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January 16, 2012

Drobo FS Network-Attached Storage Review

When we talk about NAS (network-attached storage), we often think of office-type setup where voluminous amount of files are secured in the local network. My first encounter many years back was with Drobo and how it help manage multimedia files in the house.

So when the local distributor of Drobo contacted me asking if I’d like to check out Drobo, I was excited to learn the brand was already available locally.

So last month, they sent me a couple of Drobo units to check out — one is a 5-drive unit which attaches to the PC via USB or Firewire 800 (Drobo G2) and the other one connects to the local network via a Gigabit LAN (Drobo FS).

Having a multi-drive NAS devices allows you to stack up on all your spare HDDs and convert them to a single huge storage solution. The Drobo G2 has 4 drive bays that can accomodate up to 12TB of storage (4x3TB HDD) while the Drobo FS can do 15TB with its 5 drive bays. Western Digital also provided me with a couple of their HDDs so I just plugged them into the Drobo without much trouble (HDDs are sold separately).

After installing the Drobo Dashboard, I set up the two Drobo units — one connects to my desktop PC in the room while the other one is connected to the LinkSys E4200 router. The Drobo FS took some time (about an hour or so) since it was formatting up to 4TB of HDD space. Technically, you just insert the hard drives and Drobo does all the rest.

After installing the Drobo Dashboard on my desktop PC and my Macbook Air, I am able to see the status of the Drobos and the drives in them.

Drobo uses it own type of Raid system it calls BeyondRAID that comes with a slew of features and special capabilities: single-drive redundancy, double-drive redundancy, thin provisioning, instant expansion, automatic healing, etc.

Drobo’s website has this Capacity Calculator (see here) which shows you how the the HDD storage are allocated (data, protection, expansion, overhead).

That means not all of the HDD space you insert into the Drobo can be used for storage. Some chunks of the entire HDD storage will be reserved for data protection so it’s good to have the Capacity Calculator that shows you how the HDDs are allocated.

The Drobo FS can only be used when you connect it to a router via the GigaBit LAN port. The speed of access will then rely on the connection. Since I’m using it with the Linksys E4200 that supports gigabit LAN and up to 450Mbps on WiFi, I am able to to get really good data rates over my wireless network.

I’d normally get transfer rates of around 10MB/s when copy files to the Drobo FS from my laptop. That’s already pretty fas considering my previous transfer speeds from my old router is just 1 to 2MB/s. Again, this is over WiFi. If you go thru the GigaBit LAN over cables, you’d reach maximum speeds of up to 25 to 35MB/s. Now that’s blazing fast.

The drive bays on the Drobo has indicator lights to give you quick status reports on the state of the HDDs inserted on the individual bays.

And while you can just insert and pull any HDD into the drive bays anytime, make sure that the HDD is not actively writing (as per the indicator lights) on the disk when doing so.

Drobo does not also just pack multiple drives into one single storage, it also offers some level of protection and redundancy.

This means that when one of the drives fail, you still have access to your files. This is because the system backs up the files while storing it. The effectivity of this fail safe (BeyondRAID) feature depends on the number of drives you install and the level of redundancy.

Normally, if it is just one of the HDDs happen to fail, you are still good. However, if you experience multiple drive failures at once, the risk of losing data is much higher.

From using the Drobo FS and Drobo G2 for about a month now, I noticed that the Drobo G2 has a bit of noise when operating. I reckon it’s because of those really old refurbished drives that came with the unit. The Drobo FS, on the other hand, is pretty quite.

The Drobo G2 is best used when you want direct access to the unit via a PC or laptop using either USB 2.0 or Firewire. The Drobo FS can only be used with a router so that’s something to consider when you want to get one of these for your home or office.

The Drobo FS retails for about Php36,800 in stores while the Drobo G2 is only Php19,000. They’re very easy to use, almost plug-and-play, reliable and works flawlessly out of the box.

Take note though that these are just the NAS and do not include any HDD. The complete line-up of Drobo NAS are available from JT Photoworld.

Disclosure: The Drobo FS was given to me for free. I used it along with the HDD given to me by Western Digital Philippines.


8 Responses to “Drobo FS Network-Attached Storage Review”

  1. Mr A
    Twitter: solidad
    says:

    Pretty expensive but worth it. I’ve known Drobo for years and it’s good that I can buy it locally.

    I belive there’s a 8 tray dorbo model. Does the local distributor had those for sale?

  2. reader says:

    Drobo is a good consumer NAS solution and this model made it pretty much ‘idiot-proof’ in terms of management. But I am really surprised that the price is that high. 4-bay NAS nowadays should be at around 20k-25k. The Drobo installed operating system must be making up for the additional cost.

    However, there are other NAS solutions out there. QNAP is also a good brand. D-link also had a cheap 2-bay NAS enclosure. Linksys has some choices but reviews have shown poor data transfer rates for their models.

    I for one am using the WD MyBook solution. No redundancy there but solid data transfer rates over the Gbit network or WLAN. My primary use is file sharing / backup, media streaming, torrent downloading.

  3. expectant says:

    Sir Yuga, should we expect it to be raffled? :D

  4. Andre
    Twitter: kzapkzap
    says:

    why not just build your own NAS? what is the raid their using anyway? 1+0 ?

  5. Carlo says:

    can I get it here in the Philippines? how does it par with WD MyBook World Edition II?

  6. oyo says:

    with that much HDDs – hows the cooling for the HDDs, and does it generate any noise?

  7. Marlon says:

    any other brands you’ve tried?

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