Whether you’re a professional photographer or an avid hobbyist, you’re going to eventually need somewhere to store all your photos—such as a NAS server. At first glance, picking between the best NAS like Synology and Drobo can seem intimidating, especially with all the technical jargon.
Both come with great reputations, but the right choice for you can depend on exactly what you’re looking for from the best NAS server. Fortunately, we’ve managed to break these two down—here’s what you should know:
What Exactly is a NAS Server?
Before we start comparing NAS servers like Synology or Drobo, we should probably establish what a NAS server is and how it differs from the typical definition of a server.
What is a Server?
If you aren’t an expert with all the technical lingo, the word “server” can feel daunting. If you’ve ever seen a server room inside of a large company, these devices usually look like a large hard drive, complete with plenty of cords and wires. Fortunately, that’s not the kind of set up you’re going to need for storing your image or video files.
However, the first thing to know is that servers aren’t as intimidating as they might sound. Servers usually refer to computer programs or hardware that control and keep track of your data. This data could be anything from PDF documents to videos to the latest pictures you just uploaded from your camera.
More than just keep this information safe, a server also has the ability to share these files with certain people, usually referred to as “clients.” Think of a large company that needs to share information and documents between hundreds of employees—these businesses typically rely on the use of one (but often more) servers to do that. A smaller company probably won’t need several servers, but they’ll usually need at least one.
More advanced servers can even communicate with other servers, drive bays or hard drives on their own, but if you only need a place to store your information and pictures, it’s unlikely you’ll need such advanced features.
What are Network Attached Storage (NAS) Servers?
While a regular server and a NAS both fall under the same category, there are quite a few differences between the two. Like a regular server, NAS servers keep track of your information and share it between employees or clients, but it adds another access level: the internet.
NAS servers act like your own private cloud storage by providing remote access through the internet. Unlike a regular server, employees and clients don’t have to be working in the same space or off the same router to find information. This makes it easy to deal with clients across the country, or take your work with you on the go.
For instance, a company that relies on remote freelancers might take advantage of a NAS for collaboration purposes. Or, if you’re frequently traveling, using a NAS means that you can still respond to clients or other employees in a timely manner, regardless of where you might be.
If you’re a photographer who’s trying to take advantage of a NAS, you might not need to collaborate with other employees, but you might want to store certain data or images for clients to obtain.
While we’re only focusing on two brands in this comparison review, you always have QNAP Nas or span com to check out as well. Picking out the right support for your attached storage devices is not an easy task, and you’ll need to consider things like accessibility, compatibility, and backup systems.
Why Shouldn’t You Just Use a Third Party Service Like iCloud, Google Drive, Amazon S3 or Dropbox?
You’ve probably already noticed that NAS servers and storage sound a lot similar to third party services and devices like Google Drive or iCloud. Like NAS servers, third party services limit who can get through and allow you to get to your files from anywhere as long as you have the right login information or link.
Not to mention, third party services are usually free up to a certain extent, which may appeal to people who aren’t sure how much of their NAS storage space that they’ll actually utilize. Even if iCloud or Google Drive might look more attractive than a NAS server or a hard drive on the surface, there’s a couple of key reasons why opting for a NAS like Synology or other brands might work to your advantage:
- Security & Privacy:
When you’re dealing with sensitive data or images, you want to make sure that information is as secure as possible. Unfortunately, the downside to relying on a third-party service is that you could be sacrificing some security and privacy features.
Google Drive and iCloud don’t always give you full control or even admin options, whether you’re a client or the creator of the file. A server, however, makes these distinctions so that you can figure out who has access and how much you’ll want to give them. This makes it easy to ensure that clients can only manage their own data rather than viewing all your files.
Not to mention, you can also disconnect your NAS from the internet at any point, which is something you can’t accomplish with a third-party service. Some people may also question the security of iCloud or Google Drive, where mass hacking is more of a concern than it might be when you’re storing your info with a server.
Another reason people may prefer to go with a NAS server has to do with accessibility. Uploading Google Drive or iCloud files into a third-party application like PLEX media server, APPLE TIME MACHINE, or KODI can be tricky, and these platforms don’t always mesh well together.
