I have a Network Attached Storage (NAS) from Synology that has been working quite without much intervention for the last 10 years. It’s a DS1513+ that holds all the files of my house and the other members of my family. One of the things I loved the most out of the Synology experience is the DSM Operating System, super simple, full of options. Synology also has mobile apps that work well and offer flexibility. They eliminate the need for us to think about which app to use for each task.
For example, they have apps to sync files from your device to the NAS, or to manage pictures, and so on.
How is the market?
I’ve been doing a lot of research in the past weeks, as I need to upgrade my NAS due to the lack of future upgrades as my device has reached its EOL (End of Life). After having a very good experience with Synology, this was my first choice. Upon a closer examination of the market’s current state in October 2023, I observed noticeable changes in the details and competition.
According to Yahoo Finance, the global consumer and SMB NAS market is projected to increase from $14.62 billion in 2022 to $15.65 billion in 2023, with a CAGR of 7.1%. The consumer and SMB NAS market is expected to reach $20.32 billion in 2027 at a CAGR of 6.7%.
What are the triggers for the expected NAS market growth?
The exponential increase in digital content production from mobile devices and security cameras, seem to be the primary drivers of higher storage demands. Some consumers and small companies want to switch from regular cloud providers to local NAS devices because it costs less when they have a lot of data. Many organizations are now choosing to host their own services instead of using cloud providers. This is because cloud providers can be expensive, while the cost of powerful hardware has decreased over the years.
Additionally, small companies and consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about the privacy of their information. As a result, services like Proton, based in Switzerland and focused on encryption and privacy, are experiencing rapid growth. Having your own NAS in your house or on your small or medium business, also goes into this direction. You control your data, and it’s not in anyone’s cloud, away from potential prying eyes.
Synology: A market leader taking odd decisions
I chose to explore Synology’s current product offerings because they are a top player in the home and small business turnkey NAS market. My decision was based on my positive experience with their product in the past.
To my surprise, Synology has been taking a series of decisions that are a bit confusing. There is a possibility that these decisions were driven by commercial motives. According to certain tech reviewers, they could also be attributed to the global chip shortage experienced a few months ago as a result of the pandemic, the conflict in Ukraine, and the restrictions imposed on various Chinese products and brands, particularly by the US. but also followed by other countries.
Some of the strange decisions they are taking are:
-DS224+: This model comes to replace the DS220+ which has been selling very well, and is supposed to be their “2024” lineup. But the update came up quite short. To begin with, Synology has chosen to incorporate a processor in this device that was launched by Intel in Q4 2019. Compared to the alternatives other vendors are already using in 2023, this processor offers a significantly lower level of performance and power efficiency. Let’s not even mention the limited 2 GB of included RAM and the lack of any nVME slots.
-Most of their other NAS models have been released with AMD processors which do not include an iGPU so they cannot be used for hardware transcoding, as many home NAS users want for their Plex installations.
– Synology states that if you install a Hard Drive that is not in their compatibility lists, they can deny you support if you ever encounter a problem with the device and need to contact them for help. So if you decide to add an 18 or 20 TB Hard drive from Seagate or Western Digital to the DS224+ mentioned above, you could be denied support, because these drives, although released at least 1 to 2 years ago, are not in the Synology compatibility list. It seems that Synology is attempting to persuade buyers to purchase their own line of hard drives; however, these options come with a significantly higher price tag compared to other brands available in the market. Also, the largest drive they offer in their list is “only” 16 TB.
– The Synology NAS models which support NVMe drives for cache or to be used as storage volumes suffer from a similar situation as in the previous point. They only allow Synology branded drives (quite more expensive) to be used for cache, while there are many other options which would be a perfect fit if Synology wouldn’t be so restrictive.
I tried to ask a Marketing contact in Germany about these apparent changes in the way Synology is taking decisions, but I received no reply.
What other brands are doing
QNAP is still trying to recover from their numerous security breaches, which have had a significant impact on their reputation. Despite this setback, the company has been making steady progress by introducing a range of innovative and advanced models that align with the evolving needs of today’s users.
Asustor has also recognized the increasing demands of the market and has responded by launching a range of devices that not only boast powerful and up-to-date components, but also offer unparalleled flexibility compared to other manufacturers. What’s more, they have included 20 and 22 TB hard drives on their compatibility lists, making them a truly enticing option for consumers.
What about other NAS options?
There are many consumers, which are generally more tech-savvy, that choose the path of building their own NAS. These are sometimes built with older hardware parts that they might already have lying around from refreshed PCs, and use these to build NAS systems. The most popular and robust operating systems seem to be TrueNAS and unRAID. Both have very strong and large communities with multiple persons around the world willing to help other folks join this alternative path.
Although this market has experienced significant growth in recent years, there is now a clear trend towards the usage of more modern hardware. This shift is driven by the noticeable power inefficiencies of outdated PC components when compared to their newer counterparts. Electricity costs in numerous countries, particularly in Europe, have experienced a significant increase as a consequence of the conflict in Ukraine and the reliance on Russian energy sources. Here in Switzerland, in my town, the cost of electricity has skyrocketed by an astonishing 350% in 2023. Not only that, but to add to our frustration, we’ve just received a discouraging letter notifying us of an upcoming unavoidable increase of around 20% in 2024.
There is a promising opportunity in the fast-growing market segment for hardware manufacturers to provide consumers with a comprehensive hardware package that enables them to easily install their preferred software. This hardware package can include a suitable case to fit multiple drives, a suitable motherboard with enough SATA and NVMe slots, ECC RAM and possibilities of expansion while keeping it power efficient. This way consumers wouldn’t be charged a premium related to software, while having a good level of hardware integration at more accessible prices. Some users are exploring the paths of mini PC’s, but most of these devices do not offer enough internal storage space to hold 3 or 4 hard drives. The recently released Intel N100 processors in Q1 2023 are quite powerful and boast remarkable power efficiency, which is sure to be warmly embraced by the market. We might see manufacturers like AsRock, Asus, SuperMicro and maybe other brands, releasing turnkey packages that offer all the flexibility the market is demanding. Perhaps the traditional NAS manufacturers will also show interest in this DIY segment.
With the chip shortage and the pandemic gradually subsiding, the NAS world is buzzing with captivating developments that are bound to capture our attention in 2023. Moreover, we can anticipate an even more compelling array of changes that will unfold throughout the course of 2024. What do you think? Are you expecting a product line form a specific NAS or hardware manufacturer?, share your thoughts below.