Miscellaneous Aspects and Concluding Remarks

The single 120mm fan is a reasonable solution to balance the need to cool down five SATA hard drives while also maintaining an acceptable noise profile. We noticed many reviews online indicating fan noise to be an issue in the Drobo 5D. However, we had no such issues with our review unit.

One of the advantages of the Drobo 5D / BeyondRAID is that users can start off with just a single drive in the unit, and add more drives down the line. The RAID expansion / migration process is seamless and without data loss. The progress of this process can be monitored with the Drobo Dashboard. Similar to our NAS reviews, we first started off with one 2TB drive in the unit, and added a second one after some time. Since the unit was configured in single-disk redundancy mode, the unit took some time to ensure that the second disk could act as a protection disk. However, due to the nature of BeyondRAID, the addition of new disks (3 through 5) resulted in immediate expansion of usable capacity. We also tested out moving to a dual-disk redundancy configuration once the five disks were in the unit. This took some time similar to the shift from one disk to two disks inside the unit. The power consumption of the unit was also tracked in the course of this evaluation routine. The numbers are summarized in the table below. These numbers are without a mSATA drive in the cache acceleration bay.

Drobo 5D - BeyondRAID Migration and Expansion
Operation Time (hh:mm:ss) Power Consumption
BeyondRAID SDR (1D) - 22.97 W
BeyondRAID SDR (1D to 2D) 01:08:52 30.96 W
BeyondRAID SDR (2D to 3D) - 38.15 W
BeyondRAID SDR (3D to 4D) - 44.37 W
BeyondRAID SDR (4D to 5D) - 51.48 W
BeyondRAID SDR (5D) to DDR (5D) 00:38:32 50.79 W

Coming to the business end of the review, we must first give credit to Drobo for creating a really simple and easy-to-use product for the average consumer. The whole operation (from installing drives, to actually mounting the volumes on a computer) is very easy, and can be managed even by folks who are not particularly adept with computers. The mSATA SSD acceleration is very helpful for multimedia editing directly off the Drobo 5D, particularly for read operations. The effectiveness was brought out by using real-world storage benchmark traces from Photoshop and similar programs. The dual-disk redundancy configuration benefits more from the SSD acceleration compared to the single-disk redundancy configuration.

There are a few points that could help Drobo expand the reach of units such as the Drobo 5D:

  • Thunderbolt support in Windows (if not for the 5D, at least for future products which integrate Thunderbolt support)
  • Support for data recovery by the end-user

To expand upon our second suggestion, it is well known that disks making up RAID volumes in commercial off-the-shelf NAS units can be mounted on a PC to access the data. We would like Drobo to provide a software program that can mount Drobo volumes if the disks used in a Drobo device were to be connected directly to a PC. This would go a long way in clearing the air of distrust that many tech-savvy consumers have when considering proprietary data protection schemes like BeyondRAID.

The Drobo 5D is currently available on Amazon for $615. The price is not a surprise, given that the product's features (Thunderbolt support) and operation make it attractive to people in the Apple ecosystem. As a Thunderbolt / USB 3.0 device with a novel and easy-to-use data protection scheme, the pricing is reasonable. However, from the viewpoint of a PC user, it is just a USB 3.0 device. There are many hardware RAID solutions with a USB 3.0 port that provide much better performance. But, there is definitely a segment of the market that doesn't mind paying a premium for Drobo's simplicity and 'it just works' aspects.

Direct-Attached Storage Performance
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  • extide - Monday, April 25, 2016 - link

    I am with you, I run ZFS at home as well and I think ZFS is amazing, but it does have one glaring fault and that is it is difficult to (properly) expand an existing volume. Sure you can add a new vdev, but then your data is all on the first one and it will not automatically migrate the data so it is evenly spread across the vdevs. Plus these alternate raid schemes allow you to use different sized disks, but, at least to me, that is a much smaller deal.
  • SirGCal - Monday, April 25, 2016 - link

    True. But when I am expanding a volume, generally I am making a new box to retire an old one so it's 8 new disks, etc. I do not tend to expand an existing system. Just me though. Perhaps the next itteration of my box will use 12. I wouldn't go beyond that though with RAIDZ2. 16 drives with RAIDZ3 maybe, or just two RAIDZ2 8 drive volumes. Depends how much of your data is really backed up and how fast you need it should you lose a few drives.