NAS storage is often better-suited and has a wider range of applications that you can work with. Some photographers, for instance, might want to back up their photos with APPLE TIME MACHINE as backup software.
Whether accessibility or extra security appeal to you, the cost difference between a third party service and a NAS probably will. When you deal with Google Drive or Dropbox, there’s a monthly cost attached to getting the storage you need. Most of the time, it’s only a little more than ten dollars a month—which might not sound outrageous.
A lot of NAS servers like Synology offer yearly subscriptions, which cost more initially, but usually end up saving you money in the long run. If you compare the cost of using a service like Dropbox for two years with the cost of a two-year subscription from Synology or another brand, you’ll likely find that the NAS is the more cost-effective option.
- Long Term Storage:
If you’re a professional photographer who may deal with hundreds of photos a month, your storage NAS needs are only going to increase. Even if a subscription to a third party service provides enough data for a while, there’s a significant chance you’ll need to keep upgrading as time goes on. Many people find that it’s a little bit more convenient to go ahead and purchase a NAS since it’s often inevitable.
How Do You Know Which NAS Model to Pick?
One more difference between a third-party service like Google Drive and a brand like Synology is what they offer—Google Drive comes with limited options, but Drobo NAS and Synology feature a wide range of ever-evolving products. Not all of their models will be suited for photographers or even NAS storage.
While plenty of online reviews might tell you which systems work better for photographers, it can still make picking the right model a daunting task. Luckily, both Drobo NAS and Synology provide an easy way for you to make sure you end up with a server that fits your needs. Once you know which brand to go with, you can use each website’s NAS Selector tool.
This tool will ask you a series of questions about what you plan to do with your server, how many people you’ll be sharing information with, and so on.
At the end, both services will give you one or a series of products that should closely align with your goals. Regardless of what anyone else may recommend, it’s probably still a good idea to at least run through the tool to make sure you’re in the right direction.
Drobo vs Synology: A Look at Drobo
Now that we’ve gone over what Network Attached Storage is, and why it might be the superior choice for your files, it’s time to talk about two of the best NAS servers out there.
Chances are if you’ve been researching NAS servers, that you’ve seen these names come up more than once—so, which one should you go with? That’s not a question we can directly answer for you, but we will go over some of the brand’s most attractive features.
The first thing to understand about Drobo or any NAS is that there are different types that you can purchase. Some servers are better-suited for large companies or business purposes, and others fit video or design needs better.
To cover every single Drobo product would be a little much, especially since photographers will probably only be looking at a select few of them.
For that reason, we’ll be talking about the updated NAS or network that Drobo specifies for photography needs: the 5N2. There’s still a lot of detail to cover, but here’s a quick overview of some of the product’s most important pros and cons:
- Doesn’t use a lot of power in comparison to other NAS device
- Features minimal noise
- Comes with the patented BeyondRAID technology
- Uses extensive disaster recovery and backup systems
- Easy to switch or mix hard drives of varying performance
- You can purchase multiple 5N2 models and sync them up
- Compatible with WordPress, Koken, and other network applications
- You can configure automatic video and image uploads
- Easier to navigate if you’re still new to NAS servers or network storage
- Tends to be lacking with hardware specifications
- The user interface can be limited in comparison to Synology alternative
- Not as fast as Synology NAS
- Might be a little bulky
Patented BeyondRAID Technology and Performance
Currently, the 5N2 comes with twice the performance boost that you’d see with similar NAS servers. One of its greatest perks is that it uses its patented BeyondRAID technology, which isn’t something you’ll find with another brand.
BeyondRAID technology is most helpful in protecting your data in case one or multiple hard drives fail. When you’ve got hundreds (or thousands) of photos that you want to back up, having peace of mind that you won’t lose them anytime soon is appealing to a lot of photographers.
The last thing anybody wants to do is put hours of work into shooting and editing and then lose it all to one malfunctioning hard drive.
If one of your hard drives fails, BeyondRAID works by immediately returning the data to a secure state (usually without much interruption or interference). As far as capacity and performance go, the 5N2 does come with a feature called Hot Data Caching, which jumpstarts your performance so that you can access your information without delay.
