Preserving Precious Memories with Synology’s DS418 DiskStation

Family photos and videos are a funny thing. Other than the dozen or so you might have framed and hung on a wall or sitting on a desk, the majority of your family pictures are probably stored in photo albums, cardboard boxes, or hard drives. It’s nice to know that they’re there, so you can relive those memories at some later time in life. The best time to reminisce with your photos is during family get-togethers, reunions, or holidays. Weddings are a pretty good excuse for pulling out the photo albums or putting together slideshows to (usually) embarrass the newlyweds. The saddest, most emotional time to photographically stroll down memory lane is after a death in the family.

I know because my 92-year-old father passed away a little over a week ago—depriving the world of one more quiet, noble WWII vet. I, along with my sisters and our collective children, went through many hundreds of old photographs — some dating back to the late 1930s — scanning the best ones as fast as we could. (Funerals, it turns out, are the ultimate deadline.) Some of the images we found were funny, such as the one taken at my dad’s 80th birthday party showing Dad with a vexed look on his face as his four children are yucking it up behind him. Others triggered an unanticipated avalanche of emotions, as did the photo of Mom and Dad dancing at their 25th wedding anniversary, not long before my grandmother (my dad’s mom) died from a heart attack at a table not far from the dance floor. My mom died of cancer 24 years ago, so that photo was a three-in-one kicker in the emotional gut. (It’s funny how looking at photos of dead relatives whom you never met, like my great-grandmother, for instance, don’t affect you as do pictures of those you knew and loved who have passed on, as is the case with my older brother who passed away ten years ago.) Fortunately for me, one of my nieces took on the responsibility of editing and combining the collected images in one incredibly beautiful and moving slide show that ran on a couple of monitors during the visitation at the funeral home.

For over ten years, when I and my siblings were kids, my dad took pictures of us on vacation and him on hunting trips using 35mm slide film. I now have over twelve carousels of those slides to scan and send digital copies to my siblings. We all have slews of photographic prints to scan and distribute, as well. We’ll probably only look at them a couple of times during the remainder of our lifetimes — and other than our children, no one else will give a crap after we’re all dead — but at least we’ll have them at easy access when we do want (or need) to look at them.

Life goes on, of course. Over the weekend, I videoed my daughter as she played piano in a state music competition. I filmed the performance in 1080p using my iPhone, and the resulting 12 minutes of video consumed 1.55 GB of storage. As the proud dad of a young lady who performs a lot, I’ve accumulated many more GBs of video over the last 17 years. I also have hours and hours of video taken of my older boys while they were growing up — but those movies are still locked away on dozens of Mini DV tapes that I have yet to transfer to a hard drive. Aside from having the spare time to transfer and organize all of these old and new photos and videos, I’m rapidly running out of hard drive space. (I haven’t even mentioned the over 240 GB of digital still images already on a hard drive.)

I currently have two NAS (Network Attached Storage) drives: a standalone Synology BC214se (with two 3 TB drives in a RAID array) and a rack-mounted Synology RS815 (with four 4 TB drives). Unlike the hard drive on my computer, these two NAS devices aren’t filled with lots of stupid schlock that accumulates until I to purge some of it in order to free up space on the internal hard drive. The contents mainly consist of personal digital media (images, movies, audio) plus Time Machine backups for two Mac computers in the house. You’d think I’d be looking for things to store on these NAS devices; and, yet, the BC214se storage meter reads at 99% used, while the RS815 says it’s at 93% of capacity.

Over the last month-and-a-half, Synology has introduced several new NAS models, some of which are “designed for small and medium-sized businesses and IT enthusiasts.” I certainly don’t fit in any of those potential-user categories. Of the remaining introductions, the Synology DiskStation DS418 is the most interesting to me because the “DS418 is a high-performance and versatile four-bay NAS, specifically designed for offices and home users to effectively manage, protect, and share data.” (To “manage, protect, and share data” sounds like a superhero’s slogan.) There are a lot of stats I could throw at you, but they’re really more appropriate for “IT enthusiasts.” (I’d make fun of that moniker, but I have a nephew who owns and operates an IT company. He’s serious about IT, but he certainly doesn’t fit the popular image of the IT nerd.) Suffice it to say that this is one impressive piece of hardware, especially for the price.

The DS418 is a standalone, 4-bay NAS that’s very digital media savvy. It has a 64-bit quad-core 1.4GHz processor, 2 GB DDR4 memory, and is capable of 10-bit 4K H.265 video transcoding (to 1080p or lower) on the fly. That last bit is especially important with regard to all the personal home videos I’ve been accumulating — and will continue to accumulate in 4K from here on out. Here’s how Synology describes it:

You can organize a personal digital video library with comprehensive media information, and stream 4K Ultra HD movies and films to various devices such as computers, smartphones, media players, and TVs. If your device is not capable of 4K video playback, DS418 provides online 4K video transcoding to 1080p or lower resolutions for smoother and time-saving video watching experience.

In other words, I won’t need to have everyone crowd around my laptop in order to see the images or videos I’ve stored on the DS418. The DS418 can stream directly to a connected phone, set-top box, or smart TV, and it’ll adjust the resolution of the stream based on the device at the other end of the stream. By the way, Synology has a number of mobile apps that will allow mobile devices to stream from the DS418 (or other Synology DiskStations) anywhere there’s access to the internet (as long as the device is registered as a user in the DS418’s configuration).

There’s one additional spec that really caught my eye. Synology says the DS418 has “over 40TB raw single volume capacity.” Now, I’m not an expert, mind you, but 40TB ought to ease my storage issues for a while.

