Drobo 5D: Speed, Space, and Peace of Mind in a Box

Geek Culture

The Drobo 5D (Image: Drobo)

When I was in college, many years ago, my media library existed on a wooden rack that held my DVDs, VHS tapes, and CDs. I would select the media I wanted to listen to or watch and put it in a player. Now, well over a decade later, I still have a media library that I am proud to show off but some things have changed. I have more kids movies, shows, and music than I ever had before and the wooden rack has gone the way of the Dodo. Now, digital storage and media servers rule and data access speeds, backups, and storage volume are the important factors. Recently, Drobo provided a look at their new 5D storage system, and I have to say, my media library has never looked better as it excels at all three factors.

The Drobo 5D features two high-speed interfaces, USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt. I ran all of my tests on a Mac Mini hosting our iTunes library and the Adobe Lightroom libraries for my wife’s photography business. Looking at the three factors I mentioned above, data access speeds, backups, and storage volume, let’s start with data access speeds. File accesses are fast. Very fast. Faster than I expected. My comparisons were against my existing, 2 drive, Western Digital USB 2.0 drive. Copies of media to and from the internal hard disk were much faster. This was without using any specific timing mechanism to measure the time, the copies just happened noticeably faster. From within the iTunes interface, if I selected a movie, the movie started quickly with little to no delay. My wife also noted a significant improvement in the utilization of her Lightroom libraries. Image database access, image modifications, sorting, and searching all executed faster, despite very large libraries filled with raw image data. One feature of the 5D is that, in addition to the space for five drives, there is an additional spot for an SSD, separate from the other drive bays. This SSD, if populated in what Drobo calls the Accelerator Bay, provides a level of data-tiering technology, ensuring that files that benefit from the speed of the SSD are available via that drive.

Backups are another important factor in modern media libraries. If you’re like me, you spend a non-trivial amount of time cultivating your media library. Painstakingly ensuring everything is properly tagged, has good cover art, and being generally meticulous about keeping the media library in good shape. If you’ve done all of that work and you’re not backing your library up, you are, potentially, one drive failure away from having to redo all of that work. Our current WD drive has two disks that I keep in a RAID 1, or mirrored, configuration, where the drives are kept as duplicates of each other. This brings my 2 TB drive down to 1 TB of useable space. With no room for more drives, I would need to add another dive to expand or to look at getting a speed acceleration from striping. Well, in my case, I am doing just that, starting to push out to an offsite backup. Honestly, I would prefer to have the speed of a striped array with the backup of a mirror, known as RAID 10 configuration in addition to offsite backups. This is an option offered by the Drobo that makes the whole system very attractive. The Drobo technology goes somewhat above and beyond the standard RAID definitions with something they call BeyondRAID technology and provides a level of flexibility in striping the drives and backing up the drives that is unprecedented in a non-enterprise level storage appliance.

Drobo 5D Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 Interfaces (Image: Drobo)

Finally, there is the storage factor. With the Drobo 5D, you can really pack in the data. The drives Drobo shipped with the device for demonstration, the 5D offered 5 TB of storage in a purely striped mode. Let me tell you, looking at a drive and seeing 5 TB of useable space is fun. That is a lot of full 1080p video. Sure, my AppleTV only does 720p but I won’t always face that restriction. The space made my mouth water. The Drobo website has a configuration tool that lets you know how much drive space you will have given different size disks and selections between striping and mirroring. Assuming you have enough free space, going from a striped system, to a mirror, and back again is a breeze with the Drobo dashboard. The Dashboard also provides a lot of information on your drive’s health. The system will warn you you’re starting to run out of space, long before you actually run out, and can help you pick a drive to upgrade, move critical data off that drive, and replace the data on the new drive in a simple and straightforward manner.

There was one extremely difficult part of working through the Drobo review. Sending the system back when the review was over. My wife and I fell in love with the ease of use, speed, and expansion capabilities. The Drobo 5D retails for $843 on Amazon with no drives included. Part of the beauty of the system is that you can bring your own drives to the party. The 5D also has a little sibling, the Drobo Mini has 4 drive bays and only accepts 2.5″ drives but provides all of the same power as well as Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 connectivity. The Drobo mini retails on Amazon for $643. If you are looking for a drive solution that just works and can help ensure that it will be along time before you run out of space, ensure that you can get to your data quickly, and have the confidence of a backup, I would head over to the Drobo website and check it out.

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