Drobo First Impressions

I purchased a Drobo from Newegg.com and three days later the UPS man dropped it off at my door. My previous post to the blog outlines the reasons why I chose the Drobo as a storage solution.

Setup was very easy, the top of the box full of cables shows the three steps to getting started and it really is that easy.

  1. I took the Drobo out of the box
  2. Removed the packaging material
  3. Inserted 4 Samsung 1TB hard drives
  4. Put the Drobo on my desk
  5. Plugged in the Firewire 800 cable
  6. Inserted the Drobo disc and installed the Drobo Dashboard
  7. Plugged in the power cable to the Drobo
  8. Here began my only snag, the Drobo appeared to go into a loop of restarting which it did not recover from. So unplugged the Firewire cable and then the power cable and restarted the computer. Once the computer cam back up I plugged in the Firewire cable and then the power cable and the Drobo jumped to life.
  9. The computer warned about the drive being unreadable and the Drobo began the process of walking me through partitioning and formatting the drive.
  10. I used a 16TB partition and HFS+ formatting. It was done in about 5 minutes and popped up on my desktop just like any external hard drive would.
  11. I immediately began copying my music library to the Drobo from an external USB drive

This really is an amazing device; I was able to start using it within 15 minutes of opening the box. It is almost invincible on my desk; its sleek black case and solid construction give me confidence. Not having to install rails on the individual drives is also a plus.

I have been using the Drobo for just over a week now and have copied just over a terabyte of data to the device now and am using it as my main photo and iTunes libraries.

Performance has not been an issue; the drive is plenty fast for audio, video, and working on 15 megapixel images in Photoshop and Lightroom.

Noise could be an issue for some users but not for me, my previous computer had 6 fans and sounded like a jet when fully overclocked, so the fan and drive noise from the Drobo is tame in comparison. I can hear the fan noise and I can hear each of the drives unpark, spin-up and park but it doesn’t bother me and can barely be heard over any game or music I am playing.

The lights on the front of the devise are not blindingly bright like the D-Link router and are actually dimmer than the lights on the Linksys router but are visible from a wide range of viewing angles.

So far I give the Drobo a 5 out of 5 across the board.

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.