Synology CEO: Why a NAS is the solution to tiny storage space on mobile devices

The paltry storage space in Google's Pixel 4 and other smartphones fills up quickly, but Synology America CEO Alex Wang sees the NAS as the solution for that, data sharing, and information security.

CES 2019: New storage innovations in SD, SSD, and HDDs increase speed and density At CES 2019, makers of portable flash memory cards, as well as solid state and traditional platter hard drives introduced new products benefiting business users and digital professionals.

Computing is moving toward mobile devices—if it is not there already. People spend nearly as much time on smartphones as traditional computers, with tablets filling the portability requirements of users on the go and for people who prefer pen input, among other use cases. Storage space on those mobile devices comes at a significant premium.

CNET's review of the Pixel 4 judges the phones as "expensive given the amount of storage included," starting at $799 for 64 GB. Doubling that storage to 128 GB costs an extra $100, which stings when you see a 512 GB microSD for $90. Google's Pixel phones, like the iPhone, lack expandable storage, leaving users dependent on the cloud for storing their personal data. 

SEE: Top five on-premises cloud storage options (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Likewise, running backups in the cloud can be an expensive proposition, as cloud back-up services such as Backblaze run $60/year per computer—and Backblaze is among the most affordable and reputable providers on the market. Synology's Active Backup for Business is license-free—usage rights are tied to the NAS, rather than the client devices—allowing organizations to back up PCs, file servers, and virtual machines.

Alex Wang, CEO of network-attached storage (NAS) manufacturer Synology America, discussed the role that NAS systems play in home and business networks, features coming to DiskStation Manager 7.0 next year, and lessons learned as Synology celebrates their 20th anniversary in January.

This interview was lightly edited for clarity.

How a NAS addresses the tiny storage in mobile devices

TechRepublic: Consumers and businesses are moving more toward tablets, laptops, and small form-factor PCs that can't really handle large quantities of bulk storage. What role can a NAS play in offsetting this?

Alex Wang: People still have lots of data—they need the storage space, either in the cloud or an external device. With a NAS, you can access data easily from all of your different devices, and you have control of your data. You can, for example, sync data between different computers, different desktops, and your mobile device syncs through a Synology NAS and build your own private cloud. You can still access from anywhere, but you have full control of your data. 

On my home network, I have 20 different devices, and I store everything on the NAS in my home. I can access it from my TV to browse the multimedia library, or sync photos from my phone to the TV, things like that. 

Storage space will never be enough for everyone on their phones or computers. As you take photos on your phone, sooner or later, it will be filled up. If everyone gets extra space, the cost will be higher. 

But, the benefit of having a NAS is not just to have extra space. It's easier for sharing between each other. I might take some photos on my phone, put it on the NAS, and then all my family members can see those photos, they can share those photos easily. For business, a lot of businesses need to collaborate with each other [or with] different teams. With a NAS, that will be easier for them to share data and feel good about security in their business.

TechRepublic: So, what about backups? What's the benefit of having a backup on-premise, as opposed to in the cloud?

Alex Wang: It's good to have an off-site copy of the data. It's the 3-2-1 backup strategy. The advantage of having on-premises backup… you can back up hundreds of workstations, and the speed will be fast enough to [do so]. If it's in the cloud, it would be much slower. When it comes to restore, it will be much faster if the backup is on-premises.

You can do a lot of things with your data, you can utilize the data. The bigger thing now is not just the data -- you can do sandbox testing with your data. For example, in Synology Active Backup for Business, you can back up your servers, your VMs and because it's image based, you can power up this image from the virtual host. 

If you need to do, for example, upgrade Windows Server, or you want to test your software, you can just power on the backup data from another NAS, and do the sandbox testing inside your NAS. So you can utilize your data without paying for an extra copy in the cloud to power on your backup machine.

Features coming to DiskStation Manager 7.0

TechRepublic: There's a lot of anticipation for DiskStation Manager (DSM) 7.0, among users of Synology products. What's coming in the new release? Will a beta version be made available this year?

Alex Wang: In DSM 7.0, I would say the biggest highlight is hybrid cloud. As a NAS company, we have a storage solution, but we also have public cloud solution. Synology C2 is a public cloud solution for our NAS customers, to back up their data to a remote location. Because it's in the cloud, you can expand the capacity easily. 

