OWC Thunderbolt 3 Storage Solutions – ThunderBay 8 and ThunderBay FLEX 8

January 8th, 2020
OWC Thunderbolt 3 Storage Solutions - ThunderBay 8 and ThunderBay FLEX 8

During CES 2020, OWC  just announced two new Thunderbolt 3 storage solutions targeted at creative professionals: the ThunderBay 8 and ThunderBay FLEX 8. These eight drive enclosures are capable of reaching transfer speeds up to 2750MB/s. You can load them with up to 128TB of storage, and thanks to the Thunderbolt 3 technology, it is possible to daisy chain six of them together to expand your storage capacity. Let’s take a closer look at these!

OWCThunderBay8_Featured

OWC ThunderBay FLEX 8 on the left, and OWC ThunderBay 8 on the right. Image credit: OWC

OWC ThunderBay 8 Features

The ThunderBay 8 is OWC’s latest addition to their already-existing ThunderBay line of Thunderbolt 3 external hard drives. It features eight hot-swappable drive bays that can take 2.5-inch and 3.5-inch HDDs and/or SSDs. In total, if you max it out with 14TB drives, you can reach a maximum total capacity of 112TB. If this is not enough for you, don’t worry: you can daisy-chain up to six units together and reach an incredible total capacity of 672TB.

OWCThunderBay8_02

Image credit: OWC

Several drive configurations are available; you can use each drive independently or match all drives and create any flavor of RAID you want with the included SoftRAID software. According to OWC, you can reach speeds up to 2586MB/s, if you use SSDs drives in a RAID 0 configuration of course.

At the back of the unit, there are two Thunderbolt 3 ports, which are OWC ClingOn-Ready: a cable stabilizer to prevent unwanted cable disconnection. Also, there is a DisplayPort 1.2 port for connecting up to 4K monitors. It comes with a 5-Year OWC Limited Warranty with 1-Year Level 1 data recovery.

OWCThunderBay8_01

Image credit: OWC

OWC ThunderBay FLEX 8 Features

The ThunderBay FLEX 8 is what OWC qualifies as the “industry-first 3-in-1 Thunderbolt 3 storage, docking, and PCIe expansion solution.” This enclosure offers you eight drive bays. In the top four bays, you can install your choice of U.2 NVMe SSDs, 2.5-inch SATA 6Gb/s SSDs, or 3.5-inch SATA 6Gb/s HDDs. In the four bottom bays, you can install 2.5-inch or 3.5-inch SATA 6Gb/s drives. If you fully-load it, you can reach a total storage capacity of up to 128TB.

The idea behind the ThunderBay FLEX 8 is that it is not merely an external hard drive, but more of a hybrid with docking capabilities. Indeed, at the back of the unit, there are two Thunderbolt 3 ports and a DisplayPort 1.4 port that can support two 4K displays or one 8K display. At the front of the ThunderBay FLEX 8, there are two USB-A ports, a USB Type-C port, and an SD 4.0 plus CF-Express card readers.

Finally, there is one PCIe (x16) slot that can take a half-length, full-height, single-width card. That way, you can add audio and video capture cards, an SSD storage card, or an I/O card without the need to purchase another adapter box. The ThunderBay FLEX 8 houses a 500W power supply so that it can handle every drive and expansion card with enough juice.

Pricing and Availability

The OWC ThunderBay 8 and ThunderBay FLEX 8 will be available in Q1 this year. You can purchase the ThunderBay 8 as an enclosure only (with no drives) for $1228.99, or in capacities from 16TB to 112TB. The ThunderBay FLEX 8 is also available as an enclosure and from 16TB to 128TB solutions. There is no word on the pricing of the ThunderBay FLEX 8 yet.

What do you think of these new Thunderbolt 3 storage solutions from OWC? Are eight drives enough for your storage needs? Let us know in the comments below!

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DAMARIS LIZETH
Guest
May 20th, 2020

How the maximum reading and writing speed is reached?

Member
January 8th, 2020

After a lot of testing and experimentation I standardized my storage (2 Petabytes) using all OWC Thunderbay units. I’ve had QNAP (a very good solution as well), Drobo, LaCie, etc. OWC has given me great products, outstanding customer service and a degree of reliability far beyond any of the above mentioned manufacturers. My longest running OWC units are four bay enclosures that have been humming along for over six years 24/7 without a hiccup. The newest units are Thunderbay Six units filled with 14TB WD Red Drives. These new announcements further convince me that I have chosen the right technology for my data storage.

 Brian DeViteri
Brian DeViteri
Member
January 8th, 2020

If it relies on SoftRAID, I’m not interested. Version 6 has been delayed for over a year. Hardware based RAID is the best bet with macOS after High Sierra.

 Brian DeViteri
Brian DeViteri
Member
January 8th, 2020
Reply to  Jeff Loch

More issues in Catalina with SoftRAID resulting in data loss. Noticed this in multiple setups. The backup often strategy for RAID does nothing if you’re 2-3+ days in before you actually notice or realize the loss/corruption.

Some believe it has to do with APFS implementation/fixes in 5.8.1 (think that’s latest version), but I’m not a software engineer and do not get paid enough to troubleshoot software. I’ve noticed the same with SoftRAID HFS+ setups in MP5,1 in Mojave testing before “upgrading” from High Sierra. 100% stopped using and stopped even recommending. Their forums are littered with user complaints.

The promise was SoftRAID 6 was supposed to fix everything, but it’s literally been over a year since it was “announced” and it’s not even REALLY testing in BETA yet.

The software really went downhill when OWC bought them out and/or became the same company. I speculate many on the development team left the company. Happened around the same time they bought AKiTiO and some other brands they re-badged their hardware with. I no longer trust the company and try to find alternatives whenever possible.

