9 January 2021- The Asustor AS5304T NAS is NOT a Unix box

I was looking for a high-capacity network storage solution, initially because I redecorated my living room and our large collection of CDs and DVDs was spoiling the aesthetic somewhat. We had also been finding that having got very used to Netflix, iPlayer and the rest, it felt strangely onerous to have to get up, open a jewel case and put a disc into a player, meaning we never actually watched/listened to any of them anyway. So, backing them up to NAS and then discarding the physical media seemed to be the way forward.

Looking into what was available, I came across the Asustor AS5304T NAS, and was quite attracted to the fact that - according to the marketing material at least - it would allow me to do an awful lot more than just store files. So, the hardware was purchased, along with 4 x 4 Terabyte Seagate IronWolf hard drives, which the box would combine to give me 8TB of RAID 10 storage. RAID 10 means mirrored and striped, so you get one big partition with faster IO speeds, and if one disk fails (or even two, if they happen to be on the same mirror) they can be replaced with no data lost.

The box is basically a PC - it has a 2GHz Intel Celeron CPU, 4GB of RAM, and runs what I THOUGHT was Linux, but it turns out this is NOT the case - more on this in a moment. The average user is obviously not meant to worry about the underlying OS, which would explain why it was pretty much impossible to find out about this before buying it, because the intended UI is their own proprietary software, running on top of the *NIX, called ADM (Asustor Data Master).

Things started quite well. I installed the drives in the caddies, which was quick and painless, I plugged in the network cable and the power, and switched on. On my PC, I browsed to the provided link and their software immediately found my unit and prepared it for first use. From then on, all interaction is intended to be done via ADM, running on the unit itself, and which you access via your PC by browsing to Port 8000 at the unit's address on your local network. I enabled SAMBA, created and set the sharing for a couple of directories on the pristine 8TB partition, and was able to mount these as drives on my PC and our main living room TV. There would then need to be some time spend feeding all the DVDs/BluRays through my PC, but basically I had arrived where I initially wanted to be.

However, I am a tinkerer - one of those people who as a small child would take stuff apart to see how it works - and I wanted to explore some of those extra features that I had been promised. ADM comes pre-installed with a relatively small number of apps, allowing you to do basic system configuration, there's a File Explorer-like app to interact with your storage space, and so on. There is also an App Store where you can download a myriad of other Apps as well. One thing you are supposed to be able to do is stream your media files from anywhere, leveraging DDNS (if you don't have a fixed IP) and an app called LooksGood. I got the DDNS part set up quickly, and I know it works because I am now able to access ADM and hence administer the NAS itself from outside my local network. However, getting to grips with LooksGood was a different matter. The documentation is incredibly poor, and unfortunately it turns out that this is the case for ALL the apps and built-in system features - my first big gripe with this product.

Given that we are currently in a lockdown and hence I am not travelling anywhere, accessing my media remotely was not a big priority and I put that to one side, deciding instead to look into setting up and running a Web Server on it. Initially, again, this seemed to go well - Apache Web Server is "built in" to ADM and in its basic configuration this was simply a case of checking a box to enable it in the System Settings app then dropping some html files into the relevant directory on my big storage partition. Unfortunately, at this point things started to become more difficult. I wanted to set up a bog-standard Contact form using a PHP script to send smtp mail. ADM offers no means to do this, and when I contacted Asus support by email, I was told "web server does not have this function". I replied querying this, pointing out that smtp contact forms on web pages is a very basic and simple feature that has been around for years and years. One whole week later, I received a reply saying that the NAS is "mainly designed for storing data, to focus on enhancing performance, the system is not complete Linux".

Having done some research and digging around during that week, I can confirm the above is true - it's not complete Linux at all. You can connect to the underlying operating system via SSH, but once you are in there, there is much that does not work.