You guys have been hammering me lately with questions about Drobos and QNAPs, and storage in general. So today’s episode is dedicated to nothing but a discussion of all the options, and when they make most sense. But first, let’s get a feel for the kind of questions you’ve been sending in.
Your Questions on Storage
First, from Mike Hamilton who suggested I do this show on Patreon:
Just wondering which you prefer, Drobo or Qnap devices? I was looking at drobo device for home, but Qnap devices look good too. Wondering if you can compare the two and the functions/specs of the different devices
Chris Kirby on Twitter:
@johnpoz Have the original Drobo. Looking to upgrade, but data not directly transferable. Wondering if this is time to changes boxes.
John Hui on Google+:
Do you recommend a Qnap (4 or 5 bays) or Drobo 5N for a home photo / video editing from the NAS drivers?
Nick on Twitter
@johnpoz both #qnap and #drobo have offsite automated duplication, right? Do they have integrated or included cloud options like #dropbox?
And we just had a discussion with a group of the Geek Beat Patrons on our monthly hangout about it. So I’m going to answer the question for you guys once and for all! Which one is better? Drobo, or QNAP?
Scratch that actually! Both Drobo and QNAP have sponsored Geek Beat, and I know we all appreciate that, but we don’t need anyone getting mad at me for ONLY talking about them. So I’m also going to talk about a few OTHER brands and types of storage, OK? And I don’t want to hear any crap about bias, because I’m telling you things I know based on our first hand usage of these drives. And my integrity is NOT for sale. So get some popcorn, or whatever you do, because its going to be kind of a long discussion today.
Different Kinds of Storage
Ok, where to begin, where to begin? First, we need to acknowledge that no one storage device is gonna be perfect for all situations. In fact, for every single unit I’m about to recommend I could spend an equal amount of time ripping it a new one for all the things it can’t do. There are compromises in life, and storage is no exception.
So the first thing we need to do is segment our discussion into two categories: Direct Attached Storage, and Network Attached Storage. Direct Attached means we’re hooking it directly to a computer with a Firewire, USB or Thunderbolt cable to be used with a single machine. Network attached means the storage connects via ethernet into a router so it can be shared with multiple computers.
Lets talk about Direct Attached Storage first. Some of you have asked me about very specific applications such as video editing and photo storage and editing directly from your external storage. If that’s your primary application, you’re almost always going to benefit from connecting to the drive with USB3 or Thunderbolt over ethernet. The good news is that you’ll get speeds that are at least 300% faster, but the bad news is that the storage will only hook up to a buy phallosan device.
Now I’ve had a lot of first hand experience using three different drives of this type. The Drobo 5D is a 5 drive bay unit that has both Thunderbolt and USB3 connections. It also holds an mSATA SSD for data acceleration, and when you connect it to your computer it can achieve hundreds of MB/s of throughput. So it’s as fast as your internal drive, and often even faster. This is what you need if you’re gonna try to manipulate lots of little files, like a photo collection, for sure. And even with large videos you’re going to want it.
Considering you can load a Drobo 5D up with five 4TB drives for 20TB of raw capacity, and you can set it up to have dual drive redundancy, its combination of storage, speed, reliability and price is hard to beat.
But that’s not your only option! I’ve also had fantastic results with the G-Tech Thunderbolt RAID drives. For example, you can get a 4TB unit for about $600 that is blazingly fast! That’s because it uses RAID 0 to maximize speed, though it does so at the cost of redundancy.
The G-Tech drive would be great if you are looking for a lot of raw, fast external storage to work on, but not for long term storage. It’s faster and cheaper than the Drobo, but lacks the aggregate storage capacity and the multiple levels of data protection, combined with the ability to swap out failed drives on the fly.
If you’re wanting big storage on the go, I’ve got two recommendations. First, for the most capacity you can get in a compact unit to-go, the Drobo Mini will let you combine four 2.5” drives into a single redundant, mSATA accelerated, thunderbolt portable drive. It has no competition.
If you can’t afford something quite that big, or you won’t be near a wall outlet, I recommend the rugged Lacie drives. The 1-2TB drives have performed great for me for years, and for the ultra paranoid I’d get two, and when you copy important data to one, mirror it on the other. So you always have two independent copies in case something happens to one.
Ok, that should be enough Direct Attached Storage options for pretty much everything, so lets move on to NAS or Network Attached Storage. If your goal is to put your files on the network so multiple computers can share them, this is the way to go!
To me, the ideal size for a NAS device is at least 4 drives. You can get them with as few as two if you’re really never going to use much storage, and if you are going to do that I’ve got a recommendation for you in a minute, but with 4 or more you can have plenty of space without sacrificing redundancy. And I’ve got three different options for you here. The QNAP TS-470 Pro, The Synology 1513+, and the Drobo 5N.
