Drobo 5D3 – The Thunderbolt 3 DAS and The Advantages of Direct Attached Storage. An Australian Review

Written by Martin Regtien on . Posted in Storage

 Drobo1

We’ve reviewed dozens of NAS units, from very small to enterprise rack mounted models.

The advantages of a Network Attached Storage unit are well-known but why would anyone still bother with just essentially a bunch of drives in a box connected to just one computer?

Come with us and we’ll show you why.

Sometimes the simplicity of setup is desired. Although NAS configurations are reasonably easy to set up these days, a cable attached DAS is always easier to implement.

Sometimes the speed of accessing your data is an overriding factor. DAS is potentially faster but that depends on a number of factors.

Sometimes safety and security are essential: you’re not just accessing someone else’s data or sharing your data on a network managed device but a DAS is physically connected to your computer, under your total control.

It doesn’t use an IP address, which could leave yet another device open for hacking.
DAS requires no infrastructure like routers, switches and less planning.

No downsides then?

Well, the fact that data cannot as easily be shared or economies of scale cannot be achieved by spreading the cost over many users, is a downside for many but when you work on your own and need to store masses of data AND need to have similar advantages of a NAS when it comes to reliability and redundancy, it’s time to look at a DAS.

This is particularly the case for photographers and videographers, an ever growing data-hungry field.
In my many years as an aerial photographer I thought my collection of shoeboxes full of negatives was already large but with the full frame digital cameras the need for terabytes grew just as fast. And consider that now everybody is amassing tons of data from making videos on their phones and drones...

So today we’re reviewing the 5D3 from Drobo, who have made a name for themselves in producing extremely easy to manage DAS and NAS units.

We looked extensively at the Drobo 5N2 about a year ago, which is the equivalent box but as a NAS unit.

You’ll find the review here and I would suggest you have a quick look at what we wrote about some aspects that will be the same for the DAS version.

The physical unit has exactly the same 5 bay look as its twin NAS sibling. Except for the back panel.

Here we find the 2 Thunderbolt 3 and the USB 3.0 Type C ports and the Power button. No internet connection.

Drobo back

The Thunderbolt 3 ports cater particularly to Mac users, a very significant segment in the graphics world. But the USB –C connection makes this unit also very accessible to Windows users.

The well-designed metal unit with the signature detachable magnetic faceplate features carrier-less drive bays (excellent feature!) and has an intuitive LED display that tells the status of the drives and the total capacity used.

Here are the Main Features:

• Two Thunderbolt 3 ports and one USB 3.0 Type-C port
• Upgraded processor for increased speed and throughput compared to its previous DAS model, the 5D
• BeyondRAID Technology for storage simplicity and easy expansion
• Support for two 4K monitors or one 5K monitor
• mSATA Accelerator Bay for performance boost
• Battery backup (enough for at least 5 minutes) for sudden power failures to protect data being written
• The ability to daisy chain up to six Thunderbolt devices with enough power to charge a laptop
• 2 year warranty

Installation is a Cinch.

I initially populated the unit with 3 HDDs and transferred a large folder with many files.
The 3 low capacity HDDs (250GB each) gave a useful capacity of just 300GB total. So a fair bit of storage goes into ensuring redundancy. Of course, these 3 drives are ridiculously low in capacity already...

One of the main advantages of owning a Drobo is that you can mix various brands and capacities and replace them without any fuss or intervention when a drive stuffs up or when you need more capacity.

So I transferred a 60GB Documents folder in exactly 30 mins via the USB port to the USB 3.0 port on my computer.
Transfer speed in this case did not rise above 40Mb/s.

Like we observed last time, Drobos are no speed monsters. There are ways to improve throughput like using a proper Thunderbolt connection and installing SSDs or an mSATA card but for backup and relatively quick access it good enough for most people. The Drobo 5D3 is capable of hitting the 500 MB/s Read and 300 MB/s Write speeds if configured with 7200RPM drives though which is quite respectable.

Knowing that the unit worked well, I decided to migrate the 5 higher capacity disks from my previous Drobo 5N2 NAS unit across.

A great feature of the Drobos is that you can easily migrate your drives to the latest unit. Just transfer your drives from the older Drobo to the new box and Drobo will effortlessly be able to use your data again.

For a moment I thought I could do that also from the Drobo NAS to this Drobo DAS. But alas!
I double-checked with Drobo Support and they said you can only do a manual copy & paste with both units connected to the PC. It makes sense really as the PC sees the share folder on the NAS differently than on the DAS... And the migration section of the manual confirms this.

Working with the Drobo 5D3 DAS in Practice

So we decided to let the Drobo do what it does best: pull out 2 drives of the unit one after the other and let that system reconfigure itself in the meantime.

This is arguably the one feature that has built the Drobo reputation: it will take a few hours for the data to be redistributed over the remaining drives but you can continue to use the NAS or DAS in the meantime!

You have to remember that redundancy will cost a fair bit of your drive capacity. And failure of 2 drives at about the same time is always a possibility. It’s a bit like taking your 4WD into rough terrain: 1 spare tyre is not enough!

There’s a great calculator tool on the Drobo site that will tell you exactly how much capacity is taken up by the need for redundancy. Play around with it for a moment and you’ll see that it is best to have all drives of the same capacity even though Drobo can handle different capacities and brands. And best to take new drives as Drobos have a higher threshold to qualify a drive as working. Meaning that if a drive is close to the end of its life, your Drobo will read it as a bad drive.

We find the Drobos very quiet in daily use, which is just as well as the DAS unit is normally very close to your workstation.

Conclusion

The Drobo 5D3 is priced around the AUD 1095 mark.

For that money you buy what may be termed as a storage appliance: extremely easy to setup, use and “reconfigure” if your capacities need to be upgraded or when a drive fails. It has better than RAID redundancy and flexibility. The Dashboard interface is simplicity itself.

Don’t run benchmarks as they might disappoint if you compare them with some of the NAS units we’ve tested. But for day to day backup and access it’ll quietly do its work. Unobtrusively.

Highly recommended!

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