The more I get to know other photographers in the industry, the more I realize that we all have our own ideas on backups. From simple to complicated and everything in between, we’re often left scratching our heads to try and figure out what works best in our own workflows.

Having been raised in a house of a programmer, I always knew the importance of backups (though still had to learn the hard way during finals week in college), but what worked for my dad didn’t exactly lend itself to photography and the huge storage demands our industry faces, so I pieced together a plan.

My Standard Workflow

time-machine-supportLet me explain my current workflow

  • Step 1: Being on Mac, I utilize Time Machine to a dedicated external HD as my first line of defense. This automatically backs the data (and my primary files) up to the targeted drive.
  • Step 2: Then, I’d store my Aperture Projects (now turning into my Lightroom Catalogs) on an external drive and clone that drive to a separate drive at the end of every day of work.
  • Step 3: Once my final JPEGs were exported, I picked a proofing gallery service that offers ample storage space online to double as not only my online marketplace for clients, but an offsite backup of those ever so critical image files.

Why I Still Stressed Out

So all in all, the plan works. But I’ve always wanted something better. Particularly in regard to the external drives I use for my Aperture Projects & Lightroom Catalogs.

Over the years I’ve gathered clunky drive after drive. Storage space has become an issue. I’ve needed something with bigger capacity. Also, always remembering to clone the drive sometimes proved problematic and I’d be left panicking if I had actually backed it up or not.

Then there’s the factor of what if it fails at the end of a day after doing 9 hours of work? Or after a few days of work that I’ve forgotten to clone? I’d be up a creek. Time is so precious, and the thought of even wasting a day to an error that small (but that big!) always was in the back of my mind.

Why I Switched to a Storage RAID


I’ve know that RAID arrays were efficient ways of storing data. Having data written across multiple drives allowed the information to be accessed quickly. More importantly, if one drive failed, all was not lost.

Through the magical powers of technology, you could simply replace the failed drive and things rewrite and voila! No sweat solution!

Despite knowing this, I’ve always been intimidated by them. It sounds silly, I know. As a former Mac Genius for Apple, I even have had “official” training (though I don’t remember much close to 10 years later). I still just never quite grasped the ins and outs in a way that became second nature. Which is the exact reason why products like Drobo are so exciting.

Drobo promises to take the complexity out of setting up and managing RAID arrays. Their product are essentially cages for stacks of hard drives and the BeyondRaid software that makes management much more transparent. Each product has a different intended market and capacity of drives and their website makes it pretty easy to get the information you need to make an informed decision. They even have a handy dandy capacity calculator to help you figure out how much storage you need. It seems like the perfect thing.

My New Workflow

Ultimately, I chose to go with the base Drobo model. I thought about the Drobo Mini which would be convenient for working on the road, however, I prefer editing on my desktop to my laptop so I wouldn’t be maximizing the Drobo Mini’s potential.

My other realistic options were the Drobo 5D, which was awesome. I loved the advantage of the Thunderbolt connectivity and the ability to have 5 drive bays instead of 4, but the price point before hard drives was just shy of double that of the Drobo, and being new to the product line, I decided not to jump into the deep end (just yet).

So the Drobo model wins! Here’s the key features I like.

  • I can have up to four, 6 TB drives (24 TB total) installed.
  • The unit is rated to handle up to 32TB as drive capacity increases.
  • You can mix and match different capacities, so you can expand 1 drive at a time in the future.
  • You can choose dual disk redundancy (so even if two drives fail, your data is safe)
  • The Drobo has a USB 3.0 interface for fairly speedy data accessing
  • Drobo full supports Time Machine if you’re on a Mac.

To get started. I ordered it along with four, three TB drives (that I got on Black Friday Special, woo hoo!) to fill the capacity of the bays, but still allow for me to swap a larger, 4TB or 6TB drive in if necessary. Buying the 3TB drives are cheaper right now as people pay a premium for the higher capacity 4or 6TB drives

Setting it Up

When it arrived, I was super excited. They promise a simple and easy setup and I was anxious to find out how much this held true.

  • Step 1: Unboxing. Out of the box, Drobo is impressive looking, but not nearly as chunky as I thought it’d be.
  • Step 2: Install Drobo Dashboard. All over the materials it comes with it insists you check your Quick Start guide & install the Drobo Dashboard BEFORE doing anything. I found everything I needed quickly and easily on the Drobo support site (major props to them for having really well organized help!). I’m running OSX Yosemite (10.10.1) and I for whatever reason, the first time I downloaded and installed the Drobo Dashboard 2.6.3 for Mac, something didn’t go right and it wouldn’t work. A quick uninstall then reinstall fixed whatever the issue was.
  • Step3: Plug It In. I easily found a spot for it to live and the 6 foot power and USB cable were ample to get to my machine.
  • Step 4: Insert Drives. Push the hard drives in (they load like a toaster) and then power it on.

My Impressions

Once the dashboard was installed I just followed along on the Getting Started Guide, which was well written an offered the perfect amount of “hand holding” with great step by step instructions with accurate screen shots of what to expect.

Everything went smoothly, although slower than I expected. The first time my Drobo was supposed to mount took several minutes (around 4 minutes). So much that I was starting to look up knowledge base articles on what to do if your drives don’t mount. But eventually they appeared and I was able to go through the menus, name my Drobo, and choose how I wanted it to be set up.

Turns out the initial formatting with the high capacity drives takes a few minutes. This is a one-time thing and subsequent boot-ups are short and the drive is mounted when I startup my computer.

I mentioned the dual disk redundancy before, but I feel like that was the most important step for me in the set up process. Dual Disk Redundancy protects against not just one, but two simultaneous drive failures.

Logically, this seems unlikely, but I’m of the camp that when it rains, it pours, so I’d rather be safe than sorry! That’s the whole point of getting the Drobo anyway; to be safe, not sorry! It does end up giving me less storage capacity, (I have around 5.5TB of free space despite putting in a total of 12TB) but I’m alright with that. Considering I’ve been filling up around 2TB/year, I’m hoping these sets of drives will last me at least two years before I swap them out for new ones. By default, Drobo turns OFF the redundancy, but I easily found the Drobo Settings menu where it can be turned on with a click of a check box. Once I did that it took about 10 minutes to reformat the drives how it needed to before it was read to rock and roll.

Drobo panel

Then that was it! Everything was set up (including my uninstall/reinstall) in about 20 minutes. Given how foreign it all was to me, I consider that a success and fairly true to Drobo’s word of being painless. The next step is migrating data over to it. My plan is to utilize the Drobo in place of my endless pile of redundant hard drives for the storage of all my Lightroom Catalogs. I’ll be sure to check back in to let you know how it all is going in a few weeks! Let the transferring begin!

Lisa is a D.C. area based wedding & boudoir photographer with her company Lovesome Photography. Check out her !