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It’s simply one of the most important subjects we can talk about. Backup. While photographers often think nothing of spending thousands of dollars on a lens, they’re typically tighter than the bark on a tree when it comes to spending money for backup.

While money is an issue, the other big problem has been ease-of-use. Most backup systems are hard to master or simply don’t work. Photographers often use this as an excuse not to back up their libraries.

That’s got to stop. And here to help is the Drobo, from Data Robotics.

I first saw the Drobo (the world’s first data robot) at Macworld 08. Their booth was packed with onlookers. It was hard to get a press demo. The idea is a very simple and popular one. The Drobo automatically formats and rearranges data on your hard drives. The robot part refers to the fact that the Drobo automatically moves data around so you’re safe in case of drive failure.

The Drobo ($499 retail) requires you to ad your own 3.5-inch SATA drives and your own backup software. The company does offer bundled specials if you buy direct from them that make the drives more affordable. They also feel that allowing users to pick their own backup software makes sense in a world where it would be nearly impossible to pick backup software that everyone would like.

This is NOT a RAID system but works much like a RAID device in that everything is redundant. It’s a self-healing system that leaves you certain your data is safe no matter what.

I installed four Western Digital 1TB drives in the Drobo, allowing me three terabytes of protected storage. (You can use any type of drive and any brand. You can even mix and match sizes. Your protected data will be dependent on the number and size of drives you use.)

While I am hooked to a Mac, the Drobo works on Windows machines as well. It is so simple to operate that the instruction “manual” is five lines printed on the inside of the Drobo face.

You plug in the unit, plug in your drives, plug in a USB 2.0 cable, attach to your computer and then you…

That’s it. Nothing else to do. Remember this is a data robot. It takes care of the rest. There are no drivers to install. In my case, as soon as I plugged in the drive, the Drobo Dashboard prompted me to format using HFS+ or FAT32. On a Windows machine you get prompted to format the drive. Once again there are no drivers to install. When you have formatted, the Drobo shows up on your desktop like any other drive. You can drag and drop files to and from it or use a backup program to move your data to the drive.

I immediately created a backup plan using Apple’s Backup. I also moved my Aperture Vault to Drobo and everything worked as smoothly as possible. Just to make sure, I restored both and it was simple as could be. No errors.

I decided to really push the Drobo to its limit. During a write to the drive from my Aperture Vault, I unceremoniously yanked one of the four WD drives out of the Drobo. My pal Alex Lindsay watched me do it and he said it gave him a sick feeling in his stomach. But no worries. Drobo did its thing. It simply started moving data around and in about 30 minutes all lights were green meaning Drobo was still operational. By the way, Aperture didn’t crash during this event. I was also running a Quicktime movie playing from the Drobo during this event and it never even burped.

This unit is not slow – but it’s also not a speed demon. The speed of the drives inside the unit will impact overall performance. Photographers need to know is that the Drobo is currently a USB 2.0 only device. This is, in my opinion, too slow to make the Drobo a primary drive. But for backup, as in the case of my Aperture Vault, the transfer speed is not an issue since it works in the background. Other web sites have reported that Drobo may release a firewire version in the future. I personally don’t see it as an issue, since for me, this is a backup device.

I’ve spent more than two weeks extensively testing the unit and so far, it’s performed very well. It is much quieter than I expected. Early reviewers complained the unit was too loud to use in a home environment. I completely disagree. I do note that on hot days, the fans spin up making it more noisy than usual – so you’ll want to keep the Drobo in as cool an area as possible to avoid this.

The ease of use factor is simply astonishing here (with one exception that I will explain later.)

From the plug-and-play installation to the Drobo Dashboard software that gives you a nice pie chart showing how much space is left on the Drobo, the folks at Data Robotics have gone out of their way to make this little robot user friendly.

The one problem we did have came when trying to copy more data to the Drobo than it could hold. Drobo let’s you set up e-mail alerts to make sure you know when there is a problem, but we didn’t take advantage of that and when we came into work one morning, the Drobo was at a crawl. We actually thought it had crashed. But it hadn’t. It was just waiting for us to add another drive. Only we couldn’t, because the Drobo was full.

There are warnings at 85 and 95% but we weren’t there to see them, so we ran out of room. In my opinion, DataRobotics could do a better job of letting you know what’s going on in a similar situation and they’ve been alerted to the problem. They’re working on it. Of course, it was our fault. We tried to copy too much data to the drive and we didn’t take advantage of all warning mechanisms that were available to us. Still, any backup system should try to anticipate every possible outcome, including use by a stupid user like me.

Another thing I didn’t get time to test, but which might be of interest to readers is the DroboShare. This makes the Drobo network accessible, but without the hassle of other NAS (Network Attached Storage) products.

Overall, I’d say that the Drobo is easily the best product of its class. You don’t need any special knowledge or expertise to operate it. It’s very sleek and in my opinion, very affordable. While some may think $500 is expensive for a “drive enclosure,” they’d be wrong. There’s much more to the Drobo than its enclosure. There’s a computer in there and lots of wiz-bang software working behind the scenes to keep your data safe. What’s peace-of-mind worth to you?

The ultimate test of whether or not I believe in a backup system is whether or not I use it in real life. I’ve decided to trust Drobo with my most valuable asset. Now, my entire 450,000 image photo library is backed up on Drobo. I am relying on this unit to protect my retirement and my legacy. You can bet your bottom dollar I wouldn’t do that if I didn’t think it was safe.

For more information on Drobo – visit the Data Robotics web site at: http://www.drobo.com/

NOTE: Drobo wants to sponsor TWIP. We’ve refused an offer to take affiliate money to promote them and instead asked them to pass that money on to our listeners. We have arranged – at your request – to procure special pricing for our audience on gear relevant to photography. We have such an offer from Drobo.

Go to the Dobostore and use the code TWIP to get the following special pricing…

TWIP listeners get a $50 instant rebate. There are similar deals that they are making with other shows, but ours is an INSTANT rebate, while others require you to mail something in. This only works if you use the code TWIP. This code can be used now through 6/30/08.

There are also special bundles including drives and the prices are:
Drobo plus 2 WD 1 TB green drives $749 after instant rebate
Drobo plus 4 WD 1 TB green drives $1,075 after instant rebate

Data Robotics says these special prices are good only while they have stock on hand.