    We all know RAID is not a backup. Well with as much data as I have, I can't afford would-be 'backup' so for me it's all I got. (OK, a few parts are offsite but not all of it). So if I lose 6 disks at once, I lose the array. But that's a lot of disks and I keep a daily checkup on them and replace them every so often with a whole new setup. My 2TB versions will be retired probably this year (sooner if a single disk fails. I'll have a new system built after shipping time and the system will be offline during that time till the new build. Have to lose 3 to lose that array.)

    Is it a backup? No. Is it secure? As secure as I can make it given the size we are talking about and the budget I have. Does it take a lot of knowhow? Nope. I looked up ZFS and did it via google and hardware in a few days. (Retired gaming computers and 8 new drives. I've sent better stuff to Good Will honestly). I did have a bit more money then compared to now but... The drives are the expensive part of any of these builds in most cases. While I'm surrounded by 'old' drives, I wouldn't trust them in any sort of an array for any real use.
  • DanNeely - Tuesday, April 26, 2016 - link

    Expanding a volume by adding 1 or 2 disks probably doesn't make sense for something as massive as what you've got. It does if you're running only a handful of disks. Adding a 6tb drive to a 2x3gb mirror can (FS/etc permitting) get you a 6GB mirror pool for half of what buying new drives would cost.

    My current WHS 2011 box started out 4 years ago with 2x3tb drives. Last summer space was getting tight; and being reluctant to buy a new drive for something I was planning to retire soon in the face of potential end of life (see commentary above) I just stuck in a 1.5tb drive I had sitting around which's gotten it enough capacity to keep going. If I wasn't concerned about EoL, I'd've added a single new bigger drive to accomplish the same for longer than the yearish the small addition's gained me. Since I never found the time to buy the rest of a replacement; assuming the optimists are right about no real EoL, next month I'll probably migrate everything to the pair of 6tbs I did buy in December. If I didn't already have 2 of them, I'd only be buying one now. Either case would probably be followed by adding a 6-12tb disk in 2-3 years (depending on what my capacity trend looks like). That'd probably be the final end of the line; due to the age of the mobo/cpu itself (I'd probably build a new system from scratch at that point instead of trying to migrate the existing os/disks); but would be three expand/resizes over the lifespan of the system as a whole.
  • Vidmo - Monday, April 25, 2016 - link

    "Thunderbolt ports are useless when the unit is used with PCs / Windows." Wait... what does this mean?? I would like to have this clarified please.
  • ganeshts - Monday, April 25, 2016 - link

    No drivers for the device when it is connected to a PC via the Thunderbolt ports.

    Thunderbolt ports work only on Mac OS X. (clearly spelt out in the specifications, though)
  • SirGCal - Monday, April 25, 2016 - link

    That isn't true. There are thunderbolt drivers for windows. They are just extremely uncommon for devices. They are STARTING to hit a few motherboards now though... Very few.

    Here is the Intel driver for example: https://downloadcenter.intel.com/download/23742/Th...
  • ganeshts - Monday, April 25, 2016 - link

    Sorry, but I have used Seagate / LaCie Thunderbolt devices with Windows without issues.

    The 5D, on the other hand, connects and is recognized by the Thunderbolt software as a device not certified for use on a PC. But, Drobo Dashboard doesn't recognize the unit at all - says nothing is connected. Windows Disk Management doesn't recognize any new drives either.

    I also confirmed with Drobo's CTO that Windows support for Thunderbolt on the 5D is never coming.
  • SirGCal - Tuesday, April 26, 2016 - link

    You said "Thunderbolt ports work only on Mac OS X. (clearly spelt out in the specifications, though)" which isn't true.

    You're now talking about Drobo specifically which most people here even think is garbage so... What's the point. I don't have one to test on the Intel devices but it's a moot point as I would never buy one anyhow. If they don't care, why should I.
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, April 26, 2016 - link

    Classic case of taking things out of context by reproducing only part of the statement.

    This way, one can never write anything which is true if you decide to pick and choose words from a sentence.
  • SirGCal - Tuesday, April 26, 2016 - link

    Well, that was the entire sentence... 2nd entire paragraph actually.

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