interesting and has options to manage external hard-drives plugged in via USB or eSATA.  It can also manage an attached USB Printer and share it on the network.  Finally, it can connect to a UPS and shut-down automatically if needed.

All great options in an office environment but not something I needed.

System Status

More information than you could possibly need on processor, memory and network utilisation.  Also shows specification of the system and temperature.

Most useful is the System Service page which snapshots all the running services and is worth checking to see the effect of turning things on and off.

QNAP System Service

System Logs

As the name suggests, there is a comprehensive log of all events as well as a list of connected users.

Users

Moving on to Users under the ‘Privilege Settings’ category.  There are some useful options here, even if you are a solo user.

Firstly, there is the concept of a ‘home’ folder which is private to each user (although the degree of privacy is configurable I assume).  As you would expect, this is a dumping ground for your own personal files with no expectation that they would be available to other devices via DLNA for example.  Instead, if you were opening up file access to the outside world, this would be the ideal place to keep personal things you wish to access from anywhere.

Each user’s ‘home’ directory shows up as an individual network share when browsing the NAS via Windows Explorer or a Mac Finder – depending on the credentials they have accessed the device with.  In an office environment this could be useful, but for a home network it may not be, so clicking the ‘Home Folder’ button allows this to be disabled which means one less share shows up when browsing the device.

It is advisable to create a dedicated user account for yourself, even if you are the only user, rather than use the existing default ‘admin’ account.  That way, if for example a virus gets hold of your computer, there is potentially less damage it can do to files on a mapped network drive than if you were connected as ‘admin’ and could access and change everything.  Also, if you add more users in the future it gives greater visibility when you can differentiate between who made what changes to which files.

Click the ‘Create’ button to create a new user account.  For ease of use, choose the same username that you use when logging into your computer.  Every user is automatically in the ‘Everyone’ group, which is sufficient for read-only access (so they can play multimedia files but can’t add/edit/delete them).  Whatever username and password you enter here is what you should use when mapping a network drive to your desired share.
The ‘Private Network Share’ icon allows you to fine-tune permissions for that user for any network shares currently defined, and ‘Application Privilege’ allows you to enable/disable access to services and applications such as FTP.

User Groups

Here you can edit existing groups (‘Admin’ and ‘everybody’) or create your own group and assign default permissions which can be overridden on a per-user basis if needed (not recommended in order to keep things manageable).

They’ve done a good job here as the ‘admin’ group actually has no permissions at all when it comes to files: every share is denied.  Thus you either have to make a conscious decision to override these settings, or create a dedicated account.  Strangely though, the actual ‘admin’ user account by default does override these settings and sets them all to read/write, so the purpose is completely defeated.  I didn’t want to muck around and reduce these permissions so just stick with a dedicated account instead for your day to day usage – don’t map shares as ‘admin’.

Now that I have a better understanding of these options I might create a ‘Power User’ group that has read/write access to multimedia files for example and put myself in it, and leave the ‘everybody’ group for less technical members of the household to just read files.

Shared Folders

This is where you can setup network shares themselves.  A number are setup by default, and so far I’ve felt most comfortable sticking with those and creating folders within them instead.  Creating new shares gives the most flexibility but at the cost of more complexity, and unless you are in an office environment and/or dealing with sensitive material, it isn’t worth it.

Each share shows up individually when browsing the device in Explorer/Finder but if you click the ‘Property’ icon there is an option to hide it.  Your mileage may vary, but I hid the ‘homes’, ‘Recordings’, ‘Web’ and ‘Download’ shares.
I guess that ‘Downloads’ is used in conjunction with the Bit-torrent add-on (which I’m not about to give in to temptation to), and ‘Recordings’ is used by the TV Tuner option, which sounds really great but not on my agenda yet as I don’t have a TV tuner dongle.