Let us know if you want more of these special deals and we’ll try to negotiate them with other vendors and manufacturers.

Join the conversation! 68 Comments

  1. Scott,

    Thanks for the thorough review, with a photographer’s eye. Also, thanks to Drobo for the deal… definitely makes the deal a little harder to pass up to replace my current FW drive backup.

    If you get the opportunity to try the DroboShare add-on, I’d love to hear a follow up. I’ve heard some good things about it.

    Thanks again!

  2. @Bob M. we have played with the DroboShare and it works well. We just didn’t want to review both at once since we need a little more time with the DroboShare.

  3. I agree. The Drobo is phenomenal. I use it to backup all my photos and critical data. We liked it so much that we signed up to be a partner/reseller with Data Robotics. This device is also future proof. As your needs grow, so do the drives. Soon the 4TB drives will be out. In the future, as it goes beyond 4TB, Drobo would just need to release a firmware update and then will take advantage of even larger drives. I highly recommend this product!

  4. Oh dear….

    “Drobo plus 4 WD 1 TB green drives $1,075 after instant rebate”

    I may have to have one of *those* discussions with my significant other. Why did you do this to me, Scott??

  5. Oh dear….

    “Drobo plus 4 WD 1 TB green drives $1,075 after instant rebate”

    I may have to have one of *those* discussions with my significant other. Why did you do this to me, Scott??

  6. How does the DROBO compare with tranditional NAS devices such as the Netgear (formerly Infrant) ReadyNAS. I have a ReadyNAS NV+ and it has ‘XRAID’ which sounds like it offers similar functionality as the DROBO.

    It is network attached instead of direct which is great for some but possibly a negative for others. I’ve heard a lot of noise about the DROBO but I still don’t ‘get’ the difference from a NAS.

  7. How does the DROBO compare with tranditional NAS devices such as the Netgear (formerly Infrant) ReadyNAS. I have a ReadyNAS NV+ and it has ‘XRAID’ which sounds like it offers similar functionality as the DROBO.

    It is network attached instead of direct which is great for some but possibly a negative for others. I’ve heard a lot of noise about the DROBO but I still don’t ‘get’ the difference from a NAS.

  8. Eric, Log onto drobo.com and watch the video with Cali Lewis. In 4 minutes you’ll understand that Drobo is totally different from NAS (in a good way). I use a Drobo to store all of my photos and music. I can’t imagine going back to my ReadyNAS – and you’ll feel the same way.

  9. Eric, Log onto drobo.com and watch the video with Cali Lewis. In 4 minutes you’ll understand that Drobo is totally different from NAS (in a good way). I use a Drobo to store all of my photos and music. I can’t imagine going back to my ReadyNAS – and you’ll feel the same way.

  10. So, in order for these to work I would have to purchase additional hard-drives that fit neatly in the Drobo? My existing WDs won’t work? If that’s the case then it really does bump the price up quite a bit.

  11. The difference that I see between the Drobo and traditional NAS devices is that the Drobo makes it easier to swap out a hard drive if there is a failure due to its “intelligence”. Whereas, on most NAS arrays you can’t just plop in a 3rd party hard drive into the box, you would need to contact the OEM for replacement etc. Part of that is due to most NAS manufacturers using RAID are using proprietary firmware, etc inside the devices and on the drives.

    Which is why after my WD 1TB My Book (x2 500gb’s RAID 1) took a crap and WD wanted a couple hundred bucks for repair after its warranty ended… I said no more of that!!

  12. The difference that I see between the Drobo and traditional NAS devices is that the Drobo makes it easier to swap out a hard drive if there is a failure due to its “intelligence”. Whereas, on most NAS arrays you can’t just plop in a 3rd party hard drive into the box, you would need to contact the OEM for replacement etc. Part of that is due to most NAS manufacturers using RAID are using proprietary firmware, etc inside the devices and on the drives.

    Which is why after my WD 1TB My Book (x2 500gb’s RAID 1) took a crap and WD wanted a couple hundred bucks for repair after its warranty ended… I said no more of that!!

  13. That’s not true… the ReadyNAS NV+ can use any internal hard drive with a SATA interface. Sure, the company may recommend ones to use, but there is nothing stopping you from putting any hard drive in the device, much like Drobo.

    The only thing Drobo has on a traditional NAS device is the ability to mix drive sizes AND not have the array default to the size of the smallest drive. Other than that, I’d take my gigabit ReadyNAS NV+ any day over the Drobo (even with “DroboShare”).

  14. By the way folks, I understand not everyone will be a fan of the Drobo, but would recommend against giving too much credence to any criticism of the Drobo that comes from someone who has never used one.

  15. By the way folks, I understand not everyone will be a fan of the Drobo, but would recommend against giving too much credence to any criticism of the Drobo that comes from someone who has never used one.

  16. 1.
    What’s the difference between a Drobo and say a raid 1 configured WD My Book Studio?
    As I understand it you can just replace those disks to if the go corrupt and the other drive will copy itself on to the new one.

    2.
    Also, Scott said that with 4x1Tb you get 3Tb worth of back up? How does that work?

    3.
    If you use the drobo with just 2 drives installed are they just mirrored like raid 1 drives or what goes on inside that little R2D2 thingey?

  17. 1.
    What’s the difference between a Drobo and say a raid 1 configured WD My Book Studio?
    As I understand it you can just replace those disks to if the go corrupt and the other drive will copy itself on to the new one.

    2.
    Also, Scott said that with 4x1Tb you get 3Tb worth of back up? How does that work?

    3.
    If you use the drobo with just 2 drives installed are they just mirrored like raid 1 drives or what goes on inside that little R2D2 thingey?

  18. A caution. The Drobo is very sensitive to being disconnected often from the computer and also does not handle power interruptions well. I had two nightmare experiences with my Drobo that led me to conclude I could not trust it with my photos and as a result I sold mine on ebay. I have a laptop that I carry from home to work on a daily basis. After a couple of weeks I could no longer get the drobo to be recognized by my Macbook Pro. After repeated attempts to get the Drobo to work I was forced to reset the Drobo. After reset the Macbook Pro recognized the Drobo, but could not see any data on the drive. After calls to Drobo tech support they could not find a way to recover the data and suggested reformating the drive. A few weeks later we had a power outage while I was at work and when I came home the Drobo was once again not recognized by the Macbook Pro. At this point I gave up and sold the drive.

