NAS shoot-out: QNAP vs. Synology

The beefy QNAP TVS-EC880 delivers better performance under heavy workloads, while the elegant Synology DS2015xs shines with useful tools

At a Glance
  • Synology DS2015xs

  • QNAP TVS-EC880

The past few years have seen a meteoric rise in the breadth and scope of small-business NAS, and while the top names in this space may have brought the core disciplines of NAS and even SAN to maturity, they continue to add features to their hardware. The latest from QNAP and Synology -- two longtime leaders in this market -- showcase this trend.

I spent some time in the lab with the Synology DS2015xs and the QNAP TVS-EC880. Both are eight-bay storage arrays with optional 10G network connectivity. I tested each on 1G and 10G networks, with basic file serving and NAS functions, but also with VMware vSphere as a data store for virtualization infrastructures.

Either unit will deliver on features and general-purpose NAS performance. The QNAP TVS-EC880 offers higher performance under load, making it a better option as a virtualization data store, but the Synology DS2015xs is cheaper and includes several very useful storage and security analysis tools.

Synology DS2015xs

Like the rest of the Synology desktop NAS lineup, the DS2015xs is a sleek, surprisingly small box that holds eight 3.5-inch SATA drives and up to two optional internal SSD cache devices. Running the show is an interesting CPU from a new startup, Annapurna Labs. It runs four cores at 1.7GHz and packs 4GB of RAM. There are two Gigabit Ethernet interfaces and two SFP+ 10G interfaces in the unit. Additional wireless networking is available via an optional USB wireless adapter.

Synology DS2015xs

Synology DS2015xs

My test unit arrived with Seagate ST6000VN0001 6TB drives designed for use in enterprise NAS devices, giving the unit 48TB of raw storage.

Physically, the unit is small, quiet, and light, which belies the 48TB raw capacity. Like most desktop NAS units, there is only a single power supply, so no redundancy there.

The Synology DSM software interface is delivered as a Web application that looks and feels like a full desktop OS in a browser. It’s almost absurdly attractive and borrows from the Microsoft Windows 8 look and feel. Icons for notification, options, and search populate the top left of the menu bar. A “pilot view” alongside functions like Mac OS X’s Mission Control (formerly Exposé), tiling open windows for quick selection and navigation.

From the UI you can perform the usual tasks of configuring NAS volumes and iSCSI targets and LUNs with LUN masking and setting up sharing for Windows, Unix, and Mac systems via SMB, NFS, and AFP, along with a plethora of other sharing types such as WebDAV and FTP. There’s even TFTP/PXE support. Authentication can be local or through Microsoft Active Directory or standard LDAP. SSH and SNMP support is available too.

Further, the DS2015xs can function as a firewall. It offers traditional firewalling in addition to DDoS protection and automatic blocking of source connections with too many failed connection attempts. There’s also a task scheduler that can be used to configure events to run at specific dates and times or on a regular basis. This could be used to start or stop a service or even to run a custom script.

synology dsm ui

Synology's Web-based UI functions like a full windowed OS. Here we see at-a-glance health information and the control panel. 

The Package Center app connects with Synology’s app store and allows for searching, downloading, and installing a variety of add-on packages to increase the functionality of the system. Here you will find tools to synchronize files with cloud storage services, use the NAS with video surveillance systems, use the NAS as a media server, and run common Web applications like Drupal, Joomla, MediaWiki, SugarCRM, and WordPress. You’ll find any number of other applications and utilities as well.

On the storage front, Synology includes a Storage Analyzer application that can generate regular reports on a variety of storage metrics such as volume and quota usage, file usage by group, large files, and files by owner.

Alongside the Storage Analyzer is the Security Advisor application that scans the system for common threats and produces a report with recommended actions. This can be tuned for home/personal and business use, with the business option performing stricter checks. This will scan system settings for potentially problematic configuration settings, as well as perform malware scans on accessible data stored on the device. This app can be configured to scan the system regularly. The Security Advisor isn’t an end-all security solution, but it’s quite nice to have at your fingertips.

The Log Center app can be used to manage the local logs, as well as to receive logs from other devices via syslog and to configure rudimentary notifications and alerts based on severity and keywords.

Backup and restore can be handled in a variety of ways, including automated backups to a local storage device such as a USB disk or another Synology or Rsync-compatible device, or to a cloud storage provider. For cloud storage, Amazon S3 and Microsoft Azure are supported out of the box, with other solutions available as add-on packages. Given the raw storage in this box, a local USB-based backup is probably a nonstarter other than for small volumes, but the Rsync-compatible backup option is handy for backing up to anything that can run Rsync. The synchronization wizard will even discover compatible systems on the local network to ease configuration.

synology storage manager

Synology's Storage Manager applet gives you the low-down on the overall storage subsystem. 

To keep tabs on everything, Synology DSM provides at-a-glance monitoring of every element of the system, including CPU, memory, network, disk, and volume performance in addition to individual process monitoring, connected user lists, and a “speed limit” view that shows which resources a given sharing protocol is currently using.

