Drobo 5N2 Review
With more than a decade of experience creating data storage systems aimed at small businesses, Drobo has succeeded by ignoring conventional wisdom and using its homegrown BeyondRAID storage system. Like a breath of fresh air for a variety of data-heavy small firms, the 5N2 model can recover data from one or two lost drives, has hardware acceleration and is big enough to hold a hot spare. It may not be the cheapest system around, lack hardware encryption and something as simple as an on-board information screen, but the 5N2's capacity can expand as a business's data needs grow.
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While most desktop RAID enclosures arrange their drives horizontally like books on a shelf, Drobo's 5N2 stacks them vertically, fitting five drives in the space that is often reserved for four drives. This gives the 7.3 x 5.9 x 10.3-inch 5N2's black case room for several different configurations, including single- and double-data redundancy setups.
In addition to a power light, the 5N2 has a colored LED coded to its health, but it lacks an alphanumeric information screen with details, like temperature or remaining capacity. The 5N2 compensates for this with a capacity monitor where each of 10 LEDs corresponds to 10% of its total storage potential. When all 10 LEDs are all lit, you're out of space.
Powered by a 1.6-GHz Marvell Armada quad-core processor, the 5N2 includes 2GB of RAM and 1GB of flash storage space for its firmware and internal programs. There's no way to upgrade either, but the system can use traditional rotating media as well as solid-state drives.
Its Accelerator Bay underneath can accommodate mSATA drives for hot caching data to speed up the array's operations by as much as one-third. It is meant as an optional add-on, and it raises the price tag by about $250 for a 128GB card.
The 5N2's single power input could make it vulnerable to a power supply failure, but the storage system makes up for this with a built-in 2,000 milliamp-hour battery pack. The equivalent of an uninterruptible power supply, the battery allows the device to gracefully shut down during a power outage by finishing its current writing cycle. This can not only save the current data but the array's data integrity as well.
With a pair of gigabit Ethernet ports, its online connection is redundant or can combine a pair of LAN connections for better performance. It does without any USB or Thunderbolt connections, making the 5N2 a purely networked storage system.
Able to operate with between two and five SATA drives, the 5N2's drives easily slide into the case without any mounting hardware. Based on the Linux EXT4 file system, the 5N2 can work with PCs (FAT), Macs (HFS+) and other systems. It tops out at a maximum capacity of 64TB.
Unlike other storage systems in its class, the 5N2 is a one-trick pony that only uses the company's BeyondRaid system. It can get the most out of drives with different capacities, is easy to set up and offers the ability to rebuild lost data.
The Drobo 5N2 excels if you're always running out of space. Just remove the smallest drive and replace it with a bigger one. The controller will rebuild its data and deliver the extra capacity. Even more interesting is that the 5N2 can accommodate up to five extra 5N2 units daisy-chained together using the Ethernet ports.
While its configuration is password-protected, the 5N2 falls short in one key area of security: It doesn't encrypt all files. This makes it inappropriate for areas where data security is paramount and puts it a step behind most other RAID systems, like Western Digital's EX4100.
Its logs track all operations and are detailed, but they cannot zoom in on who changed, deleted or corrupted individual files. The unit has a Kensington lock slot for tying it down but lacks the drive bay lock of Buffalo's Terastation 3410DN.
For companies wanting to allow online access to its data, Drobo's secure and encrypted network does the trick. The iOS and Android Drobo Access apps are an easy and simple way to open the company's data to those in other offices or on the road. They will need the correct password, though.
Software and Interface
To see what's going on inside the 5N2, Drobo has an app-based dashboard that can run on Windows PCs as well as Macs. It's visually appealing with a dark background with bright white type and green indicators for drive status and health.
On the left, the column of tasks ranges from Status, Volumes, and Capacity to Tools and Device Settings; any pending updates are highlighted. Each section leads to detailed setup and configuration options, making the 5N2 one of the most flexible and adaptable storage devices available.
To the right, the software shows a photo of the RAID array, as well as its name, firmware version and how long it's been operating. There's also a temperature gauge as well as the array's overall health rating. The interface has everything needed to make the most of the 5N2 array.
The myDrobo App Platform has several useful software extensions. They include online data access and the ability to turn the drive into a blogging system with page themes and templates that uses WordPress.
Support and Pricing
Versatile and flexible, the 5N2 starts at $500 for just the enclosure and tops out at 24GB of storage for $1,699. This makes it slightly more expensive than bargain-basement RAID systems, like the Western Digital EX4100, but still very economical for a small business.
Its two-year warranty is second best to Western Digital's three years of coverage, but Drobo includes 90 days of free help from DriveSavers, the Novato, California, drive repair and data recovery specialist. It can rescue a company with a bad drive or RAID device regardless if it wears out or has physical damage from a fire or flood. You'll need to register the device within 15 days of purchase.
Drobo has trained technicians standing by 24/7, but the array only includes 90 days of support. Its DroboCare extended warranties cost $99 per year for up to five years. Online, the company offers everything from help recovering lost data to the latest firmware updates.
If you don't want to risk losing data or outgrowing your data infrastructure, the Drobo 5N2 uses the company's BeyondRAID protocol that can use different capacity drives and upgrade rapidly. You can connect up to six separate units into a single storage unit for a huge storage device.
Simple and straightforward, the 5N2 lacks things like encryption and an information screen, but at $875 for an 8TB drive array, it is a data storage system that can grow with a business.