NAS: Drobo vs Synology

Posted on January 27 2022

My first taste of network connected storage was when the Xbox original was released and i bought one in 2002.

Nice little games machine for the time and my young son was in heaven. But more to the point, the machine could be hacked and have added storage for playing movies directly to the television.

Which is what I did.

Throughout the following years, connecting a HDD to either the TV or the home network proved useful and provided an easy method for streaming music or movies.

Starting with the Drobo

Starting a new business in 2014 with my business partner, Stephane, required the same. New country, new backup requirements.

Things take time to put in place but we both eventually did some research and decided in January 2018 that the Drobo 5N2 storage system was the better option to go with. At the time Stephane suggested Synology wasn't up to snuff and Drobo (at the time) had a more reliable reputation from the online reviews we had been reading.

A 605USD price tag for the bare unit was reasonable and we both fitted it out with a disk array of 3 x 4Tb drives. With the Drobo NAS protection in place, this gives us a useable storage solution of 10.89Tb.

More than enough for current backup and streaming from the network. Backup for business needs, I was intending to also use the Drobo for video editing if the equipment was up to snuff.

Drobo Installation

Installation was a breeze and required the installation of macOS drivers to make it all work. That's OK.

The Admin interface looked spartan but was functional and allowed binding 2 ethernet ports for quicker network transfers. Cool too.

Drobo also provided the ability to run Linux-based apps from inside their hardware. Installation of these was through their Admin interface. It could be argued these were solid additions but after several months of trialling a few, we both never ended up running any. I'm guessing our particular needs didn't require any.

I did test the Drobo Photos app but it was far too quirky for me. Many failures to transfer and I was happy with using Google Photos. Setting up a backup with other tools failed for me too but I didn't spend too much time in finalising those tasks. A NAS is suppose to be effort-free in my books and photos backup was a pain to do.

Drobo Quirks

Aside, from the 'Photos' quirk above, I quickly ran into many other oddities with the Drobo 5N2.

Finder Oddity

I use macOS and Drobo's installed app doesn't always play nice. Copying large files (or many of them) saw the Drobo simply reboot itself. I tried many things to fix this and eventually had to settle on copying big files via a bandwidth restriction utility.

Obviously not ideal and certainly not workflow-friendly.

Running Drobo Apps

Something else that just looked like a band-aid solution are the Drobo apps.

I tested so many of them but most were basically apps that required more configuration to play nicely. I gave up on this side of things.

Storage for VMs

You'd think being able to store and run virtual machines from a NAS would be a common practise. It isn't as if I'm looking for near-perfect speed. Just somewhere off-local-machine to save space for a huge application which isn't used often.

The result when I tried was either the 'Drobo reboot' scenario or abysmal speed to be unusable.

A failure I wasn't happy with but had to live with.

Drive Failures

Thankfully this didn't happen to me but my friend, Stephane and bear in mind he had had his original Drobo device replaced back in late 2018.

Understand he bought drives the exact same time and type that I did. Of the four drives he bought, three of them ended up failing. Is this a Drobo problem? Only the heavens knows but it is certainly suspect.

He also had a few power supplies fail which needed replacing. Bad luck?

Crunch Time

Well in August 2021, Stephane had his replacement Drobo 5N2 start to die.

This got me thinking of all my woes and ig there isn't something better on the NAS market since our initial research in 2018.

I certainly did want to source this next NAS purchase locally and not have to deal with a Singapore as we had to with Drobo.

I even looked at what Drobo was doing presently and from what I could see, Drobo had all but ceased doing anything active in the NAS market for a number of years. Might be due to lack of funds, unhappy customers and a shitty suite of applications.

Now for Synology

At the end of the day, Synology seemed to me to be the market leader in consumer and pro-sumer NAS systems.

Their customer service portal is active, well maintained and helpful.

The 4 bay Synology 920+ Quad Core 2Ghz 4GB DDR4 model looked to me to be the better cost-effective unit that would suit my (and Stephane's) needs, for the present to medium future.

At 544 USD local including delivery to my doorstep in the next few hours, how could you go wrong?

The NAS units appeared to require no drivers installed which is another bonus.

The 920+ has the ability to install NVMe caching drives. I ended up getting 2 x Samsung 970 EVO Plus 250GB NVMe M.S units along with the initial buy. I couldn't resist a touch of SSD cache acceleration :)

I also decided to purchase NAS drives this time even though the Synology can easily handle non-NAS units. Go better this time and hopefully less worries. 3 x IronWolf Pro 8TB drives were on their way for a new NAS home.

Synology 920+ NAS

Synology Installation

Well the installation of everything was slick and smooth.

I did have a dummy moment thinking I could even access and install the Synology OS though. Once I tweaked to access the unit via the local IP and port, things glided into place.

What's To Like?

Well as a macOS user I do love the Synology's Mac-like interface. Friendly and windowed.

Copying over 5TBs of data from my Drobo to the Synology 920+ went off without a hitch on the Synology side of things. Can't say the same for the Drobo though - it rebooted many times with the constant data transfer so I ended up copying over in large chunks and directories which I could keep a track of. Restarting where it failed the next morning was the order of the day. Poor Drobo!

The synology applications are nice too. They are installed with the Synology Package Center. All their incorporated apps look slick and polished. After 5 months of usage, I have yet to scratch the surface but have installed and use :-

  • Storage Analyser
  • Cloud Sync (for backing up my Google Drive / Photos as well as my Dropbox Professional files)
  • I played with Synology Photos but still prefer Google Photos
  • The Synology NAS also has built-in macOS Time Machine so another bonus
  • Synology also provides rich data on machine state, errors, security recommendations and so much more. Polish!

When ever I log into the Synology NAS, there's an 'always on' set of widgets displaying current stats for Storage Health / Capacity, System Health, a Resource Monitor for CPU and RAM state, as well as Connected Users. Nice one, Synology. Polish again!

Storing and running Virtual Machines from the Synology storage is a wonderful bonus too. They all run extremely well for my needs including Linux, Windows XP, 10 and 11 virtual machines. Great expectations fulfilled, thank you.

The Downsides?

I haven't got any downsides to mention for the moment actually.

My new Synology beast has been simply great to use.

Seems to work flawlessly for the past 5 months and I expect the same for the foreseeable future.

Synology 920+ has been a solid investment in a home / office NAS. Loving it!

Do You Think This Is Likely?

Let me know in the comments about NAS experiences too. Anyone have the same hassles with Drobo? How about Synology 920+ Good, bad or indifferent?

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