  19. A caution. The Drobo is very sensitive to being disconnected often from the computer and also does not handle power interruptions well. I had two nightmare experiences with my Drobo that led me to conclude I could not trust it with my photos and as a result I sold mine on ebay. I have a laptop that I carry from home to work on a daily basis. After a couple of weeks I could no longer get the drobo to be recognized by my Macbook Pro. After repeated attempts to get the Drobo to work I was forced to reset the Drobo. After reset the Macbook Pro recognized the Drobo, but could not see any data on the drive. After calls to Drobo tech support they could not find a way to recover the data and suggested reformating the drive. A few weeks later we had a power outage while I was at work and when I came home the Drobo was once again not recognized by the Macbook Pro. At this point I gave up and sold the drive.

  20. @Richard if you are going to use Drobo as intended, i.e. a backup solution, it would surely be prudent to have it, or ANY other type of drive on a UPS. As for me, we’ve suffered two complete power outages here while testing the Drobo. While I had a UPS, it was new and not properly hooked up. So we lost power to the Drobo twice. Had no trouble either time. Also, during our extensive tests, we actually pulled the USB cable out of the back of the Drobo while writing a file. No problem. We dismounted the drive improperly, no problem. We yanked drives right out of the enclosure while writing to the Drobo and playing a video at the same time, again – no problem.

    I am not doubting that you had an incident, just saying there’s no evidence to suggest that the fault wasn’t your computer, etc. Or you could have indeed had a bad Drobo. In which case, selling it on Ebay wasn’t necessarily a cool thing to do in my opinion, but hey, that’s just me.

  21. I’ve really got to agree with Scott, not running critical HW on a UPS is just as bad as not backing up. Protection halfway executed in no protection at all.

  22. I’ve really got to agree with Scott, not running critical HW on a UPS is just as bad as not backing up. Protection halfway executed in no protection at all.

  23. I’m very interested in the Drobo after getting stung by a ReadyNas Unit. Somehow the OS was corrupted on the ReadyNas and could not fixed nor upgraded. I was out of warranty and apparently out of luck. Tech support simply said I should wipe the data and start from scratch. Even though everything was protected by raid 5, if the OS stops working, you can kiss your data god bye.

    In your opinion, does the Drobo have the same weakness?

  24. I’m very interested in the Drobo after getting stung by a ReadyNas Unit. Somehow the OS was corrupted on the ReadyNas and could not fixed nor upgraded. I was out of warranty and apparently out of luck. Tech support simply said I should wipe the data and start from scratch. Even though everything was protected by raid 5, if the OS stops working, you can kiss your data god bye.

    In your opinion, does the Drobo have the same weakness?

  25. @David Katz: Of course it does, a problem in the hardware and/or software could lead to your data being irrecoverable with any device. That’s why I also use Mozy.com for my really important stuff. :)

  26. @David Katz: Of course it does, a problem in the hardware and/or software could lead to your data being irrecoverable with any device. That’s why I also use Mozy.com for my really important stuff. :)

  27. Owpuz: on the 4TB -> 3TB protected, I have the same question. Without an assumed compression ratio, it just doesn’t make sense. So, the best I can figure, Drobo is assuming a 3:1 compression scheme on the protected data.

    If this is inaccurate, I’d be interested in how they are working with it. Searches through the literature don’t seem to bring up any novel data protection schemes.

    FWIW, 3:1 is probably a good assumption for general backup data. I know a bzip of my Aperture library gives me about 5:1 or so. Presumably the Drobo is smart enough to resize the protection allocations if it turns out that it gets less compression than expected.

  28. Owpuz: on the 4TB -> 3TB protected, I have the same question. Without an assumed compression ratio, it just doesn’t make sense. So, the best I can figure, Drobo is assuming a 3:1 compression scheme on the protected data.

    If this is inaccurate, I’d be interested in how they are working with it. Searches through the literature don’t seem to bring up any novel data protection schemes.

    FWIW, 3:1 is probably a good assumption for general backup data. I know a bzip of my Aperture library gives me about 5:1 or so. Presumably the Drobo is smart enough to resize the protection allocations if it turns out that it gets less compression than expected.

  29. @Scott: I agree with your comment about the UPS and that was one of the reason I posted my comment as a caution. Guess I should have come out and said directly to be sure to use a UPS. Given the problem I had with the corruption of the Drobo file structure from repeated connect/de-connect cycles I personally didn’t feel comfortable using the Drobo. And decided that if I could not feel comfortable with it as a backup solution why was I using it? I have since gone to a setup that use two WD MyBooks and time machine. And yes I have since added a UPS. I just wanted to share my experience for those who may be thinking of using it as I tried to do so they could factor that into their decision to buy (or not) a Drobo.

  30. Guys, the Drobo isn’t compressing data nor is it assuming the data you put on there is compressed. While the Drobo claims it doesn’t use RAID, I guarantee you the concept is the same. You put four drives in the Drobo, one of those drives’ capacity is “lost” to parity, which is the data it calculates and stores alongside the real data (“alongside” in a logical sense, since all the data is likely striped across all physical disks). It’s the parity that it uses to recalculate and recover lost data when one disk goes bad.

    If you go to the web site and use the “Drobulator” sizing tool, you’ll see that no matter what combination of drives you put in, the space equivalent of the largest is always swallowed up for “protection”.

    The benefit of the Drobo is that it does all this configuration and reconfiguration on the fly, inside a black box, leaving you to deal with your data, not about it. They may not want to call it RAID, but if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck…regardless, RAID works, and I’d like to have a Drobo. Not just for backup but for primary storage.

  31. Guys, the Drobo isn’t compressing data nor is it assuming the data you put on there is compressed. While the Drobo claims it doesn’t use RAID, I guarantee you the concept is the same. You put four drives in the Drobo, one of those drives’ capacity is “lost” to parity, which is the data it calculates and stores alongside the real data (“alongside” in a logical sense, since all the data is likely striped across all physical disks). It’s the parity that it uses to recalculate and recover lost data when one disk goes bad.

    If you go to the web site and use the “Drobulator” sizing tool, you’ll see that no matter what combination of drives you put in, the space equivalent of the largest is always swallowed up for “protection”.

    The benefit of the Drobo is that it does all this configuration and reconfiguration on the fly, inside a black box, leaving you to deal with your data, not about it. They may not want to call it RAID, but if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck…regardless, RAID works, and I’d like to have a Drobo. Not just for backup but for primary storage.

