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.