When it comes to capacity, there’s not a lot of complicated work when it comes to upgrading your drives to bigger versions. This product’s design allows you to mix and match drives based on capacity and speed, which might be useful if you prefer to keep your work organized.
Some photographers might classify their data by project, while others base it on time frame or chronological order. Regardless of how you do it, you shouldn’t have too much trouble with this product.
Support and Accessibility with DroboApps
One other perk that you’ll find with this brand has to do with DroboApps and support. Accessing your information, even when you aren’t near the service, shouldn’t be an issue as long as you have the right HTML address (and login information). You’ll find that this brand is far from lacking with accessibility or support.
From there, you can enable different services such as Koken or WordPress, which this product should easily support. One application, DroboPix, allows you to set up automatic uploads of videos and image files so that you don’t have to manually do the transfers every time you take photos.
Much like an app you’d download to a tablet or smartphone, you can pick and choose which DroboApps you want to configure with your data. You can access most of these applications through the DroboDashboard.
Disaster Recovery and Backup
While Drobo relies on BeyondRAID for a lot of its data protection and support, it’s not the only failsafe included with this NAS product. In fact, its superior backup and recovery is one of this brand’s most attractive features.
Photographers have the ability to purchase another 5N2 model and sync it up with the original. If something happens to your main server, you can always switch to the other one so that you don’t lose access to your data.
There’s also a battery backup system, which ensures that your Drobo model is always alive long enough to write your data to a disc. The battery should recharge itself and last at least as long as your 5N2 model does.
You probably won’t need to use these disaster recovery or backup systems regularly (if at all), but the extra security and support can be a make-or-break feature for some people.
Who Should Invest in Drobo?
So, we’ve covered all the specs, but you’ve still got to determine if a NAS or network storage like Drobo will be the right choice for your needs. There is no perfect answer, but the Drobo 5N2 is an impressive system for a lot of photographers. What it lacks in performance or speed, Drobo makes up for in security.
With features such as disaster recovery and an extensive backup system, it’s unlikely that you’ll lose your images to a failed hard drive anytime soon. Photographers that have extensive portfolios or projects might be more drawn to Drobo, just because it offers a bigger safety net than Synology NAS does.
Another group that might prefer Drobo is anybody that feels inexperienced with technology or NAS servers. Drobo’s installation and interface is fairly user friendly, especially in comparison to other brands. While you might still run into the occasional hiccup or technical jargon, you’re more likely to get the hang of this NAS product and network a little quicker.
Synology Against Drobo: A Glance at Synology NAS
Like Drobo, Synology NAS has an impressive list of products, which can be daunting to look through if you aren’t sure where to start. We’ve found that the DS416slim (or any of the DiskStarter series) is a good place to start, and it compares well to the 5N2.
However, if you really want to make sure you’re looking at the right product for your needs, the website has a NAS picker that asks you targeted questions about what you’re looking for. That way, a photographer looking to store some photos or collaborate with clients doesn’t end up with something made for large companies and vice versa.
We’ll spend plenty of time on the DS416’s specifications, but before we get into the details, here’s a general look at the pros and cons of this NAS server:
- Minimal power consumption and noise level
- An extremely popular choice for people who operate on Mac or Apple devices
- These devices come with a better range of applications and features
- Lightweight and easy to fit in tight spaces
- Better performance
- Easier to share links between colleagues or clients
- Not the cheapest option in comparison to other brands and devices
- Might be more intimidating to those with limited or no experience with NAS servers
- Doesn’t come with as much security as Drobo’s model does
Compact and User Friendly
Since you probably won’t be tugging the server around with you, not a lot of people consider weight or size to be an important factor. However, maneuvering a lightweight or compact NAS product can be a lot more convenient (even if it’s just from room to room). As far as weight goes, there is a pretty significant difference between the Drobo 5N2 and the DS416Slim model.
While the Drobo 5N2 weighs over eight pounds, the DS416Slim only comes in at a little over a pound. Since this is the brand’s “slim” version of their DiskStarter series, it makes sense why it’s so much more compact.