  32. @Owpuz: (Drobo claims) It’s exactly a RAID. It will work with any configuration of 2 to 4 drives. In Scott’s test, he had 4TB of drive yielding 3TB of storage. The “lost” 1TB is the redundant data that it uses to recover from a drive failure. That data has to be spread across all drives and affects your “real” capacity. You can also mix drive sizes although if you put a 1TB drive in with a couple of 250GB drives, you probably won’t like the final capacity since capacity is going to be limited by the smallest drive, otherwise the loss of the large drive would compromise data.

  33. @Owpuz: (Drobo claims) It’s exactly a RAID. It will work with any configuration of 2 to 4 drives. In Scott’s test, he had 4TB of drive yielding 3TB of storage. The “lost” 1TB is the redundant data that it uses to recover from a drive failure. That data has to be spread across all drives and affects your “real” capacity. You can also mix drive sizes although if you put a 1TB drive in with a couple of 250GB drives, you probably won’t like the final capacity since capacity is going to be limited by the smallest drive, otherwise the loss of the large drive would compromise data.

  34. Folks RAID is a generic term as it has been applied here, but the technicians at Data Robotics will tell you it’s “RAID-LIKE” not RAID.

    One big difference is the Drobo is not just a drive enclosure. It’s not even a drive. It has it’s own CPU and OS.

    I’ve had multiple conversations with folks at Data Robotics including the inventor of the Drobo. Everytime – every single time – I referred to the unit as a RAID I was corrected. I can’t find anywhere on Drobo’s site that says it is in fact a RAID.

    @Wayne if you could point me to the place where Drobo says it’s a RAID I’d be grateful.

  35. While they may not want it called RAID, by its definition that is exactly what it is. They have simply taken the concept and applied newer technologies/concepts to it, just like Netgear/Infrant has done with X-RAID. Both of these systems utilize their own code to provide functionality similar to RAID 1 and RAID 5 (note that I did not say exactly the same — both companies have made their own improvements). I really have to wonder if this “we’re not using RAID” is simply a marketing department decree to try and differentiate their product.

    Via wikipedia.org:
    RAID — which stands for Redundant Array of Inexpensive Drives (as named by the inventor) or Redundant Array of Independent Disks (a name which later developed within the computing industry) — is a technology that employs the simultaneous use of two or more hard disk drives to achieve greater levels of performance, reliability, and/or larger data volume sizes.

  36. While they may not want it called RAID, by its definition that is exactly what it is. They have simply taken the concept and applied newer technologies/concepts to it, just like Netgear/Infrant has done with X-RAID. Both of these systems utilize their own code to provide functionality similar to RAID 1 and RAID 5 (note that I did not say exactly the same — both companies have made their own improvements). I really have to wonder if this “we’re not using RAID” is simply a marketing department decree to try and differentiate their product.

    Via wikipedia.org:
    RAID — which stands for Redundant Array of Inexpensive Drives (as named by the inventor) or Redundant Array of Independent Disks (a name which later developed within the computing industry) — is a technology that employs the simultaneous use of two or more hard disk drives to achieve greater levels of performance, reliability, and/or larger data volume sizes.

  37. i have a MacPro RAID card installed, with 4x500GB WDs in the factory bays of my machine for aperture masters, and 2x640GB (software RAID1) installed in the 2nd optical bay as my boot. i am now waiting for drobo v2 (FW800 or better) to buy as a archival/backup drive.

  38. i have a MacPro RAID card installed, with 4x500GB WDs in the factory bays of my machine for aperture masters, and 2x640GB (software RAID1) installed in the 2nd optical bay as my boot. i am now waiting for drobo v2 (FW800 or better) to buy as a archival/backup drive.

  39. I was glad to see Scott reviewing the Drobo. What I like about Scott is that despite his fervent love, zeal and devotion to all things Apple, he’s appears to me to be just as ready to whack them abut when they deserve to be whacked. The same for Canon. Which is why I place value in Scott’s review of Drobo and I know it won’t be a puff-piece of regurgitated marketing hype.

    I’ve been following Drobo with interest since it was first announced in early 2007. I was waiting and waiting for Drobo2 to arrive with eSata, Firewire, Ethernet and lower price. Alas it appears that is not happening anytime soon, meanwhile my pool of photo data grows and grows to the point where my current backup solutions are groaning under the weight and I’m getting sick of managing it all myself.

    Enter Drobo for another look. The price here in Australia is insane. $900 for the empty Drobo box. Just this week I noticed at least one retailer has now dropped this to $799, but given our $AUD is 0.96 against the $USD that’s just rude IMO.

    If/When I purchase Drobo it will be likely be via import from B&H where I can land it here in Australia for about AUD$550. Drobostore doesn’t appear to support sales outside USA, so no TWIP coupon for me. :-(

    Despite the high cost, scarcity of connectivity options, and did I mention the high cost, for me at least the Drobo appears to be the easiest, best solution available today. Everytime I think “It’s too expensive for what you get”… I also think… “OK so what else are you going to use….?” and I come back to Drobo.

    I have a question regarding the size of the partitions that the OS will “see”. I’ve read in other reviews that there is a 2TB limit, and that above that, Drobo appears to the OS as multiple drives ? Anyone running 4 x 1 TB HDD’s like to verify that ?

  40. I was glad to see Scott reviewing the Drobo. What I like about Scott is that despite his fervent love, zeal and devotion to all things Apple, he’s appears to me to be just as ready to whack them abut when they deserve to be whacked. The same for Canon. Which is why I place value in Scott’s review of Drobo and I know it won’t be a puff-piece of regurgitated marketing hype.

    I’ve been following Drobo with interest since it was first announced in early 2007. I was waiting and waiting for Drobo2 to arrive with eSata, Firewire, Ethernet and lower price. Alas it appears that is not happening anytime soon, meanwhile my pool of photo data grows and grows to the point where my current backup solutions are groaning under the weight and I’m getting sick of managing it all myself.

    Enter Drobo for another look. The price here in Australia is insane. $900 for the empty Drobo box. Just this week I noticed at least one retailer has now dropped this to $799, but given our $AUD is 0.96 against the $USD that’s just rude IMO.

