I am no longer using Drobos in my workflow. I’ll address the Drobo situation in a moment. First I want to talk about my new system. It’s one that I am feeling pretty good about.
I have switched to the wiebeTECH system. It’s a standard RAID box that holds drives just like a Drobo does. The big difference is that it’s pure RAID – no proprietary software required. It’s easy to set up and use and offers rock solid protection for my images. As far as reputation goes, not many photographers have heard of weibeTECH. They are big in the military and law enforcement world. Their boxes are industrial strength and that makes me feel just a bit safer.
Here’s my new workflow. My working Aperture Libraries – i.e., the stuff I am working on lately, sits on wiebeTECH RTX400-QR. (Retail price $899 – street will be slightly lower.) (My legacy files are stored on multiple SATA drives and backed up onto DVDs and tape.)
The RTX400 is my new main hub. This 4-Bay tray-free RTX has the right mix of easy connection options (USB, FW 400/800 and eSATA), performance and portability. It is a good introduction into having a large working volume with RAID protection. I am using Hitachi’s Hitachi Ultrastar A7K2000 2TB hard drives configured RAID 5 and this yields a volume size almost 6TB. If a drive fails I merely pull the bad drive and insert a replacement, the RAID rebuilds fast and automatically. Much faster than a Drobo. (NOTE the Hitachi “Ultrastar A7K2000” are enterprise-level drives. You can probably get away with using cheaper drives. Hitachi’s Deskstar 7K2000 will probably suit most people. I am no longer using the Western Digital Green drives because in a true RAID device, they seem to have trouble reporting that they have falsely spun down. I never had any problems with them in the Drobos.
My backup/archive solution is the wiebeTECH Model RTX220-QR. (Retail price $499 – street will be slightly lower.)
It has an onboard RAID controller supporting RAID 0 and RAID 1 and connects via USB, FireWire 400/800 and eSATA.
I operate this box configured RAID 1, which according to wiebeTECH is the most popular configuration and is commonly known as the mirror. This is because it creates two identical copies of the two hard drives used.
When the drives fill up, I remove/label and place into an anti-static case (Case-DB http://www.wiebetech.com/products/cases.php). Then I store a copy onsite and another copy offsite. This tray-free philosophy is especially cost effective for photographers since they no longer need to buy enclosure after enclosure (as I did with Drobo) but merely buy bare drives when needed. I rotate these drives every 24-48 hours depending on how many shoots I have scheduled during the week.
When I want to spin up one of the back up drives and copy data from it, I insert it into a single-bay wiebeTECH RTX-100. (Retail price $225 – street will be slightly lower.) It connects to my Mac just like any other drive and shows up on the desktop ready to work.
In a word the wiebeTECH stuff is FAST – and I do mean fast. The read/write times, when connected via Firewire 800 are noticeably faster (in real world tests) than the Drobo. Where you really see a difference is in rebuild time. I find the wiebeTECH RTX220-QR rebuilds itself after a data loss or new hard drive insertion in roughly 33% less time than it takes a Drobo. In one test it was half the time. This makes a big difference in my personal workflow.
The drive boxes are built to US Department of Defense specs and tough as nails. The word industrial comes to mind. In some cases, they are lockable – which is great if you’re trying to keep the interns from doing severe damage to your data.
The wiebeTECH products all come very well packed with full documentation, cables, etc. After a month of testing I can tell you I am hooked. We recently tested products from several manufacturers. This is the one I decided to keep and put on my own desk.
In closing I’ll detail a little more about the switch. I started using Drobos when they launched. At that time, I had little experience with RAID and the notion of a no-hassle, plug and play piece of gear appealed to me. But since then, the newer Drobos have reported more issues as the company moves away from the simpler boxes they sold near launch. I also became concerned about customer service and support issues. My four weeks with wiebeTECH has shown me the difference in support. Theirs is amazing. I also prefer the non-proprietary aspect of the wiebeTECH boxes. If the Drobo stuff fails, you have to find another Drobo box to make the data work. If one of the wiebeTECH boxes fails, I can drop the drives into ANY RAID compatible enclosure and get to my data.
There’s nothing wrong with using Drobos. The older ones are better in my opinion than the newer ones, especially if all you need is mass data storage. They are super easy to set up and use and for the general photographer will work fine. In my case, I have mission-critical data – i.e., my image library which is essentially my 401k to worry about. I feel better in that case using the wiebeTECH.
P.S. No matter what system you use, if your images aren’t backed up in at least two locations, stop what you are doing and take care of that. A friend of mine just lost his 100,000 image library to a fire. Don’t let that happen to you.