Photographers buy hard drives in external enclosures to keep up with the data they create with digital cameras and post-production software. When one fills up, another drive along with an enclosure is purchased. Before too long, there are several individual drives on the desk, each in its own enclosure. There has to be a more efficient way. Thanks to Drobo there is. Before I explain, there’s some background info.

Drobo or JBOD?

JBOD is an acronym for Just A Bunch of Discs. This is where all photographers, myself included, start. It makes sense. I certainly didn’t think I’d have a gaggle of disc drives holding all my photography. It just happened. One drive started getting full so I’d order a drive and an enclosure and keep working. It didn’t take long until I had a whole desk full of boxes hooked up to more little boxes to power the larger one connected by a spaghetti bowl of black cords. I looked at the cost of using JBOD. A reliable single drive enclosure with a fast connection to the computer today costs around $80.00 from OWC. The lead photo shows 4 of my last generation OWC drive enclosures that cost about that amount. A four-bay Drobo costs $300.00. 4 drive enclosures cost $320.00. JBOD offers no data protection. Drobo’s Beyond RAID provides protection even on a single drive. Let’s take a look at what a RAID is.

RAID is storage, not bug spray


RAID is an acronym for Redundant Array of Inexpensive Drives. Typically each of the four or more drive bays must be filled with identical hard drives in size, speed, manufacturer and model number in order to work. This means you have to buy at least one extra drive as a backup against one of the working drive going bad in the RAID. Believe me, buying five 6 terabyte drives is really pricey. Wouldn’t it be great if a RAID enclosure would work with a single drive to start with?

Drobo drive configurations

Drobos come in three configurations: 4-bay, 5-bay, and 8-Bay. Any Drobo can work with just a single disc drive and still offer some protection. Let’s look at a 4-bay Drobo and how it works starting with a single drive.

_1 DriveSingle Drive

A Drobo loaded with only one hard drive will mirror the data on that drive. A 4-terabyte drive would have 2-terabytes of data in two places on that single drive. The provides protection should part of the drive become corrupt. While it’s not perfect protection, it is certainly better than a drive in a non-Drobo enclosure that offers no protection at all.

_2 driveTwo Drives

Add another 4-terabyte drive to the Drobo. This doubles the available storage space from 2 terabytes with a single drive to 4 terabytes. Drobo automatically remaps the single drive to include the new addition. In the two drive configuration, each drive has a duplicate of the other. This adds a new level of protection. Now if one of the drives fails completely, all of the data still exists on the other drive. When a drive fails, Drobo turns the green indicator light next to the failed or failing drive to red.

_3 driveThree Drives

Add one more 4-terabyte drive to the Drobo enclosure. Protected storage doubles again from a total of 4 terabytes to 8 terabytes. When the third drive is added, Drobo becomes a full RAID 5 style storage device. If one drive fails, the two remaining drives can rebuild the failed drive’s replacement.

_4 DriveFour Drives

Filling the last bay with another 4-terabyte drive increases the capacity of Drobo to 12 terabytes. As with the 3 drive configuration, 4 drives share the 12 terabytes of capacity among themselves. Once again, should any of the four fail, a red light will light indicating the bad drive. With Drobo running, simply pull the bad drive out, and replace it with another 4-terabyte drive or one of larger capacity.

 The bottom line

Protecting digital photographs with a 4-bay Drobo doesn’t cost more than a desk full of individual drives in enclosures. There’s a big advantage in the data protection offered by Drobo’s trademarked Beyond RAID technology. I’ve outlined the basics of how the 4-bay Drobo works as opposed to JBOD. There’s a lot more to the Drobo story. What I know is that I have been using Drobos since the second generation of the 4-bay model. I chose not to buy the first generation because is only had USB 2.0 connections. The second gen was firewire. The third gen is USB 3.0. I have never lost data. I have never had a Drobo fail. Currently, I have two second gen 4-bay units, two 5-bay Thunderbolt units, and two 8-bay models. One connects with iSCSI and the other is a Network Attached Storage version. I’ll be sharing more about Drobo in future posts. I welcome comments and questions on the storage solutions you are using.