Feeling Drooby

I believe I first heard about the Drobo on This Week in Tech (TWiT) with Leo Laporte, but it may have been on This Week in Photography (TWiP) which is a podcast with members who are also on TWiT, but it is the photographers on TWiP that really convinced me that the Drobo is worth its price.

I have always belived in making regular backups, for years I used CDs and then DVDs to backup my photos, documents, music, and all work related files. I even went as far as making three sets of discs, 1 for the office, one at home, and one at my parents house. My parents thought it was funny that I was giving them stacks of 20 or more DVDs every couple months.

A few years ago I bought a Buffalo Terrastation Network Attached Storage (NAS) device. It is a Redundant array of Independent Disks (RAID) that contains 4 Parallel ATA Integrated Drive Electronics (IDE) drives, I have it configured as RAID 5 with 4 250 GB dives giving me around 750GB of usable storage space. The advantage of RAID 5 is that the data on the discs is redundant, any one drive can fail without actually loosing any data. But RAID has a lot of limitations.

A RAID array requires that all of the drives be the same size, same speed, and same manufacturer to work reliably. It is even recommended to use drives from the same manufacturing lot if possible. The practical result of all of these limitations is that RAID arrays are hard to upgrade, time consuming to replace failed drives, and if the drives in the array are no longer available… What are you supposed to do?

So to backup the Terrastation I bought a series of external hard drives and copied bits and pieces from the NAS to individual drives. I have had a couple of them fail and each time it really freaks me out and makes me nervous about the drives in the Terrastation failing. The drives in the NAS are IDE drives, a standard that was introduced in 1986! Amazingly these drives are still available, but they are not the same model, may not be the same speed, and I wouldn’t trust them to work reliably.

Here comes Data Robotics and the Drobo to the rescue. The Drobo version 2 is not a NAS, it is more like an external hard drive that happens to be up to 4 physical hard drives pretending to be one big redundant drive. Instead of RAID with all of its limitations Data Robotics has come up with a system that allows any combination of Serial ATA drives to be used in the array. Speed, size, and manufacturer do not matter to the Drobo, it will run as fast as it can and provide as much storage space as it can with the combination of drives you have installed.

When a drive dies and its light on the front of the Drobo turns red, you pull out that drive and replace it with one of equal or larger size. What makes this really amazing is that you can do all of this while the Drobo is still running and actively being used. One of the anecdotes on the TWiP podcast is pulling out one of the drives while someone is in the process of editing a video, and nothing happens. The Drobo keeps running and the user is able to continue to edit the video. Amazing stuff, of course the data on the drive is not protected when that drive is missing but in contrast with a RAID solution where the device cannot be used at all with a missing drive or while the drive is being rebuilt.

Yes, the Drobo is expensive at around $400 for an empty box and $800 with 4 1TB drives install for a total of 2.7 TB of usable space. But I decided that the peace of mind is worth it to me, not having to manage a bunch of external drives, having one drive with all of my files including the Mac Time Machine backups will be great.

Coming soon, the unboxing and a full report of getting started with the Drobo.

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