Besides just being more portable, the DS416 is unlikely to take up as much space on your desk or in your office. This might not be a major influence for some people, but if you’re trying to conserve space, it’s at least worth noting.
While the brand has somewhat of a reputation for being difficult to navigate, especially if you’re still new to NAS servers, the DS416 is a refresher on that front. Regardless of experience level, this server comes with an installation wizard that guides you through the setup process, step-by-step.
Even with an installation guide, many NAS people have found that dealing with Synology (especially their Disk Management system), is typically more complicated and time-consuming than some other brands, like Drobo.
If you’ve got a technical background, you might be able to navigate the system without any snags, but completely new users should probably allot themselves a little bit of time to learn how to use this product’s full scope of features.
One of the most interesting features you’ll find with Synology’s server is how you share files. Much like Dropbox or Google Drive, you can send clients or other colleagues a single link that lets them go through select folders, documents, or images.
However, unlike Dropbox or Google Drive, you can play around with the controls to limit the access of anyone you send the link to. For example, you might allow a client to view their images, but not access any of your other folders or projects. Yet, you may give a colleague permission to edit or view other files.
As convenient as this feature can be, it surprisingly doesn’t make it much easier to share files or images with people that are on the same network as you. Copying images that are from another computer’s storage, whether they’re on the same network or not, is still a bit of a hassle with this product.
Compatibility and QuickConnect Technology
Much like the 5N2, syncing your Synology NAS product up so that you can stream content on a TV or view your media on another device is a built-in feature for a media server.
While the Drobo 5N2 media server is primarily more compatible with PLEX media or APPLE TIME MACHINE, Synology’s NAS media server will probably work best with Apple TV, Google Chromecast, or Samsung TV. That isn’t to say you couldn’t use it with a PLEX media server.
This makes Synology an even more attractive option for people who primarily use Apple products. Compatibility isn’t the only benefit of this product.
Just as Drobo allows you to access your DroboDashboard and other files with a personalized web address, Synology does something similar with their QuickConnect technology. When you purchase your DS416Slim server and sign up with Synology, you’ll get your own customizable address.
Even when you’re miles away from the home or office (and the original server), accessing any images or videos that you’ve uploaded shouldn’t take more than a few clicks. You’ll always need internet access, but that’s not unusual for any NAS product, including this one.
Backup and Speed
Similar to the 5N2, you can configure Synology’s system so that it backs up your photos or videos immediately. You can also transfer files from device to device, but you’ll need an internet connection to do the job, and it’ll probably take more than a few minutes, depending on how much you need to back up.
A couple of gigabytes might not be too time-consuming, but once you start trying to transfer hundreds of gigabytes worth of images and videos, it could take up to a couple of days to complete the transfer.
Compared to the 5N2, the DS416Slim is actually a little bit faster at 170MB/s. The 5N2 only works at around 117 MB/s. With only a few images or video files, the difference in speed probably won’t be obvious, but the more you need to transfer, the longer it’s going to take with the 5N2.
Speed isn’t always a concern for everyone, but if performance is a major dealbreaker for you, the Synology DS416Slim might be the better choice.
Who Should Invest in Synology?
There’s no clear-cut answer between Synology and Drobo, but if you’re looking for NAS devices with high performance and plenty of accessibility, Synology is a great choice. Sharing files between multiple people is often easier with Synology since all you need is a single link to do so.
If you plan to transfer large quantities of data storage, Synology might also look more attractive. Since its system ranks faster than other brands, it’ll most likely process your data storage a little bit quicker.
People who prefer lightweight and compact NAS devices will probably also want to give the DS416Slim a thorough look. You might not plan on lugging the Network Attached Storage server around, but at less than two pounds, you’ll be able to stick this NAS product in tight spaces and free up plenty of desk space.
Not all photographers know their way around a server, but for people with more technical experience, the Synology comes with a lot of perks. Not only will you be able to probably install and configure it easier, but you’ll be able to take advantage of Synology’s full range of functionality.
Of course, these are only two brands out of plenty of NAS devices—you could as easily compare these two as you could compare Synology vs QNAP or Synology or QNAP.