Want Backup Reliability You Don’t Have to Think About? Consider Drobo

Want Backup Reliability You Don’t Have to Think About? Consider Drobo

With dual Thunderbolt 3 ports, eight drive bays, and an optional SSD acceleration bay, Drobo’s 8D is its fastest storage array yet. But the benefits of Drobo aren’t necessarily in speed, but instead in its user-friendly BeyondRAID system that takes the complexity out of managing your RAID setup. If you don’t like thinking about your backup but like to trust it’s going to work for you at all times, this might be the way to go.

The Drobo 8D is big but sleek. The magnetically attaching faceplate seamlessly covers a system of front-facing LEDs that give you updates on the drive’s status, capacity, and warnings at all times. Dual fans and a built-in backup battery offer further protection against overheating or data loss or corruption due to power loss (read more about "RAID write holes"). Dual Thunderbolt 3 ports (cable included) for proper daisy-chaining round out a series of features you’d expect for a professional backup storage array, but it’s BeyondRAID that will be the motivating factor to make this your backup solution.

The Drobo 8D has a little light show for you when you start it up. But it's all messaging to tell you where it is in the process as it goes through its startup checks.

For the unfamiliar (and a reminder for the seasoned), traditional RAID arrays are great for basic redundant backup setups. However, they have some serious limitations that won’t hurt you until you need to overcome them. And the time will come. The worst part is it’s the inexperienced and less tech-savvy that will suffer the most because they’re understandably ill-prepared.

Traditional RAID systems are, generally speaking, not very flexible. What the layperson often doesn’t understand is if you want to add storage, you need to put a new drive into the array and redo a backup from scratch, overwriting all of your existing backups. Of course, the experienced techie with a dusted-over Sushi-boat-dish-stack of unused drives offering additional capacity at any moment will just grab a few of those, dust them off, and temporarily move any backups off the current RAID array so that information can be replaced once the new drive is in.

I did have a strange set of bays in use just for the test as I shifted the drives around just to see how it would all work together. Fun fact: you also don't need to worry about drive order when working with multiple sets of hard drives in the same unit thanks to Drobo's BeyondRAID.

This isn’t something you think about if you’re the average working photographer with a modest 16 TB backup system. But one day, you’ll want to expand those eight 2 TB drives (or add a drive in your current system’s empty fifth bay alongside your four 4 TB drives). And I’m going to guess you don’t have a spare 16 TB of hard drives sitting around just dying to be used. How do I know? This was me literally right before this review.

Since relatively recently being more selective about the data I keep, I haven’t needed more storage in a long time. I’m fairly technology-oriented (I’m in the “ultra-light HTML is my limit” category), but my current RAID setup simply wasn’t something on my mind until I got a notification my backup drives were starting to get full. After digging around for all those spare drives I was sure I had, I came out virtually empty-handed with two old 1 TB drives and a dead 4 TB drive. Not enough. Ordering one or two gigantic drives to replace a couple existing options wasn’t possible because I wasn’t using BeyondRAID. I would have to order enough new storage to completely offload my current backup burden — oh, and I would need another multi-bay storage array that could read all of this data and deliver it back to the existing array. None of this was a problem for a single day in the last four years. But you can bet it was a problem now. But none of this would have happened with BeyondRAID.

The rest of this will be short, I promise. That’s because BeyondRAID is very simple. Imagine everything you’d like to do with a RAID array. You should be able to magically just put a new drive into an existing, empty storage slot and have it add storage to the existing array. You should be able to replace a drive or two with larger ones and have access to that added capacity. You should be able to change between single- and dual-disk redundancy as your needs change as long as you have the extra storage available for backup without needing to delete and rewrite your entire backups and without needing to know what RAID 0, 1, 5, 6, and 10 all mean. All of this is easy and user friendly with any of Drobo’s systems. And the Drobo 8D gives you eight bays of flexibility and expandability within which you can live in a virtual state of backup bliss.

All of Drobo's systems take advantage of the swanky Drobo Dashboard program that gives you full control of every aspect of the device. Yes, you can even dim the lights. I didn't have the chance to test this the way I would have wanted, as I was only given a few drives. But fully loaded, it's fast.

Okay, so that sounds amazing. Nothing comes for free, though. As with anything, there are some drawbacks. In this case, Drobo isn’t the fastest system out there. If you ask me, it’s plenty fast for any backup needs. I only had half the number of drives active, and I was seeing speeds as high as 230 MB/s. That’s respectable, but it goes up to around 1 GB/s read speeds and write speeds in the 400 MB/s range with the help of more drives and an SSD as an acceleration cache drive in an additional bay in the back of the device — needless to say, it’s certainly not slow by any means. It’s also not cheap at $1,299, but neither is that out of the ballpark for a professional eight-bay system. And finally, its paltry 15 W power throughput on the Thunderbolt 3 cable leaves a little to be desired for would-be MacBook Pro single cablers. But most people probably have something like this plugged into a desktop dock anyway (as I did).

