Drobo Storage Array Review

Last modified on August 28th, 2013


I first heard about the Drobo Storage Array from my friend Tony a few years ago. A Drobo Data Array is basically a self-contained RAID-5 data storage array in a box. For anyone that doesn’t know what that means, it’s basically a fault-tolerant form of storage where you can lose any one drive completely and still recover all of your data.

Unlike most RAID-5 software or hardware systems though, the Drobo unit is intelligent in that it will work with different sized drives, and expand accordingly in the future if you pop a new drive in. My business partner picked up a Drobo about six months ago, and he’s been really happy with it. So a few months ago I went to NCIX here in Langley and decided to grab one.

The unit I purchased is a 4-bay unit that supports Firewire 800, but you can get units now that support Thunderbolt and USB 3.0. Each bay can support up to a 4 TB drive, which means the unit can support up to 16 TB worth of data. Typical RAID-5 gives you (n-1) drives of usable space, so if you are using four 4 TB drives then you will only end up with 12 TB of usable space with 4 TB being used for the redundancy information. I picked up three 2 TB drives, which should give me around 4 TB of usable space.

I set it up last night with my three drives and managed to get everything transferred over to it. I created two partitions on it, one that’s 1 TB large for time machine backups, and another using the remaining space for everything else.

One of the tips I learned on the internet is that it’s important to format your original partition for as large as possible, in this case 16TB (even though you don’t have 16TB at first). That way when you insert an additional drive later on your system will automatically grow to accommodate the new space.

When I go travelling, I typically take my WD Passport drive with me. But whenever I get back from a trip, I automatically make another backup of my computer and all my photos from my trips to my Drobo unit.

If you’re looking for a home data storage solution and don’t want to think too much about it, then I’d highly recommend a Drobo Storage Array unit. Given that you can add or replace drives at will and the system can survive a drive failure, this unit is a great way to ensure data integrity while having space for additional room in the future.

11 responses to “Drobo Storage Array Review”

  1. Tyler says:

    I don’t have a Drobo myself, but I do have an external 5-bay RAID enclosure (supports all the differnet RAID modes). I only have 2 drives in it though and they’re currently stripped (combined).

    The main thing I like about it is that it has eSATA which is great when i edit my photo (RAW) files direclty from it in Lightroom.

    I would personally myself would LOVE to have a NAS though. I do have a Linux box (LAMP) that has Samba installed that I use as a Network File Server for the meantime. I would just think a stand-alone NAS would be easier to maintain.

  2. Duane Storey says:

    Hmm, so it doesn’t sound like you really have any data redundancy then?

    Drobo S supports eSATA, but not the one I am using I don’t think. But Firewire 800 is pretty snappy as well. But yah if you’re looking for real time performance something like you have or the Drobo S might be a good fit.

    You should add a new drive though and switch to RAID 5!

  3. Coach says:

    Beware though – once you format the Drobo, it does NOT support dynamically resizing the pre-formatted volumes. If you set it up as a 4TB volume and later on add drives that push total capacity above 4 TB, you are going to have to format whatever extra space you get as a separate volume. I’ve heard of people trying to resize the existing volume on the Drobo and losing all data that was on it as a result.

    That point aside – I love my Drobo. I formatted it as an 8 terrabyte volume, even though I only have about 6 TB of storage – when I start replacing my 2TB drives with 3TB versions, I’ll have some room to grow without having to resize the volume.

  4. joe says:

    Thanks for the review. I’m particularly interested in a Drobo, but I’m looking at the Drobo FS. It looks like a nice NAS, but the only issue I’m seeing is that it is dog slow. This seems to be a consistent complaint.

  5. Duane Storey says:

    @Coach – That’s a good point, and something a friend warned me about prior to setting it up. I formatted mine for 16 TB right from the beginning, so I should be good.

    @Joe – it’s a tad slow compared to the external USB drive I upgraded from. As I mentioned in a previous comment, I probably wouldn’t rely on it for any intensive real-time data operations, like editing massive files. But I’m told you can stream HD movies from it easily. I haven’t tested it, but I suspect the write speed is far slower than the read speed.

  6. Drobo’s are nice, but way too overpriced for me.

    I picked up a Netgear ReadyNas NV+ for about $300 and then stuck four 2 TB drives in it which gives me 5.40 TB of space in RAID 5 configuration.

    It’s probably not as fast as a Drobo (only about 20 megabytes/second) but I saved a lot of money and it’s plenty fast for streaming stuff over the network.

  7. Duane Storey says:

    @Alex – I think Drobos have come down a lot in price. I paid $349 for mine the other day, and I suspect it’s even cheaper down south now. But previously I had a Linux box in the corner and was running software RAID 5. It worked, but it was a bit of a pain whenever something happened and I had to rebuild the array (which actually happened more than I thought it would, probably due to some crappy hardware or something).

  8. Oh wow, they have. I remember them being like double that.

    My Netgear NAS does indeed have to rebuild itself after a non-graceful shutdown (i.e. loss of power), but I have it on a battery backup so no issues there.

    Do Drobo devices have all that fancy media sharing stuff too or are they just for storage? One of the things I like about mine is that it has things like a built-in UPnP media server (for streaming to my PS3 or whatnot), built-in FTP and HTTP interfaces for when I’m on the road, and so forth. There’s even some software I can run to make a VPN to it so that it shows up as a networked device when I’m 1000 miles away.

  9. Duane Storey says:

    @Alex – I’m honestly not sure, but I suspect the entry-level unit I have doesn’t have all those bells and whistles (I believe they make another one, the Drobo FS, that supports many of the protocols like AFP). The one I have is primarily meant for storage. I can obviously share the drive with my computer and have other devices access it too, but that’s not really the intended usage I don’t think.

    But, it does look cool on my desk!

  10. John says:

    Just a heads up, Dell.ca has this same unit on sale today for $319…about to push the add to cart button in 3..2…1

  11. Tony Dehnke says:

    Thats one smart friend!

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