November 12, 2007

Drobo: Storage a-Go-Go

"Every once in a while," enthuses my fellow Photoshop PM Bryan O’Neil Hughes, "a piece of hardware comes along that is truly a must-have; within days of using it, you suddenly wonder what you ever did without it.  I can’t imagine not having a TiVo, an iPod or a Web-enabled cell phone…and now I can add my Drobo to that list as well."  I’ve included the rest of Bryan’s review as a guest posting in this post’s extended entry. –J.

So what is this thing I’m carrying on about?  Drobo (see demo) is a small (size of a shoe box) USB 2.0 device that gives the user a place to store all of their files safely.  I know what you’re thinking: that’s called an external hard drive or a RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Drives).  The Drobo is different. Understanding that all drives eventually fail and that a RAID solves that problem, but at the cost of added complexity and price, Data Robotics has provided a solution that is simple, powerful and yet inexpensive ($499 for the box; you add the drives).

Like a lot of people, I’ve found myself with several thousand digital photos and a series of old computers – all holding precious data.  Up until recently, my back-up system consisted of a very large, single external drive.  As I’ve learned, placing all of my files in one location with no thought to fragmentation, corruption or drive failure is not a great idea.

Thanks to David Herington at Data Robotics, I’ve been enjoying my Drobo since I lifted it from the box (a very Mac-like experience) .  The Drobo houses all of the smarts to move your data between up to four drives (you provide whichever brand, size and speed of SATA drives you like), all of which are controlled by a very straightforward dashboard application.  In my case, it has been as easy as making one master folder from each of my old machines and dragging that onto the Drobo (the 3 SATAs I have installed appear as one volume on my desktop).  Drobo swaps redundant versions of my data amongst drives, all the while watching out for trouble and keeping me informed with a clear system of lights; in other words, once I drag my files onto Drobo, I get to rest easy.

Useful links:

In that we’re talking archiving here, I’m tempted to segue this into a discussion on the many merits of converting Raw files to DNG, but I’ll save that for another guest blog.

Thanks for reading, and thanks to John for having me,

Posted by John Nack at 12:04 PM on November 12, 2007


  • J. Peterson — 1:12 PM on November 12, 2007

    If only they had a network version. My desk at home doesn’t have room for another (noisy) shoe box, and other folks in the house would like to use it too.
    Until then I’ll keep backing stuff up to the attic. Besides, maintaining an aging Linux box is so…uh…”educational”.
    [For my part I continue to stew over the whole business of Time Machine not supporting wireless backup. –J.]

  • David in Australia — 2:57 PM on November 12, 2007

    And what happens when the drobo itself suffers a major flaw?
    Or gets stolen?
    The drobo in and of itself is not truly peace of mind back up.
    [Well, as Keynes said, “In the long run, we’re all dead.” –J.]
    It’s just another cog that helps.
    [Agreed. –J.]

  • Phil Brown — 6:03 PM on November 12, 2007

    It’s good to get some more info on Drobo. I looked at it a while back on release and wondered how much extra advantage there was for the price.
    Seems like a reasonable amount and a solid product. There’s always concern at a proprietery solution (ie if Drobo goes then retrieving data in a disaster may not be easy).
    The usual caveats should apply when discussing backup solutions. RAID (and for that matter Drobo) is redunancy. It may form a backup, so long as you don’t rely upon it as the sole copy of your data. A catastophic failure of the device can destroy more than 1 disk at a time and then your data is still toast (or, perhaps, available for forensic recovery at an appropriate price and delay).
    Even if it’s a backup of your workstation, if it remains onsite it’s still limited in its protective capacity.
    Ideally you want a redundant local copy (RAID or Drobo) and an identical, redundant copy offsite that is maintained regularly. This works well for me as I have a friend who has similar data storage needs and is equally tech-savy, so we both run RAID 5 setups and mirror data between the two locations (about 15 miles apart).
    Another copy will soon reside with my dad, about 120 miles away, though it will be updated less frequently.
    John – as this is version 1 of Timemachine, I’m sure we’ll see improvements through the life of Leopard and beyond. There is competition coming from the otherside of the fence, too. I can’t go into details due NDAs etc but it’s not exactly the best kept secret and I’m sure a lot of people are aware.
    With both Apple and MS offering home/home-network backup solutions, we should see the offerings continue to develop and improve which is A Good Thing.
    I’d love to see Adobe deal directly and seriously with DAM for the small operator (sole photographer, small business, etc). Version Cue is good and all, and Lightroom offers a lot, but if you check out something like IDimager that’s more the extent and ease I mean. Version Cue’s a bit OTT for a lot of the people who need DAM the most (photogs without corporate resources and without extensive technical knowledge).

  • Fred — 6:20 PM on November 12, 2007

    I love the feature that lets you move your data between up to four drives

  • hangon — 2:07 AM on November 13, 2007 is also a very good solution
    amazon S3 also but a bit expensive for long term data backup

  • Maryland Wedding Photographers — 4:44 PM on November 13, 2007

    How are you finding it only being a USB2.0 connection. I saw it at PhotoPlus and just wished is had an eSATA or Firewire800 connection. They made it sound like it’s a year or two away before it gets other interfaces.
    [I haven’t tried it myself, but maybe Bryan will chime in with his experiences. –J.]

  • Hughes — 9:36 PM on November 13, 2007

    Regarding USB 2.0 – is it as fast as Firewire 800? No, not at all. That said, if I were trying to solve the same problems as Drobo and with only one initial device, USB 2.0 would make sense (as all machines have it). I mentioned Firewire during my visit to Data Robotics, I know many others have as well.
    Personally, I haven’t been terribly hindered by the connection, but then I’m sort of in the honeymoon phase with my Drobo ;-) – Bryan
    many more thoughts here:

  • Bill — 4:50 PM on November 14, 2007

    I’ve seen a lot of talk about this box, but I really don’t see what it brings to the table in regards to new functionality. Infrant ( has done their version of this called X-RAID for awhile now, plus they are networked and do a bunch of other options (iTunes server, etc)…

  • Hughes — 8:38 PM on November 14, 2007

    The X-RAID technology in the Infrant unit loks pretty cool, and networking is of course a great feature. I’d say the big difference (looking at this: would be price and usability; I can’t emphasize enough how friendly the dashboard application is.
    I think competitive technology is great, it drives products to be their very best (that’s certainly true of software) – thanks for pointing me towards another very cool toy Bill.

  • sam — 9:31 AM on December 21, 2008

    I went to and used the code ACNCHE to get $50 off. This is an instant rebate.
    They then sent me a rebate form for an additional $50 off which I got on a visa debit card!
    The code does not expire but the rebate was only good til the end of the month. They may just do new rebates each month so call and ask but this code does no not expire. My drobo was $499 less $100!
    I used the debit card and got a 1TB drive for 29 bucks + tax!

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