Things I Liked

  • BeyondRAID is beyond useful (if you’re anything short of a computer pro, you may not known it, but you just want this)
  • Plenty fast
  • Great design — it’s probably the best-looking storage array out there
  • Included Thunderbolt 3 cable

What I Didn’t Like

  • Still a bit pricey, but reasonable for what you’re getting
  • 15 W Thunderbolt charging is certainly lackluster
  • Two-year warranty leaves more to be desired for a professional backup system (five years would have been nice to see)

Conclusion

When weighed together with the benefits, none of these drawbacks are a dealbreaker to me. It’s plenty fast for live work for 4K video (and certainly for backups), offers plenty of storage capacity with support for eight 16 TB drives (that’s 128 TB in this one box, which you can double by connecting two), and is still somewhat reasonably priced, especially considering all the extra storage I will not have to buy to expand my setup in the future without deleting all my current backups.

If you want to do this, I highly recommend getting the array and drives separately. Be sure to pair the Drobo 8D with Seagate Iron Wolf drives, Western Digital Red drives, or something similar that's specifically made for NAS systems. This is a DAS (direct-attached storage), but the vibration optimizations and other features of NAS-specific drives were made for systems just like this. It's the same difference, essentially, whether you're connected to the Internet or not (speaking of which, Drobo, can we get a 10 GbE version of this?!).

The Drobo 8D will run you $1,294 at B&H, while drives will run you around $100 for 4 TB, $130 for 6 TB, $200 for 8 TB, and the list goes on. Some of those are on a limited time special that ends as soon as the weekend hits. The 6 TB drives are in a sweet spot at the moment, but it is likely well worth it to instead get some higher-density drives — even perhaps the 16 TB drives at $500 a piece — just to be able to give yourself maximum flexibility for future growth. That means a full system could cost you over $2,000, but that's a small price to pay for peace of mind that should last you a decade or more. And if it doesn't last you that long, nice work: that means business is good.

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26 Comments

Jay Galvan's picture

They have such a horrible reliability reputation over the past decade, just horrible.

https://petapixel.com/2019/03/21/my-bad-experience-with-drobo-as-a-weddi...

Adam Ottke's picture

Sounds like some unfortunate customer service experiences. Luckily for me, I haven't had issues. I currently use a Drobo Mini that's a lifesaver in event situations. The laptop just connects to that, and I just drop in memory cards to spin off in to the 4 1TB 2.5" drives in there. And soon enough, it's all backed up with dual disk redundancy before I even leave the venue...worked great for me since I bought it when it first came out...

darrell miller's picture

i've been using drobo's since gen 1. Like any other piece of equipment, you cant put all your eggs in one basket. you'll get burned. Its redundant storage and a good solution, but you still need a backup. i have 2x5DIII's now that have worked flawlessly for years. They do have extended warranties. Their support has always done me well.

As far as the drobo's go, they are simple to use and operate. its the best DAS solution out there.. synology and qnap make better more capable NAS solutions.

For a DAS I use a Akitio Thunder3 Quad Mini. It's incredible.

Basically it's a mini DAS, with 4x 2.5" slots. If you put SSDs in like I have you can get upt to 1,200mbps over Thunderbolt 3.

There's no silly software to go wrong like there is with a Drobo, and there's no propitary RAID software, it's just normal RAID, even more simple than the Drobox.

It's super portable too since it's for smaller drives.

I've owned two Drobos in the past, both bricked and lost me data. It's not the best DAS out there.

For long-term storage I have a 24 bay Synology (2x 12 bay enclosures), as well as two more Synology NAS - a 6 bay and 4 bay and they are brilliant.

darrell miller's picture

Do what works for you.
I had one chassy die in 8+ yrs of using their products, they mailed me a new one, i put the drives from the dead one in the new chassy, and it was all there. I was back up and running in 20 min. They have gotten much better in the last few years.

As for proprietary RAID.. have you ever tried to move a RAID volume from one system to another? i've heard this argument many times... but its a risky endeavor unless you are using RAID 1- MIrroring.. In theory all RAID is the same.. and should be able to move moved.. in reality ive heard of some real horror stories.

I've been really impressed with synology's NAS's.. WIth SSD's getting cheaper and larger it is making more sense. I can store what i need to on my laptop SSD (whatever project i'm currently working on) and the rest could go on a NAS. if i was starting fresh i'd probably go that route.

EL PIC's picture

I just use Seagate Backup Plus.
Any storage for me must be cheap reliable and quite.
You should use at least 2 differ backup devices since even the most reliable can fail.
Where does FSTOPPERS get on claiming this is reliable and easy simple ???
It must be in the form of financial kickbacks !!

Deleted Account's picture

The only thing I hear about these things are negative.
I wouldn't use it if it was given to me.

Synology all the way here.

I've used six or seven drobos (which became known around the office as "slobos") and I wouldn't wish them on anyone. They always underperformed, often significantly, compared to the published specs. Customer service was abysmal. It's been years so maybe things are different now. We migrated to Synology for backup and have never looked back. They are excellent—though you would never use one as a production drive for video.

michaeljinphoto's picture

I get sticking with a brand for one or two iterations of a bad product, but how did to get to using six or seven? Did they start out good and get worse over time?