 Brian DeViteri
Brian DeViteri
Member
January 8th, 2020
Reply to  Jeff Loch

Not always possible and not always even semi-affordable. At the end of the day, macOS should do a better job at supporting RAID in 10.15+. Native support would solve nearly every issue.

 Dan Hyman
Dan Hyman
Member
January 8th, 2020
Reply to  Jeff Loch

Upgraded to the Mac Pro and brought over six (6) Thunderbays (some daisy-chained). SoftRAID kept randomly shutting down Catalina sporadically at first. I called SoftRAID support, they had me disable sleep mode and put display to sleep setting to ‘Never’, it works fine now. The also claimed they’ve fixed whatever issue was being caused by Catalina, but Apple still needs to update things on their end to optimize the software and hardware performance.

 Christian Zorzi
Member
January 8th, 2020

How much on-board cache do they have? Can a BBU be added? And are they TB3 only or can also be used with USB-C?

 Mark James
Mark James
Member
January 9th, 2020

SoftRAID Support here: I was led to this discussion and thought I would help clarify.

Let me dispel the rumor about the team quitting. We are still intact. Tim Standing is still writing SoftRAID code. I am still doing support and QA testing for SoftRAID, since 1995. So the “original team” has certainly not quit. We are more stable than ever, thanks to OWC acquiring us! This is one of those acquisitions that has gone 100% well, and we are all very happy here.

Christian:
There is no battery backup in a Thunderbay, its a JBOD enclosure, you can use an UPS for that. With SoftRAID the cache is the Mac’s RAM.

The Thunderbay uses Thunderbolt, so you cannot use it as USB 3.1gen2. The cabling may be the same (USB C style), but USB does not support the Thunderbolt command set. (You would also lose performance and since you cannot daisy chain USB, lose connection flexibility)

Let me comment on hardware vs software RAID:
Software RAID is the future. Every industry niche is migrating away from hardware RAID to software RAID. Look, for example, at Amazon (AWS), BackBlaze, and any other major cloud storage solution, it is all software controlled RAID.
Hardware controllers quickly become obsolete, and companies stop supporting them. Hardware controllers are another “point of failure”, and when they fail, typically data is not accessible, unless you can find the same model (and often, firmware).
The main benefit for hardware RAID systems are OS independence, you can connect it to anything, especially low power CPU’s. But you lose a lot in the process, including direct control over the disks (such as accessing SMART data, which very few RAID controllers pass through)

There are situations where mid/low end hardware RAID is more suitable, but in general, software RAID gives you more features/flexibility, and is less expensive.

Brian;
Sorry to hear you have had some bad experiences, your critiques are reasonable, let me try to address them:

We apologize over SoftRAID 6 being late. APFS and Mojave/Catalina have thrown us some major curveballs and there are bugs in macOS that we have had to deal with that have seriously slowed us down. However, we have kept SoftRAID 5 up to date, with going on 5 years of free updates. We continue to update version 5, while we work on version 6.

One of the reasons we are not rushing to get SoftRAID 6 out is APFS performance is awful on HDD’s. APFS volumes are approximately 50% slower on HDD’s than HFS+. So despite the problems with HFS, it is still the best Apple file system for HDD environments
(SSD’s also suffer a slowdown with APFS, about 30%, but few users notice this because SSD’s are so much faster than rotating media)
We hope Apple will implement a published feature in APFS that would improve APFS performance on rotating media. Until that happens, HFS+ is a much better solution for high capacity environments.

Data corruption vs Directory damage:
There is a long standing OSX/HFS issue where directories degrade over time, especially after OS X updates, or driver installs.
Directory damage with large HFS volumes is not “uncommon”, resulting in a volume that can no longer mount. (hence Disk Warrior is still a critical tool in everyone’s repair box) Yes, volume directory damage can happen on SoftRAID volumes at a higher frequency because there are more disks in a volume, so more opportunity for events like the disk’s cache not fully flushing to disk at restart.

If you were getting actual data corruption, that is an entirely different issue and would absolutely be a hardware problem. We have found things like mixed brands of RAM can cause of data corruption/kernel panics. Some PCI cards are not robust, and can cause data corruption. There is a lot that can go wrong, it takes serious diagnosing to figure out this kind of issue.

Dan;
The bug in the kernel that causes a kernel panic with Catalina and sleep is someting we have worked hard with Apple on. We have purchased a complete setup from a user that we are giving to Apple to help figure out root cause. Hopefully in a couple weeks, we can have news on a solution (probably an OS X update release)

Jeff;
Extreme slowdowns in performance on SSD could be a TRIM issue. You need to use “sudo TRIMforce enable” in terminal to enable trim, (then use SoftRAID as Apple’s RAID driver does not support TRIM), and after a day or so, performance should greatly improve.

As to the comment there are lots of complaints on the SoftRAID forum, that is what forums are for. Users typically do not post on a vendor’s forum unless they are having a problem. We have tens of thousands of SoftRAID users, and for that quantity of users, problems are pretty minor.

SoftRAID has always been slow to add major new features. (Consider after 25 years, we are only on version 5) We believe that stability and protecting user data is more important than adding features.

It is humbling that so many users rely on SoftRAID for their data. Our focus is driver reliability. It takes a lot more time, but we believe is worth it.

Sorry for the long post, hope this helps clarify some of these concerns. SoftRAID is alive and well!

 Christian Zorzi
Member
January 10th, 2020
Reply to  Mark James

Thank you for your detailed reply. I am a dealer for pro video solutions including storage systems since 1999. Our customers only use hardware raid based enclosures. So we would not add the ThunderBay to our portfolio.

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