Drobo 5N or 5D with Mac Mini?

Hi All,

I realize this is a completely subjective question but I was wondering if anyone had specific experience related to this that would help me make a buying decision.

I purchased a Mac Mini with the intention of adding a Thunderbolt disk array and using it as:

  • Media Server (XBMC or Plex) connected to a TV via HDMI
  • Time Machine backup for 3 MBPs
  • iTunes Server meaning more of a way to have a centralized library for music that’ll be shared
  • Home file server.
  • Potentially backup the 3 MBPs via a 3rd party backup software

After researching Thunderbolt drives including Lacie, OWCs brand, Synology & Drobo I found I really liked the Drobo 5D.

Then I started reading about the 5N and found that much of what I wanted to do I could do it with just the 5N’s built in features & Drobo Apps eliminating the added complexity of using the Mac Mini as a front end. About the only thing I wouldn’t be able to do currently is the Media Center (Plex App) since my TV is not networked but then I’d have the choice of either keeping the Mac Mini or upgrading the TV (Any excuse to buy a newer TV, I know).

My question is does anyone have experience with these two types of setups? Pros & Cons?

Much appreciated!

I have a personal preference for Direct Attached Storage.

I have a 5D attached to a Mac Mini Server and it works beautifully with all my clients (Mac, Windows, iDevices, and AppleTV).

If you want a ‘real’ solution using Time Machine for multiple Macs, you need to use Server App with the Time Machine service running. That is easiest when it is a DAS vs NAS.

The other ‘gotcha’ that may not be an issue for you is iTunes. If you want to play any protected content, iTunes must be running and serving the media to the clients. The ‘built-in’ iTunes server for the 5N will not play FairPlay DRM.

I agree on direct-attach. With DAS, you set the rules on how it can be accessed, based on the server you attach it to. But that’s just me, because I tend to have oddball configurations and/or needs.

Thanks for the posts.

I hadn’t thought about the Fairplay DRM so that’s definitely a valid concern.

I purchased the Mac Mini with the Server App specifically since I was planning on using it as a server for Time Machine, etc. but that’s a good catch.

Being a control freak myself, I agree with both of you and I’ve decided to go the direct attached route.

Thanks again!

I would propose the opposite. I have had no problems with my 5N and multiple TimeMachine Backup shares for multiple devices (this way you can limit the TimeMachine space for each computer individually). If you use the OSX Server App you end up with one huge shared backup volume. I am not aware of a way to guarantee a certain amount of drive space to each device for TimeMachine backups. The device that occupies the most amount of space when the share fills up is the winner. Adding a new device if the backup volume that has filled up ist not feasible and shifting available backup space to the “looser” devices that used the least drive space is a pain in the a**.

Of course there are other benefits of a DAS (speed, access rights, response times, the 16GB vs 32GB volume limit…) that justify the higher price tag.

I appreciate your take on this. Time Machine is always kind of finicky and one of the reasons why I asked this question.

For instance, I’ve read posts about issues with Wake on LAN and the Mac Mini when an Airport Extreme is not used. WoL is required for Time Machine to work properly (unless your Mac Mini never enters into sleep mode) and if you’re using a 3rd party AP then you have to install an application to get WoL working properly. I don’t see this being an issue with the Drobo 5N.

DLNA/uPnP content can be handled by either Plex/XBMC or the Drobo 5n so that’s not an issue but interface-wise, I’d expect Plex/XBMC to be more flexible.

As for the share on a Mac Mini for Time Machine use, from what I’ve read, you can setup separate partitions for each machine that you’re going to be backing up and in this way control the amount of space that each machine has for TM backups.

Another issue I’ve been reading about is DRM’ed streaming. I have an Amazon Prime account and use that to stream video. Mainly for my son who’s addicted to Thomas the Train & Bob the Builder. Since Amazon implemented flash based DRM, the Amazon plugin for XBMC & Plex on the Mac no longer works which leaves me with my BlueRay player still providing this service.

Thanks again!

Time Machine space management has always been a problem. Many of the ‘non-native’ solutions (and EVERY NAS solution) used a custom sparsebundle that turns out to fail quite often during the restore.

(Here is an excellent resource for this issue)

With the new ServerApp in Yosemite, you can natively control the size of individual backups.

I use a dedicated Drobo (4-bay) with an 8TB volume and the ‘extra’ space allocated to a buffer volume. Slightly wasteful? Perhaps, but it avoids the problems of Time Machine filling the volume until it’s full and Drobo slowing down with it hits 90% utilization.

I’ve run a 5N for pretty much the same tasks you’re suggesting for a couple years. It’s a fantastic platform, but I’d also slightly lean towards the 5D if you’re planning on running a server anyway. I’ve run into just enough goofy situations caused by the network abstraction layer that it’s probably best to stick to a DAS. That said, I just migrated away from OS X Server - that whole thing is scotch tape, twigs, and bailing wire. And of course, network storage is always more flexible - you can put it in another room, you can access it when all other systems are off, etc.