    If/When I purchase Drobo it will be likely be via import from B&H where I can land it here in Australia for about AUD$550. Drobostore doesn’t appear to support sales outside USA, so no TWIP coupon for me. :-(

    Despite the high cost, scarcity of connectivity options, and did I mention the high cost, for me at least the Drobo appears to be the easiest, best solution available today. Everytime I think “It’s too expensive for what you get”… I also think… “OK so what else are you going to use….?” and I come back to Drobo.

    I have a question regarding the size of the partitions that the OS will “see”. I’ve read in other reviews that there is a 2TB limit, and that above that, Drobo appears to the OS as multiple drives ? Anyone running 4 x 1 TB HDD’s like to verify that ?

  41. While I’ll agree with Scott that data security is important, Drobo isn’t the only solution out there. Often I feel like Scott is loses objectivity once he’s found something he likes. He falls in love and that’s that.

    Personally I feel that anything that’s more expensive than just buying 2x the number of drives and mirroring is too expensive.

    * Drobo in the UK + 4x1TB drives (3TB storage) is about £750 – $1500.
    * 3TB Mirrored around £600 – $1200.

    Arguably, mirroring is more resilient too (If two drives fail at the same time, you can still be OK. It’s just not guaranteed).

    I’m also not keen on the fact that if it goes wrong, nobody except for Drobo understands how to get the data off the drives. If the Drobo itself dies there’s no plugging the drives into a PC to get the data off. You have to get another Drobo. I’ve seen nobody test this scenario.

    I’ve also seen no-one state how long it takes to repair when you replace a broken disk. This is time when everything is vulnerable and wants to be as short as possible.

    A few bits of misinformation that are flowing through this thread:

    * You can use whatever drives you like, as long as they are SATA.
    * It doesn’t compress your data.
    * It’s RAID (regardless of what Drobo like to say), it’s just not the same as classic RAID-5. It’s similar, and provides the same resiliency as RAID-5. Any 1 drive can fail, and it still works.
    * Capacity seems to be the total of all your drives minus the largest. This is the biggest difference from RAID-5.

    Positive points I’ve seen about the Drobo:

    * It takes care of building the storage pool, and rebuilding it when disks are replaced. Means you don’t have to be messing around with software when situations start happening. This is the biggy for a lot of people, and is the reason people love it.

    Negative points I’ve seen, although none are show stoppers:

    * Droboshare is SMB (Windows shares) only. No AFP or NFS which I find work better on Mac & Linux although both can use SMB.

    * (tiny) Drobo is limited to specific file-systems. NTFS/HFS+/FAT32 cover most of the bases, but it raises an alarm with me because I don’t understand why this limitation exists. Drobo is obviously file-system aware. A Linux file-system is the major exclusion, and I personally believe Macs will change their default file-system in the next few years.

    * USB Only. I know it shouldn’t be an issue, but sorry it niggles me.

    Good product, and probably ideal for a lot of people, but too expensive for me to live with the negatives.

  42. While I’ll agree with Scott that data security is important, Drobo isn’t the only solution out there. Often I feel like Scott is loses objectivity once he’s found something he likes. He falls in love and that’s that.

    Personally I feel that anything that’s more expensive than just buying 2x the number of drives and mirroring is too expensive.

    * Drobo in the UK + 4x1TB drives (3TB storage) is about £750 – $1500.
    * 3TB Mirrored around £600 – $1200.

    Arguably, mirroring is more resilient too (If two drives fail at the same time, you can still be OK. It’s just not guaranteed).

    I’m also not keen on the fact that if it goes wrong, nobody except for Drobo understands how to get the data off the drives. If the Drobo itself dies there’s no plugging the drives into a PC to get the data off. You have to get another Drobo. I’ve seen nobody test this scenario.

    I’ve also seen no-one state how long it takes to repair when you replace a broken disk. This is time when everything is vulnerable and wants to be as short as possible.

    A few bits of misinformation that are flowing through this thread:

    * You can use whatever drives you like, as long as they are SATA.
    * It doesn’t compress your data.
    * It’s RAID (regardless of what Drobo like to say), it’s just not the same as classic RAID-5. It’s similar, and provides the same resiliency as RAID-5. Any 1 drive can fail, and it still works.
    * Capacity seems to be the total of all your drives minus the largest. This is the biggest difference from RAID-5.

    Positive points I’ve seen about the Drobo:

    * It takes care of building the storage pool, and rebuilding it when disks are replaced. Means you don’t have to be messing around with software when situations start happening. This is the biggy for a lot of people, and is the reason people love it.

    Negative points I’ve seen, although none are show stoppers:

    * Droboshare is SMB (Windows shares) only. No AFP or NFS which I find work better on Mac & Linux although both can use SMB.

    * (tiny) Drobo is limited to specific file-systems. NTFS/HFS+/FAT32 cover most of the bases, but it raises an alarm with me because I don’t understand why this limitation exists. Drobo is obviously file-system aware. A Linux file-system is the major exclusion, and I personally believe Macs will change their default file-system in the next few years.

    * USB Only. I know it shouldn’t be an issue, but sorry it niggles me.

    Good product, and probably ideal for a lot of people, but too expensive for me to live with the negatives.

  43. I’ll try to keep this simple…..without going into the whole “what is backup topic”….but one simply can’t keep putting in larger and larger drives… HFS and NTFS have real world limitations, not to mention INODE limitations in EXT3 that are baked in at the point of initial formatting, as well as cluster size, directory limitations on number of files, directory index capabilities (B-tree or hash, etc)

    DROBO, I am sure makes using 3-4 USB drives at once – quite easy. I have mates who have done so. But the unit will not solve all the other issues that enterprise storage managers deal with repeatedly. Error rates – which are exponential with larger drives, MTBF and the main one as alluded to above, file system restrictions and file system corruption.

    The biggest issue I see (not now – but in the future) is the fact that drobo and similar consumer aimed products are still using fat provisioning and the data is living “on the disk” not within a virtual container.

    So I would suggest that in using the DROBO – or any large storage system – you need to use file systems that are “thin provisioned” and allow expansion through data volumes that can be strung together to give an abstract or logical unit. Don’t place the data direct on the storage array.

    File systems like EXT3 and XFS are needed at the OS layer and then volume management technologies like LVM as need to be wrapped around the data first – BEFORE putting them on any time of array.

