Published on October 22nd, 2017 | by Greg0
Drobo 5N2: Solid, Proprietary Network-Attached Storage
Years ago, in the dark ages of computing when a cloud was simply the big white thing in the sky, a terabyte of data was an unimaginable amount. And managing that amount of information locally was a huge headache, a hassle that called for extreme measures. Your options used to be pretty simple- you’d have to use a directly-connected wired hard disk, often one that had it’s own power cable, weighed a few pounds, and would require some serious effort if you wanted to share the contents to another computer.
But the network-attached storage device brought into the world a new way of sharing information, with a hard drive (or multiple) that could be shared on your home or office network, allowing multiple users to have a common, large file repository. It could also serve as a sort of mini-computer that could draw less power but stay on 24/7, serving iTunes libraries and media, hosting photos and videos, and even working as an always-on BitTorrent client. The new Drobo 5N2 is the latest update to this unique family of large-scale, commercial-grade storage devices that offer a compelling value proposition for professionals and prosumers in need of dozens of terabytes of storage. If that amount seems similarly-unimaginable or far beyond your needs, then you probably don’t need a NAS- but for those who do, this one has some unusual advantages (and some downsides as well).
Ours came naked- that is, without drives installed- allowing us to format up to five of our own disks and use them. Unlike most NAS devices, this one can work just fine with mixed drives, even those of different capacities. A few years ago, we checked out the predecessor FS, and the 5N looks, feels, and acts quite similar to it’s older brother- a good thing, but also a bit surprising as so much has changed around it in the meantime. Last year, the 5C we tested added some great abilities like solid-state drive support and a cute emergency battery but also stripped out some of the things we missed about the earlier model; this one doesn’t feel like a quantum move to the future so much as a small step in the right direction. And though we love the idea of BeyondRAID, it’s now growingly frustrating that the file system is incompatible with anything else- in other words, there is no way to take a drive from a Drobo and read it from another computer. The technology is part and parcel of the system, we understand that- but a way to temporarily enable drives to be accessed from other systems, or additional options for more traditional RAID functionality, would be nice.
Rebuilding the drive array can take an incredibly long time in the case of an error or failure or swap, and while capacities have gone up, speeds haven’t- it can take a while to transfer big files, in either direction, and Time Machine and other backup processes were noticeably slow. Your wireless speeds and internet have likely sped up, making cloud storage a saner option. And Drobo hasn’t really changed their aesthetics over the years- what was pretty nifty a few years back isn’t cutting-edge anymore. But the Drobo 5N is simple and easy; just connect the ethernet cable to your router and install some dashboard management software- especially if you want a reliable, robust way to protect data. Those external drives won’t be much help if they fail, but Drobo has your back- if a drive fails then you’re automatically covered. Plus, the new 5N supports up to 64TB- let’s see a single drive, or most any other NAS, handle that. If you have a previous model, you probably don’t need to grab the 5N2. But for those with data needs and a desire to keep your files local, it’s easy to like the Drobo 5N, which comes standard with a two-year warranty and a reasonable price tag of around $399 online and in stores now.