Usually when it comes to public cloud solutions, people have concerns about security, privacy, or access speed. In DSM 7.0, we created a new service called Synology Hybrid Share. You can create a folder on the cloud, and then use the local, on-premises NAS as a local cache.

When people in your local network want to access the data, they can access from that NAS. If it's hot data, they would have it immediately. If it's cold data, they would pull it from the cloud.

Because the data would go through the NAS, it encrypts the data before putting it on the cloud. You would have the benefit of speed—it's faster to access it locally. When disaster comes, if you need to replace your NAS, just replace it. You can access all the data immediately. 

For businesses with many different offices, they don't need to copy data [around] anymore. They can use a NAS as a cache in every office, and mount the same storage in the cloud. That's one of the biggest features in DSM 7.0. 

TechRepublic: What changes are coming for SSD caching in DSM 7.0?

Alex Wang: When using a SSD cache, we recommend our customers use enterprise SSDs. These provide more reliable performance and a longer lifespan. A lot of people use consumer SSDs, because those are much cheaper. For DSM 7.0, we are improving SSD caches, and providing more consistent performance and lower latency, even when using consumer SSDs.

It's over provisioning. Basically, we test a lot of different SSDs, then we evaluate how much space we need to reserve in order to have consistent performance, we put that in a database. When customers use those SSDs, [if] we know how this SSD works, we will suggest the right parameters to use with Synology DSM.

In DSM 7.0, we also have a service called Active Insight. The NAS can send hard drive information, disk I/O performance, and other system information to Synology. We can analyze that data in our database, with our testing experience. We can see foresee [disk] problems before you have it, so we will notify customers that there might be a potential problem.

TechRepublic: Microsoft announced plans in August to have the exFAT file system mainlined into the Linux kernel. Previously, this was offered as a paid app for DSM. Will exFAT be integrated into DSM 7.0, so users will not need to buy this separately?

Alex Wang: We need to have confirmation from Microsoft. We are currently working with Microsoft to confirm whether we can make this change, and once we received their confirmation then we will… offer it to our users. As long as we have confirmation from Microsoft, it will be free.

How Synology approaches product design

TechRepublic: Synology use Celeron-class Intel CPUs for SMB-focused NAS systems, and Arm-powered Marvell CPUs for entry-level devices. There's a lot of advancements coming from AMD for embedded CPUs. What's the likelihood of an AMD-powered DiskStation?

Alex Wang: We keep evaluating different CPUs, but when it comes to choosing a CPU for a NAS, you don't just look at the clock rate. Because it's a NAS, how you use the CPU is very unique. We care a lot about the performance from the network to the storage device. 

We've found that a lot of those powerful CPUs actually integrate it very well—and it is actually system-on-chip (SoC), not just CPU. It has an integrated network chip and storage chip in the CPU, in the SoC. We've found low-power CPUs actually provide very good performance, good throughput.

Sometimes, it's even better than typical desktop CPUs. In terms of CPUs, we are evaluating it—they offer a good selection of product models—and see where they are suitable for NAS, 

TechRepublic: January 2020 marks the 20th anniversary of Synology's founding. What's an important lesson the company has learned in that time? 

Alex Wang: Synology started as a software company. Very quickly, we realized two things—people are different, but people are the same. 

We have a very broad product line—there are lots of home users and business users, but we keep adding a lot of features such as media management features for home users. Business users don't need it, so we receive some complaints from business users; 'We don't need those consumer features!' That's why we have Package Center now, to allow customers to install the software they want or need, without putting everything in the NAS.

And, people understand they like an easy-to-use interface. Even IT admins know how to use command line, to use difficult interfaces. But, if available, they prefer to use something easier. So, the UI is one of our focuses. We try to make the UI easy to use for IT admins, for them to easily manage multiple devices from one central panel.


Beta previews of DSM 7.0 are expected in early 2020. For more, check out "Synology announces new FlashStation and DiskStation models for all-flash arrays" and "How to add an SSD cache to your Synology NAS (and why you'd want to)" on TechRepublic.

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