    Anyway – complicated topic – just don’t go and sell yourself up the proverbial creek by seeing any one technology as the be all and end all. Interleaving and mixing of technologies will be needed. Hey, maybe DROBO will integrate them or Apple will, just like Linux and most BSD’s and NT already have. If the DROBO has it’s own CPU and OS, then we may see storage units deploying LVM or similar “thin provisioning” from within the array (like a SAN).

    So don’t go getting too excited about just plopping in 4TB drives just yet…………..but in time, yes.

    Some misconceptions above… all enterprise arrays can handle live array reconstruction and reconfiguration (Array level migration) and drives purchased only from the OEM are not always mandatory….the “RAID is bad and other storage solutions are too complicated” is a bit of an over statement.

  44. I’ll try to keep this simple…..without going into the whole “what is backup topic”….but one simply can’t keep putting in larger and larger drives… HFS and NTFS have real world limitations, not to mention INODE limitations in EXT3 that are baked in at the point of initial formatting, as well as cluster size, directory limitations on number of files, directory index capabilities (B-tree or hash, etc)

    DROBO, I am sure makes using 3-4 USB drives at once – quite easy. I have mates who have done so. But the unit will not solve all the other issues that enterprise storage managers deal with repeatedly. Error rates – which are exponential with larger drives, MTBF and the main one as alluded to above, file system restrictions and file system corruption.

    The biggest issue I see (not now – but in the future) is the fact that drobo and similar consumer aimed products are still using fat provisioning and the data is living “on the disk” not within a virtual container.

    So I would suggest that in using the DROBO – or any large storage system – you need to use file systems that are “thin provisioned” and allow expansion through data volumes that can be strung together to give an abstract or logical unit. Don’t place the data direct on the storage array.

    File systems like EXT3 and XFS are needed at the OS layer and then volume management technologies like LVM as need to be wrapped around the data first – BEFORE putting them on any time of array.

    Anyway – complicated topic – just don’t go and sell yourself up the proverbial creek by seeing any one technology as the be all and end all. Interleaving and mixing of technologies will be needed. Hey, maybe DROBO will integrate them or Apple will, just like Linux and most BSD’s and NT already have. If the DROBO has it’s own CPU and OS, then we may see storage units deploying LVM or similar “thin provisioning” from within the array (like a SAN).

    So don’t go getting too excited about just plopping in 4TB drives just yet…………..but in time, yes.

    Some misconceptions above… all enterprise arrays can handle live array reconstruction and reconfiguration (Array level migration) and drives purchased only from the OEM are not always mandatory….the “RAID is bad and other storage solutions are too complicated” is a bit of an over statement.

  45. @Paul S I have looked at 10 other reviews of Drobo and none of them covered alternate technologies. The point of a review is to review the product being discussed. And you have absolutely no basis for the statement implying I haven’t looked at anything else. I have. In fact, I’ve tried just about EVERYTHING out there.

    You’re well entitled to your opinion. You’re not however entitled to misrepresent mine.

    Thanks.

  46. @Paul S I have looked at 10 other reviews of Drobo and none of them covered alternate technologies. The point of a review is to review the product being discussed. And you have absolutely no basis for the statement implying I haven’t looked at anything else. I have. In fact, I’ve tried just about EVERYTHING out there.

    You’re well entitled to your opinion. You’re not however entitled to misrepresent mine.

    Thanks.

  47. @Paul S your hard drive prices aren’t accurate, £750 = £187.5 per drive. You can buy 1TB drives for as little as £95 now and even WD’s RE2 GP server grade drives are £133 on Dabs.

    And as for your mirroring is cheaper argument, I just can’t see how this is true.

    With 4 x 1TB drives in the Drobo you get almost 3TB of protected storage. To match this with mirroring you would need 6 x 1TB drives. Here is the maths:

    £350 (Drobo) + 4x£133 (WD RE2 GP Drives) = £882
    4x£133 (WD RE2 GP Drives) = £798 + 6x£15 (hard drive enclosures) = £888

    And these are with conservative numbers, I think the gap could be wider.

    Even if you can get the prices to match you now have to manage 6 drives!

    So if you want to get access to all the data at once you have to plug in 3 drives as apposed to one Drobo and if you made changed to each drive you have to manually sync each drive with its partner. This would take a lot of time and management and also use up a lot of USB ports.

    With the Drobo it is one USB and fully automatic data protection. To me it appears to be a non-contest. This is why I am considering buying a Drobo, thanks for the mini review Scott.

    @Scott what are the exact drives you are using in your Drobo?

  48. @Simon I am using the WD 1TB 7200 RPM Green Drives.

  49. @Simon I am using the WD 1TB 7200 RPM Green Drives.

  50. Someone asked what would happen if a Drobo failed, how can you get your data back.

    A comment on the official Drobo forums, which quoted a Drobo rep, said that if you turn off the broken Drobo take the drives out and put them into a new Drobo (when it is off) then switch the new Drobo on. You should get access to your data.

    This is a valid concern. With the Drobo you are protected against a drive failure but are you protected against a Drobo failure? As if the Drobo goes your data is lost and drive redundancy is irrelevant. What is needed is redundancy of the whole data storage system, i.e. you also need Drobo redundancy.

    As Drobo uses a proprietary data storage system, if it fails then you loose your data, you can’t just plug the drives into a SATA connection and read the drives, you would have to do something like I described above, which you would hope would work.

    As far as I am aware this might be the case with RAID as well? Although it is more of a standard you never know when a proprietary system is being used as thus your data is dependent on that device.

    This is something to consider especially if you store data on the Drobo that is only on the Drobo. It would be wise to store it on another device or data storage system as well. Either a primary drive or in the cloud.

  51. Someone asked what would happen if a Drobo failed, how can you get your data back.

    A comment on the official Drobo forums, which quoted a Drobo rep, said that if you turn off the broken Drobo take the drives out and put them into a new Drobo (when it is off) then switch the new Drobo on. You should get access to your data.

    This is a valid concern. With the Drobo you are protected against a drive failure but are you protected against a Drobo failure? As if the Drobo goes your data is lost and drive redundancy is irrelevant. What is needed is redundancy of the whole data storage system, i.e. you also need Drobo redundancy.

    As Drobo uses a proprietary data storage system, if it fails then you loose your data, you can’t just plug the drives into a SATA connection and read the drives, you would have to do something like I described above, which you would hope would work.