All in all, from a functional and feature standpoint, a lot is available on the DS2015xs. In terms of performance, it holds its own in general use testing, on both the iSCSI and SMB/NFS sides, but when pushed harder, the more limited CPU resources began to impact performance. This was especially noticeable under randomized I/O on NFS, such as heavy virtualization loads. This unit will be capable of handling a small virtualization infrastructure, but it definitely has limits. The use of SSD caching should help here, but that option was not included in my evaluation unit.

Overall, the Synology DS2015xs is an extremely well-equipped small-business NAS that would do well in a home office or workgroup environment. It offers a lot of bang for the buck and very reasonable performance for its target audience.

QNAP TVS-EC880

Like the Synology unit, the QNAP TVS-EC880 has an established lineage of capable small-business and enterprise NAS and SAN devices, and this unit continues the trend, with additional features that might be welcome in a home environment but somewhat puzzling to the business crowd.

QNAP TVS-EC880

QNAP TVS-EC880

First off, the TVS-EC880 is much larger than the Synology unit, though it too supports eight drives. At nearly twice the size, it takes up a lot more room, but this size also allows for large fans and quiet operation (it’s no louder than the Synology unit). The QNAP is driven by a four-core 3.40GHz Intel E3-1245 CPU and a whopping 10GB of RAM. It offers four gigabit Ethernet ports and optional 10G interfaces as SFP+ or 10GBaseT.

The QNAP also arrived with eight Seagate ST6000VN0001 6TB enterprise NAS drives for 48TB of raw storage, and it can support two internal SSD cache devices, though none were included. On the front of the unit is an LCD that shows IP information along with details on any status alerts or issues with the system. As with the Synology box and most desktop NAS units, there is a single power supply.

The QNAP management interface is not unlike Synology DSM in that it drives like a desktop OS in a browser. It too has heads-up notification and search options in the menu bar, along with an easily accessible dashboard that shows basic system status and links to more detailed system and performance monitoring that can show CPU, RAM, storage, network, and process utilization data and graphs.

The setup and configuration of essential storage is straightforward, allowing for the creation of storage pools and volumes and iSCSI targets and LUNs with advanced LUN masking. You can even configure remote iSCSI LUN mounts to the unit. File sharing is provided by the usual culprits: SMB, NFS, and AFP. Authentication can be handled locally or via Microsoft Active Directory or LDAP; SSH and SNMP access are available as well. The TVS-EC880 can even act as a domain controller for a Windows network.

qnap ui

QNAP's Web UI offers multiple windows into the device. Here we see the main screen with dashboard and quick links in the background. 

Out of the box, the TVS-EC880 can function as a Web, MySQL, syslog, RADIUS, and TFTP server, as well as an LDAP, OpenVPN and PPTP client and server. QNAP also includes VPN services and virus scanning functions by default, whereas Synology makes these functions (and some others) available as add-on packages.

The App Center on the TVS-EC880 grants access to a large number of add-on packages ranging from databases to development tools and frameworks like Ruby on Rails, Node.js, and Python to business applications like vTiger CRM and OpenERP. There are a bevy of utilities, such as media streaming, podcasting, and surveillance packages. Believe it or not, there’s even a fully functional port of Super Mario Brothers, complete with sound, that runs within the management app framework.

Backups are handled similarly to Synology, with support for local network or cloud backups, including Amazon S3 and Elephant Drive support. Backing up to other QNAP storage arrays or via Rsync to compatible devices is also supported.

On the back of the QNAP TVS-EC880 is an HDMI port for delivering HD video and audio to a television. In combination with QNAP’s HybridDesk Station software, the HDMI port can be used to transform the NAS into a media center. When configured through the Web UI, the HybridDesk Station offers media applications such as Spotify, YouTube, TuneIn Radio, and multimedia applications Kodi (formerly XBMC), along with the Chrome and Firefox Web browsers. Using QNAP’s remote control mobile application, you can stream all kinds of local and remote content from the TVS-EC880 to a connected television or monitor.

qnap storage manager

The QNAP Storage Manager puts system information and health at your fingertips.  

For those looking at the TVS-EC880 for business use, the audio/video features might seem a little puzzling, but for those who want a lot of storage for a home or small business and can make use of the display capabilities for entertainment or business purposes, this is a very interesting combination.

The TVS-EC880 lacks handy management apps such as the Storage Analyzer and Security Advisor that the Synology system provides, but it definitely sports more raw power. The beefy CPU and RAM resources contribute to faster performance and better throughput across the board when under load, which makes the QNAP unit a better candidate for use as a virtualization data store.

General-purpose file sharing tasks will not reveal a significant performance difference between the two. However, if and when making use of the extended capabilities in both the local application options as well as the audio/video applications, the QNAP TVS-EC880 has significantly more headroom in terms of available compute and memory resources.

InfoWorld Scorecard
Availability (20%)
Interoperability (10%)
Management (20%)
Performance (20%)
Scalability (20%)
Value (10%)
Overall Score
Synology DS2015xs 8 9 9 8 9 9 8.6
QNAP TVS-EC880 8 9 8 9 9 9 8.6
At a Glance

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.