Drobo 5D

In our first blog post about some of the gear we use to create films and photos, we wanted to touch base on something we just acquired. The new Drobo 5D we just bought from B&H Photo Video is a pretty outstanding piece of hardware. Of course, this will be our first unbiased take on a completely new product, so bear with us and we'll make sure to update this as we go along... with hard drives, and any new tech, everything always typically seem perfect in the first few weeks. Also, this is not a review, we don't care about those. We're creatives, artists, filmmakers and we care about things that will make us work more efficiently without having to worry about technical details of things we don't even have time to understand.

Interestingly enough, one of the brand new hard drives we got as part of this B&H kit came DOA so it won't even work on our Drobo, no matter what drive bay we use. We already reached out to B&H to see if they can exchange it for something else, but in the meantime, we're already using the Drobo for editing in Final Cut (FCP X) and Adobe Lightroom, where it will hold our master catalog of photos.

The take on this solution was not to serve as a secure backup for our files. We are still not convinced the Drobo would be a good solution for that, due to its proprietary nature of the controller. If that doesn't make sense, it basically comes down to this... if the controller craps out for some reason, then you lose access to all files. You'd have to get a new Drobo enclosure to be able to access them. Which could be a potential PITA. If you think we are wrong about this, or if there's another solution that we are not aware of, please don't hesitate to reach out to us in the comments below or through our contact page.

Either way, our idea for the Drobo, since the 5D uses Thunderbolt and is fast enough for multicam edits and multiple HD streams and stuff, was to use it as a main source storage for current works in progress, films we are working on, photos, whatever big stuff we have going on at any moment. We want to use external drives and other solutions for actual archival of data and backing up. We'll write more about that eventually, when things steady down a bit on our workload side of things.

Alright, so the Drobo 5D definitely takes a lot from the Apple school of design. The packaging is incredibly well made and looks beautiful. Trust me, I never thought I'd say this about a hard drive storage solution, but it definitely makes it fun and easy to unpack and set everything up. The Drobo even comes with a Thunderbolt cable, which is huge considering most companies refuse to include these cables for their own products.

Either way, we got the 20 TB kit that B&H sells, which comes with five 4TB drives at 7,200rpm. I'm starting to assume the drives they ship with the 5D might not be the best quality, since one of them crapped out immediately, but who knows, maybe we were just unlucky. With hard drives, it happens.

Once you unpack the Drobo, it's insanely easy to just pop these drives in. You literally just have three things to do:

1. Unpack Drobo

2. Insert Drives

3. Plug it in and switch it on.

We did buy a 60GB mSATA drive for the accelerator  bay underneath the enclosure. This speeds up a lot of the hard drive access times, which is perfect for film editing. You can buy one on their Drobo Store online.

Of course, you have to download the Drobo Dashboard app for your Mac, but that's easy and simple. Once it starts, the Drobo takes a little long to go through its cycle. Since we're used to standard drives, the longer period is always a bit disconcerting, but at least it looks gorgeous with all the blinking lights. We find it kind of soothing, to be honest, which might be a great psychological marketing campaign from the Drobo makers, but we digress.

The Dashboard app makes it super easy to format the drives you just installed. Once that happens, you're set. We're not using Dual Redundancy right now, mostly because one of the drives wasn't working.

So that's it. We immediately transferred our photo catalog to the drive using Lightroom and using FCP X we transferred the projects and events we're working on to the Drobo, thus lifting finally a lot of stuff to use just for archival purposes. Right before we did this though, we noticed one of the lights on our enclosure was absent. As in, not even lit, not red, not green, not yellow, not blinking, nothing. After some research online, we managed to try to take it out, put that drive in other bays, switch all the drives around, everything. Eventually the light appeared again, but blinking red, which is the de facto Drobo standard of telling you that drive is dead and there's nothing it can do for it. So that's the sad news. One of our brand new drives is dead and came dead on arrival. Bizarre. But maybe the transport was a bit violent, or it was just in a bad mood. Who knows. Crossing our fingers B&H will be nice about it, but they have awesome support so we hope it goes well.

Alright. This is the beginning of a new stage for our editing and post-production stage. It feels good to have storage at home that is reliable and works good. I know there's a lot of slack for their proprietary stuff online, but honestly, if it makes it easy for artists to work better, as long as you keep in mind you still need to backup your data somewhere else, then the Drobo 5D looks to be a great solution.

Again, check back in a month or two. We will do another post on how the drives and enclosure are working and if we find out some other conclusion.

To learn more about Drobo, visit their page at http://drobo.com.