    As far as I am aware this might be the case with RAID as well? Although it is more of a standard you never know when a proprietary system is being used as thus your data is dependent on that device.

    This is something to consider especially if you store data on the Drobo that is only on the Drobo. It would be wise to store it on another device or data storage system as well. Either a primary drive or in the cloud.

  52. @Scott Are those the desktop consumer version the “Caviar” or the server version “RE2″?

    I don’t think you are right when you say they are 7200 RPM.

    All WD Green Drives appear to be 5400 RPM, see the following page:

    http://www.silentpcreview.com/article786-page2.html

    As a result of the slower spindle speed and some clever laptop technology the drives produce less heat, less noise and consume slightly less power. In fact in the review above they rate the green drives as some of the quietest in the industry today, important as the Drobo will take 4.

    The green drives also have good levels of performance even with the slower spindle speeds:
    http://techreport.com/articles.x/13578

    I think this is useful information for people thinking about buying a Drobo. During my research I have found many people complaining about hot a noisy Drobo’s, this could well be as a result of using power inefficient 7200 RPM drives that generate a lot of heat and vibration.

    With the slower speed of USB too, it would seam unnecessary to put high performance drives in the Drobo and instead going for cooler green drives a better option. You have said your experience has been good so far and many other people in forums using WD green drives have had positive things to say as well.

  53. @Scott Are those the desktop consumer version the “Caviar” or the server version “RE2″?

    I don’t think you are right when you say they are 7200 RPM.

    All WD Green Drives appear to be 5400 RPM, see the following page:

    http://www.silentpcreview.com/article786-page2.html

    As a result of the slower spindle speed and some clever laptop technology the drives produce less heat, less noise and consume slightly less power. In fact in the review above they rate the green drives as some of the quietest in the industry today, important as the Drobo will take 4.

    The green drives also have good levels of performance even with the slower spindle speeds:
    http://techreport.com/articles.x/13578

    I think this is useful information for people thinking about buying a Drobo. During my research I have found many people complaining about hot a noisy Drobo’s, this could well be as a result of using power inefficient 7200 RPM drives that generate a lot of heat and vibration.

    With the slower speed of USB too, it would seam unnecessary to put high performance drives in the Drobo and instead going for cooler green drives a better option. You have said your experience has been good so far and many other people in forums using WD green drives have had positive things to say as well.

  54. Attention any Canadians Looking for a DROBO (this week only) NCIX out in BC has an incredible deal on a DROBO with 2 1TB Seagate drives for about $700… I’d buy one if I didn’t just buy a new flash and lensbaby…

    http://www.ncix.com/products/index.php?sku=30445&promoid=1019

  55. I received this response to everyone’s comments from Data Robotics. I post it unedited here.

    Scott,

    Thanks for passing on the comments about Drobo from your TWIP blog. Here is more information on what Drobo based on your readers’ comments.

    Drobo is a virtual storage array. It uses technology that is called “thin provisioning” in enterprise class storage systems. To your computer Drobo looks like a large disk drive that can be formatted up to 16TB in size for OS X and Vista. When your computer formats Drobo with a file system it thinks its a 16TB volume. Drobo is expandable by letting the user add more drives or replace a smaller drive with a larger one.

    Drobo has an embedded processor which runs a sophisticated set of storage management programs. Their goal is to operate autonomously and free the user of having to make decisions and take actions to keep the system running. This is why we call Drobo a “storage robot”. The International Federation of Robotics has a classification called “service robot” for a device that operates autonomously and which maintains equipment. This is what Drobo does.

    Drobo pools together the disk drives inserted into it. As data is written, Drobo writes it redundantly to the drives. It uses either mirroring or striping with parity algorithms to protect your data against a single drive failure. These mathematical algorithms are common with RAID based systems. Drobo goes beyond RAID. Drobo is unique in its ability to select the best one to use based on how many drives are in it, their relative sizes, and how much data is in Drobo. If Drobo has two drives, it always uses mirroring. If there are there or four drives it will mirroring, or striping with parity, or simultaneously use both techniques if the drives have different sizes.

    Drobo is Data Aware. One user benefit from this is that Drobo knows when it is getting full. At 85% utilization it turns on a yellow light as a recommendation to the user to add another drive, or replace the smallest drive with a larger one – the ligth is next to the drive bay where the drive should go. If the Drobo Dashboard it used, then it also provides alert messages on the desktop, or, optionally, email alerts that it is time to add a drive. At 95% utilization, Drobo uses the same methods to alert the user that (s)he must add a drive. Another user benefit comes when bad luck strikes and a drive failure occurs. Drobo knows how much data was on the failed disk and only copies that. RAID systems blindly rebuild the entire disk copying everything whether it was 1% full or 99% full. Usually Drobo’s rebuild times are faster than RAID; in the worst case they are the same.

    Drobo lets you use any 3.5″ SATA hard drive from any vendor, or any capacity. You can use drives with different rotational speeds, or even some drives with SATA 1 (aka SATA150) or SATA II (aka SATA300) interfaces.

    Drobo is Data Robotics first product. It embodies our intellectual property that is a replacement for RAID. It offers the protection that RAID does without any of it limitations. For example: adding drives to add capacity, using drives of mixed sizes, or the ability to simply add drives to increase storage capacity, or replace a small drive with a larger one. In most cases,

    Many people immediately assume USB connected drives are for backup only. Two-thirds, 66%, of Drobo owners use it for a combination of primary storage — that is the only place where their data is stored — and to backup other computers on their network; 15% use Drobo exclusively for primary storage; and the rest use it exclusively for backup.

    Sincerely,
    Mark Fuccio
    Sr. Dir., Products & Markets
    Data Robotics Inc.

  56. I received this response to everyone’s comments from Data Robotics. I post it unedited here.

    Scott,

    Thanks for passing on the comments about Drobo from your TWIP blog. Here is more information on what Drobo based on your readers’ comments.

    Drobo is a virtual storage array. It uses technology that is called “thin provisioning” in enterprise class storage systems. To your computer Drobo looks like a large disk drive that can be formatted up to 16TB in size for OS X and Vista. When your computer formats Drobo with a file system it thinks its a 16TB volume. Drobo is expandable by letting the user add more drives or replace a smaller drive with a larger one.