I’m going to make it really simple for you to know if you need a Drobo, or would be better off with a QNAP or Synology. If all you really care about is a place to store your backups, and movies and music, and you’re looking for a machine that requires absolutely no work or thinking about anything, the Drobo’s your best option.
Drobos let you literally just plug in your bare hard drives, and walk away. So the big benefit is ease of use. The Drobo 5N, at $500, is cheaper and simpler, though it’s slower and less powerful than the competition.
Drobo also offers a small number of apps that you can run, most importantly Plex, which lets you stream your media to TVs or mobile devices anywhere in the world, but it also lets you mirror your content to either Copy.com or ElephantDrive. The bad news is, if you wanted to mirror several terabytes of data, it would cost you a few thousand dollars. PER MONTH! But hey, you can at least mirror your most important files to the cloud, if not backup all your data.
Synology and QNAP
Now, speaking of apps, you’ll know you are NOT a Drobo person if you really want your NAS to act like a little network server. Both Synology and QNAP are going to allow you to run tons of add-on apps, like an iTunes server, a download station, your own private cloud server, anti-virus software, surveillance camera software, TimeMachine backups and a lot more. We’re going to have a whole series of tutorials about how to set up all these functions, at least on the QNAPs, in the next few weeks so you can see first hand how to make it all work. So let’s skip to the physical systems for now.
The Synology is gonna give you 5 drive bays, plus four Gigabit Ethernet ports, powered by a dual core 2.1GHz Atom processor and 2GB of 1066 RAM for around $800. You can purchase autoblow 2 at cheap price. That means lots of storage, with good redundancy, and good network performance, at long as you aren’t asking it to do too many things at the same time.
The QNAP TS-470 is a 4 drive bay unit, with 2GB of 1333 RAM and a full blown Intel i3 dual core 3.3GHz processor. It has two Gigabit Ethernet ports, but you have the option to add two more, or two 10GigE ports. On top of generally having more power and speed than the Synology, it also offers a very unique feature – HDMI and audio inputs and outputs. This means that the TS-470 can play movies and content directly to a TV, without needing an AppleTV, Roku, or smart TV functionality. The QNAP also costs around $200 more.
So which of these should you choose? Well, the Synology costs a couple hundred less, plus lets you add one more drive. So there’s more total storage bang for the buck there. Of course, if you really need to store that much data you might also want to move it around quickly, and in that case you might consider a 10GigE capable switch for your network – which only the TS-470 could ultimately take advantage of if you opt for the 10GigE upgrade.
On top of that, if you’re in an environment where you need to run lots of apps, or you’re gonna have multiple people doing things simultaneously, especially iSCSI connections, there could end up being a big performance difference not only from the network connection, but also from the processing capability. For example, if you wanted to transcode and stream multiple videos from the NAS simultaneously, you’re gonna have a much better experience when you’ve got more power to do it.
Another time power makes a difference is when you have a hard drive failure. When that happens, and it will, you need to manually switch out the bad drive and tell the machine to rebuild the RAID array, and the QNAP’s speed is going to get it done in a fraction of the time. And if you ask me, that’s important because you’re vulnerable when that rebuild is being done, and it can take literally days. Believe me, you’ll be extremely nervous while you’re waiting and praying there isn’t another drive failure at that time.
So if you’re only gonna have one NAS, and you’re already spending $1500-2000 on the chassis and drives, personally I’d pony up the extra $200 to get the added power and the HDMI functionality.
One last thing about the QNAP and Synology devices. They have multiple backup options, including the ability to synchronize themselves with identical units across a network for complete redundancy, and the ability to act as private cloud servers. There were several questions about Dropbox integration with NAS, and both Synology and QNAP should work with Dropbox apps, though I haven’t personally tried either yet.
HBoth manufacturers also offer their own dropbox-like private cloud functionality which allows you to sync files and folders on any machine to the NAS server. Though they’re all a little buggy, they’re getting better and better and are a viable alternative if you’d like to move to a privately controlled cloud.
All right, we’re in the home stretch, but I don’t want to stop before we address two special situations.
First of all, for people either on a budget, or who only want a two-bay NAS, because although they want access to all of those apps, they aren’t really going to store all that much data, or have too many people using it at once. If that’s the case, for $300 you can pick up the unique QNAP HS-210.
It is a fanless design, that can live silently right beside your media center and TV, and still let you do everything its bigger brothers can do.
And secondly, no NAS discussion would be complete without mentioning the most disaster-proof server you can get. The iOSafe. We’ve personally torture tested this little two-bay storage server and I can tell you first hand that it can survive fire and complete water submersion. So if you have really critical data that you want to ensure, nothing will protect it like an iOSafe.
And I would recommend you also check out my NAS Hard Drive recommendation video at.
Keep in mind that every manufacturer I mentioned makes a lot of other devices that I didn’t cover. I only touched on a range of options that seemed logical. So if you have follow up questions or want to discuss a specific price range or other models, drop em in the comments below or tweet em to me @JohnPoz and I’ll get back to you as quick as I can.