Grant Watkins's picture

Enjoy those proprietary formatted drives so when your Drobo fails, you have to buy another Drobo.

Stefan Radtke's picture

Just went through all of that: Drobo, Qnap, Synology, Lacie 2big or Seagate BackUp Plus. Decisions decisions.

Result: I ordered 3 more 8TB Seagate BackUp Plus units for finished projects. I had been using those for years, and I added a mobile 2TB SSD for current projects. Three 8TB drives for $375. Eat that Drobo. GoodSync keeps two drives at the studio and one at home automatically updated. Done.

Drobo I heard too many negative stories. Plus it’s not really a backup system. When the box is dead, the data on the drives is most likely dead as well, unless you buy a new Drobo. Synology and Qnap are mainly designed for multiuser environments. They are overkill for a 2 people still photography show with some 2K video work. And LaCie charges a crazy premium for the design and they are loud as hell. Keep it simple.

darrell miller's picture

thats not entirely true. i've been using drobos for years. I had one drobo chassy die. i called support, they sent me a new one. I moved the drives from the dead one to the new one, and it came right back up. all data intact.

Drobo, Synology, and QNAP have big multiuser models, but they also have smaller units for single use or smaller environments. Pick the right tool for you, but check out the drobo 5C and 5D. both are nice and economical. i've been using them for years.

Dang ...this reads like a press release.
Why no mention of all of the bad press and bad experiences people have had with Drobo and how Drobo has fixed those worries. That would help the potential buyer figure why should I give Drobo a chance over Synology.
I foolishly still use dumb old large drives backing up each other but 2 colleagues of mine bought Synology and Drobo about 7-8 years ago? The Drobo is now a doorstop and they both have Synology. One day I will do the RAID after I have a catastrophic failure... :(

No. Please don't buy one. Ever. It's a long story but I had a horrendous experience. Bought a Synology. Super happy ever since.

Drobo. Never again.

RAID does not equal fail proof no matter how it's implemented. Redundancy comes in many different means, I'd never trust just a single NAS unit implementation.

Nick Rains's picture

Fast? That readout shows 6MB/s read and 179 MB/s write. The write is OK-ish but 6MB/s read? That's gotta be wrong. In comparison a RAID5 unit with four drives and 10GbE (or TB3) connections should run up to 500MB/s in both directions.

Adam Ottke's picture

Yeah, unfortunately that's not really a fair screenshot for performance (which is why it wasn't labeled as such...it just happened to be showing that in the dashboard at the time) since I believe that simply shows what's going on with the device at the moment. So it could have just been reading a couple small files at that moment to communicate with the device, etc., as opposed to actually being in the middle of a transfer. I wouldn't put any weight in that. The speeds I quoted (still with just a few drives in use and no SSD) were based on real-world transfers of large folders with tons of small files as well as a few large files.

Nick Rains's picture

Fair enough. I would add, however, that I am deeply sceptical of a proprietary backup system where you are locked in to some sort of non-standard format. An effective back-up is merely a reliable copy of all important files that can be plugged in and accessed like any other storage system. Overthinking archiving and back-up has cause many problems!

Adam Ottke's picture

Also fair enough ;-) And something like this certainly shouldn't be your only backup, either. Nothing should be your "only" backup, of course. And to each his own. I just personally like the RAID flexibility offered with this system...

No, please don't ever consider a Drobo they are awful.

I've had two in the past which both bricked and I lost tens of TB of data.

Their support is terrible, their software is basic and badly made, their proprietary RAID system is unreliable.

I now use Synology and have three different RAID servers for storing over 60TB of data. The software is incredible, they are ultra reliable, affordably and work like a charm. You don't need to be a computer expert to use a Synology.

Don't buy a Drobo.

Deleted Account's picture

Nobody can say you didn't warn them.

I have 2 of them and while they haven't crapped out yet, they are slow as molasses. I will be replacing them with another solution, Synology, most likely.

Brett Martin's picture

I had a Gen1 and a Gen 2 Drobo. Both failed within 6 months. Need an identical Drobo to recover data. Lots of better choices out now beyond Drobo. It was a cool idea back when RAID was difficult. ZFS RAID + cloud backup is the way to go. Once you have local snapshots it's hard to go back.

Tom Lew's picture

My old company had about 20tb of data across drobos. Some days you came into the office and they worked great. Other days you came in and oops they weren't working today and we'd pop out the drives and blow on them like it's goldeneye on nintendo 64 until it came online again.

I had a Drobo USB3 4 bay enclosure, I had issues setting it up and contacted support by phone and had an immediate response. So far so good but when support failed to resolve the probes, they asked me to run the support app that scans your system and sends an encrypted file of system information. When I asked what’s contained in the file I was told it was confidential and couldn’t be revealed, but without it I couldn’t get support so I ended up returning it and buying a QNAP NAS instead.