    Drobo has an embedded processor which runs a sophisticated set of storage management programs. Their goal is to operate autonomously and free the user of having to make decisions and take actions to keep the system running. This is why we call Drobo a “storage robot”. The International Federation of Robotics has a classification called “service robot” for a device that operates autonomously and which maintains equipment. This is what Drobo does.

    Drobo pools together the disk drives inserted into it. As data is written, Drobo writes it redundantly to the drives. It uses either mirroring or striping with parity algorithms to protect your data against a single drive failure. These mathematical algorithms are common with RAID based systems. Drobo goes beyond RAID. Drobo is unique in its ability to select the best one to use based on how many drives are in it, their relative sizes, and how much data is in Drobo. If Drobo has two drives, it always uses mirroring. If there are there or four drives it will mirroring, or striping with parity, or simultaneously use both techniques if the drives have different sizes.

    Drobo is Data Aware. One user benefit from this is that Drobo knows when it is getting full. At 85% utilization it turns on a yellow light as a recommendation to the user to add another drive, or replace the smallest drive with a larger one – the ligth is next to the drive bay where the drive should go. If the Drobo Dashboard it used, then it also provides alert messages on the desktop, or, optionally, email alerts that it is time to add a drive. At 95% utilization, Drobo uses the same methods to alert the user that (s)he must add a drive. Another user benefit comes when bad luck strikes and a drive failure occurs. Drobo knows how much data was on the failed disk and only copies that. RAID systems blindly rebuild the entire disk copying everything whether it was 1% full or 99% full. Usually Drobo’s rebuild times are faster than RAID; in the worst case they are the same.

    Drobo lets you use any 3.5″ SATA hard drive from any vendor, or any capacity. You can use drives with different rotational speeds, or even some drives with SATA 1 (aka SATA150) or SATA II (aka SATA300) interfaces.

    Drobo is Data Robotics first product. It embodies our intellectual property that is a replacement for RAID. It offers the protection that RAID does without any of it limitations. For example: adding drives to add capacity, using drives of mixed sizes, or the ability to simply add drives to increase storage capacity, or replace a small drive with a larger one. In most cases,

    Many people immediately assume USB connected drives are for backup only. Two-thirds, 66%, of Drobo owners use it for a combination of primary storage — that is the only place where their data is stored — and to backup other computers on their network; 15% use Drobo exclusively for primary storage; and the rest use it exclusively for backup.

    Sincerely,
    Mark Fuccio
    Sr. Dir., Products & Markets
    Data Robotics Inc.

  57. Wow, just received my new Drobo with 2 x 1TB Seagate drives -I must say that I am a little disappointed. Firstly, the noise is much worse than I expected. Ok, it’s not incredibly load but after switching to my Macbook a few years ago and getting rid of my noisy PC I got quite used to enjoying total silence when working on a computer. With Drobo, it’s the bad old days back again unfortunately when the fan and hard drives are running; it seems to make an increasing ‘humming’ sound that only stops when you slightly move the Drobo but the noise comes back again after a few seconds. Not nice.

    The other problem I found was the inability to use the provided software (Drobo Dashboard) when the Drobo was set up with Airport Extreme. I can’t see how full my Drobo is through airport which is annoying.

    I’m disappointed because I spent quite a bit of money on the Drobo bundle and it fell quite short of my expectations. I am writing this now sitting 20 feet away from Drobo which is tucked behind a large desk and the humming noise is really irritating. I want to make a big soundproof box to keep it all in but wouldn’t it have been better for Data Robotics to have made it quiet in the first place?

    So for me it’s a great back-up solution but at a noisy price.

  58. @James I think your decision to purchase the Seagate drives contributed to your noise problems. I use the Western Digital Green drives and they aren’t any louder than any other drive array I use. Also, if you’re having problems with Airport Extreme and Dashboard, it could be something you could correct by contacting Drobo or Apple.

    My own experience is quite different from yours.

  59. @James I think your decision to purchase the Seagate drives contributed to your noise problems. I use the Western Digital Green drives and they aren’t any louder than any other drive array I use. Also, if you’re having problems with Airport Extreme and Dashboard, it could be something you could correct by contacting Drobo or Apple.

    My own experience is quite different from yours.

  60. Thanks for this review. I’m close to buying, and started thinking about just doing a mirror without Drobo. Like some other comments made here I’m a little worried about total-Drobo-failure. But I don’t plan on keeping anything critical exclusively on the Drobo, so it shouldn’t be a big issue for me.
    Hopefully consumers buying a device like Drobo understand the points made about it not being a substitute for a backup plan.
    Ayway – thanks again.

  61. Thanks for this review. I’m close to buying, and started thinking about just doing a mirror without Drobo. Like some other comments made here I’m a little worried about total-Drobo-failure. But I don’t plan on keeping anything critical exclusively on the Drobo, so it shouldn’t be a big issue for me.
    Hopefully consumers buying a device like Drobo understand the points made about it not being a substitute for a backup plan.
    Ayway – thanks again.

  62. Just wondering – what happens if the DROBO fails ? Could you lose all of your data? Wouldn’t 2 Drobo’s be the best / very expensive solution?

  63. Just wondering – what happens if the DROBO fails ? Could you lose all of your data? Wouldn’t 2 Drobo’s be the best / very expensive solution?

  64. @Stewart it’s always a good idea to have more than one backup solution no matter what brand of hard drive or storage device you use. I use multiple Drobos. This post isn’t intended to be a white paper on backup strategy, just a review of this product.

  65. @Stewart it’s always a good idea to have more than one backup solution no matter what brand of hard drive or storage device you use. I use multiple Drobos. This post isn’t intended to be a white paper on backup strategy, just a review of this product.

  66. I have a Droboshare/Drobo on my network, connected to Time capsule on a gigabit ethernet. Drobo is slow – unacceptably so – when it comes to handling my iPhoto library. OS X reckons it will take over three days to copy my library to the Drobo. And when using the Drobo with a small test library over the network, it was again too slow providing the data to iPhoto. Just about any other file moves quickly, no problems.

  67. I have a Droboshare/Drobo on my network, connected to Time capsule on a gigabit ethernet. Drobo is slow – unacceptably so – when it comes to handling my iPhoto library. OS X reckons it will take over three days to copy my library to the Drobo. And when using the Drobo with a small test library over the network, it was again too slow providing the data to iPhoto. Just about any other file moves quickly, no problems.

  68. Phil try it without Time Capsule.

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