QNAP Shared Folders

The key folder is ‘Multimedia’.  As you would guess, this is where it is recommended to add your multimedia files as other included applications look here by default.  This is the share that I have mapped directly on my computers and all my files go here in relevant sub-folders:

QNAP Multimedia Folder LayoutTip: If you use software that needs to scan your music (for example I use the Mixmeister and Traktor digital DJ’ing software), you would normally point it at your music folder and let it detect BPMs, keys and other meta-data for all your files.  If you also have a lot of DJ mixes from Soundcloud or whatever, then it will try and scan these too, which takes forever and is fairly pointless (and in the case of Mixmeister it crashes with files over a certain length).  Thus I moved those files into a separate top-level ‘Mixes’ folder so they are not scanned.  If you do want them scanned in other software just add that folder to the list of folders to scan (for example in Media Monkey).

Quota

This allows you to configure disk usage quotas to control the maximum amount of disc space a user can use.  A global value can be set here and can be overridden per user.  I have no use for this and have it turned off, but amongst a larger group of users is probably a good idea.

Domain Security

This allows you to offload user management to either Active Directory or an LDAP server.  Great in a business environment no doubt, but just leave it set to ‘No domain security (Local users only)’ for home use so you can manage users as described above.

Win/Mac/NFS

Moving on to the Network Services category, here you can configure how the network shares are accessed via other operating systems.

To allow access from Windows machines, select the Microsoft Networking option and enter the same Workgroup name as the rest of your machines (probably WORKGROUP).  These days it doesn’t seem to make much difference but can’t hurt.  Everything else should be the default for home usage.

If you are only accessing the NAS via Apple machines then conceivably you could enable Apple Networking and disable Microsoft Networking.
However I did read somewhere that Apple are moving to the Microsoft system as their default, and Microsoft Networking is very well supported on a number of platforms so unless Apple Networking give you something specific you need then just enabling Microsoft may be simplest.
I didn’t notice any difference in speed between the two in my very unscientific tests.

If you wish to enable Time Machine backups, it appears you will need to enable Apple Networking however.

FTP

You probably don’t need this unless you are using the NAS as a development machine, and even then you would probably transfer files via network shares or SCP over SSH.

Telnet/SSH

I can’t imagine why you would need telnet enabled, and SSH should only be enabled if you specifically need to login to the embedded operating system on the NAS.

SNMP

Leave this disabled unless you are integrating with monitoring tools for your network.

Service Discovery

UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) should be enabled if you have other devices on your network that may wish to access the files on the NAS (such as a Smart TV or streaming audio device).  It just helps them find the NAS automatically.

Bonjour is heavily used by Apple products and should be left on if you use any such products on your network and wish them to access the NAS.  Turn off any services you don’t need to advertise or have disabled.  For example I have SSH enabled, but it is not a service I wish to advertise to the world so this has been unticked.

Network Recycle Bin

This is a useful option – normally when you delete something off a network share it is gone immediately.  This enables functionality similar to the traditional desktop Recycle bin or Trash.

As it says, it will create a separate Recycle folder per network share.  Thus, if I delete any file in any of the folders in my Multimedia share, they will go into a single recycle folder at the top of the share.  Note that it will store the full path as well, so if I delete a photo in the ‘Photos’ sub-directory, it will be recycled as ‘@Recycle/Photos/crappy_photo_of_me.jpg’

I assume this only applies to files deleted when accessing the share via Windows Explorer/Finder and if you delete a file using another application or directly via FTP etc, then it is gone immediately.

There is an option to retain files for a set number of days which makes a lot of sense so you can set and forget and not worry about running out of space.  I set it to 30 days.

At this stage I’m not sure what the ‘Network Recycle Bin’ share is for – it seems to be something different altogether and I’ve decided to hide it.

Qsync

I haven’t looked into this yet but it sounds useful.  At the time of writing it says ‘Beta’, so I might wait a bit for this.  If you are interested, check out this article on how to use it: http://www.tweaktown.com/guides/5966/build-your-own-cloud-with-qnap-network-attached-storage/index.html

Conclusion

By this point you have a fully configured device that does everything you would expect of a NAS and you could probably leave it at that, but to do so is deny yourself the real power and flexibility that it can deliver.

In the next part I’ll examine the included applications and look at how to get the most of the device from a multimedia perspective.

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