For those who aren’t all that familiar with buying NAS devices, it’s important to note that they can be sold as empty enclosures without any hard drives installed (sometimes referred to as a “Diskless System”) or with hard drives installed. If you buy the enclosure only, you can decide how much you want to spend to get the amount of storage space you need. (Memo to self: there’s never enough storage space.) The Synology DS418, for example, sells for $369. Coincidentally, that’s close to the starting price of a quality 10TB desktop drive. (For our purposes here, let’s say a 10TB drive will cost you $350.) Since you’ll need four of those 10 GB drives to install in the DS418 in order to max out the DS481’s capabilities, the total cost of the system will net to a little under $1,800.

Depending upon your outlook on life and, more importantly, your income, $1,800 is either an impulse purchase price or totally out of reach. (I fall somewhere in-between, close to the “totally out of reach” group.) Here’s another cost coincidence: according to the FTC, the average cost of a casket in a “traditional” full-service funeral is a bit more than $2,000 — and its only purpose is to sit six feet underground.

My dad’s estate had enough money to pay for the funeral and a $2,000 casket. I’d rather put the money into a NAS with 40TB of storage and have my kids bury me in a cardboard box. (Actually, I’ve left instructions that I want my kids to put my body on a wooden boat, set it afire, and let it float on the lake by our house until it's nothing but ashes. It’s not good for the planet, I know, but I think it’s a stylish way to go out.)

Looking back on this post, I realize it's kind of morbid, kind of technical, and then kind of irreverent. There’s a certain attitude that comes — at least for me — when your remaining parent dies. It brings home the fact that we’re all mortal, and any one of us might not be here tomorrow. So, basically, if you’ve been offended by the content so far, I don’t really give a crap about it. Life and death mix every day, and somehow, we all go on. Ideally, technology can be used to help us keep our memories available anytime we’d like to see them. I don’t know if 40TB is enough to store an entire life, but at least it’s a good start.

By the way, for those who are interested, my dad had a great run. His mind and heart were solid until the end. It was his body that just finally wore out over the last five years of his life. He grew up in a house without plumbing or electricity, joined the Army to fight in WWII rather than graduate from high school, landed on a beach in Normandy two days after D-Day, froze in the coldest winter of his life in the town of Liege during the Battle of the Bulge, and was on a boat ready to ship out to the Philippines when the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. He helped raise four kids, worked his butt off, and then watched as the family grew to a total of 13 grandchildren and (so far) nearly as many great-grandchildren. He was a great dancer and especially loved polkas.

ednaz's picture

The Synology mentioned still doesn't provide the best protection. If a bit in a file gets corrupted or flipped, it won't fix that, because it can't. You're still dependent on your backups if a file gets corrupted on your active storage. And if you missed that corruption and continued your normal backups, well, your backups won't save you from that. How fatal is one flipped bit? For a photograph, it can be pretty much totally fatal. It's not like a spot on a photo, since in an image file all spots are dependent on each other. How frequent? That's a function of time... I'm a photographer, and I've had it happen to a few files here and there in my 15 TB of photographs and videos. Thankfully not to any really valuable ones. But, it's happened at a large scale (a few hundred images) in some backups that had issues that weren't detected at the time.

There's a technology called ZFS that DOES protect you from what's commonly called "bit rot" - bits degrading over time due to cosmic ray strikes, disk degradation, things like that. It's an "ultimate" quality solution - there are other ones that preceded ZFS like copy-on-write, and some derivatives of ZFS like Netgear's BTRFS (a variation on C-O-W.) Like many photographers, my ultimate archive is now on ZFS systems, with working files and working archives living on less painful to manage NAS systems.

For scanned photos of family members, protecting against bit rot is the only way to be confident that those images will still be viewable and printable for generations to come. (Assuming they can still read disks... go ahead, try to find a way to access those zip drives that used to be all the rage...)

javanp's picture

you need to understand the different types of RAID arrays and use the one that best fits your needs. No need for me to go into it here, just google "types of raid arrays"

Tommy Lee's picture

Hey, there's nothing wrong with your funeral plan from an ecological standpoint. A bit of air pollution, but no formaldehyde or casket, and your constituent elements will be returned to the natural cycle of life more efficiently than they would be in a high-temp cremation. I say, go for it!

barfle's picture

For the last couple of years I've been scanning my old photos, slides and negatives. My HP Scanjet got quite a workout, and I have many gigabytes of photos to crop, rename, and add titles to before I either forget or lose the notes!

Although I haven't made use of it, I understand that Amazon Prime has unlimited photo storage available. I'm using a Drobo 5N as NAS, which has the advantage that you can replace a drive any time you want to with a larger one. It holds five drives and at the moment mine has two 3TB drives and three 1TB drives. Any time I find that I need more capacity, I can replace one of the 1TB drives with a larger one. I'm not sure what the total space available is, but I'm sure most of mine is full of duplicate automatic backups. FWIW, I got it at a discount through Home Theater Geeks, may the show return soon!

Billy's picture

Your Dad sounded like a great guy and an awesome Father, may he rest in peace. I too have scanned old family photos and have them backed up in multiple places and locations. My only caveat is that at the time I did not label them, that was a big mistake. To all out there that plan on doing the same, take the time to label and date your photos, your heirs will thank you and remember you fondly, just as this fine man is remembered. The idea that multiple generations down the road will be able to call up these photos makes me grin, I wish I could see what my distant ancestors looked and acted like, we can make that happen for our distant families...kind'a neat if you ask me.