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Fixing Three Common Workflow Problems with the Drobo 5N

Well… It’s a pretty exciting day here at SharkPixel and Washington DC Headshots. I am finally upgrading my storage “situation” thanks to the amazing people over at Drobo. John Harrington once told me, there are two types of photographers in this world; people who have had a drive fail and people that will. So when I was asked to review the set-up process as a person who was completely unfamiliar with any of Drobo’s products previously in exchange for a Drobo 5N unit, I jumped at the opportunity.

In this article, you’ll see how the Drobo 5N will prove to be an amazing solution for three of my most frustrating workflow problems.

The Drobo 5N (the N is for network) is a storage device that connects directly to the internet router in your home or office and stores all of your image files. You are able to access the image files on the device from any computer on your home internet network (or from any internet connected computer, anywhere in the world. Keep reading for more on this). You connect to the Drobo device just as you would connect to another computer on your same internet network.

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Problem 1: I think if anyone here were to peek into my office before and see what I used to do for image storage, they’d fall over in their chair. I have archives for all the different categories of work I do; headshot archives, retouching archives, photo archives, and wedding archives. I would say I probably have 20 all together. And on top of that, I have a back up mirrored archive for each of those 20 drives. So that’s about 40 hard drives that I had floating around my office. My assistant and I used to have two “Medusas’ heads” of travel hard drives, all tangled and crisscrossed into USB hubs behind our work stations. It was far from a pretty site…

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I say this only half joking – As you see in the above photos; this is no way to live! As you would expect, without fail, the following banter would transpire anywhere from three to five times daily:

Assistant: Hey, do you have Headshots Drive XX?

Me: Nope, I don’t see it mounted on my computer, did you check your drawer of hard drives?

Assistant: Yep, it’s not there.

Me: Ok, let me check – whoops, found it. It was behind my computer, but not plugged in. Here you go…

Does this sound familiar to anyone? Well, you can see how this might become frustrating after it happens repeatedly. It was like we were stuck in the movie Groundhog Day! Now, since implementing the Drobo 5N, all images from ALL of my old hard drives are in one central location that my assistant and I can easily access and we never again will have to go on that dreaded ‘hard drive hunt.’

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Problem 2: Since I have all of my images on hard drive archives, it was a bit hard for me to try and access images from out of the house. My solution was to sign up for Teamviewer, a program that allows you to remotely access a computer by using a log-in and password. But this had it’s limitations too – the password changed every time the computer restarted, so I had to make sure I took a photo of the new password before I left for travel. Additionally, I only had access to the images that were on the drives that were currently plugged into the computer, not all the other unplugged drives. So if a drive with a specific image was unplugged, I was out of luck.

Now that I’m using the Drobo 5N, I will have the capability to access any of my files from anywhere in the world (as long as I have an internet connection). I predict this will become exceptionally useful for me while traveling in the future!

Problem 3: Computer hard-drive space is one of the most protected things in our headshot studio in DC, that’s why we house almost all our images off the computer’s native drive. That space’s primary use is to be left free, for running processor intensive programs like Photoshop and Lightroom. That’s the main reason we don’t use Dropbox to deliver large files to our clients. When you’re dealing with large PSDs (that are sometimes 2 gigabytes in size), hosting them on a program that takes up hard drive space just isn’t an option, so we decided to use Hightail to deliver our files to clients. But the frustrating thing there, was that the links would expire after 14 days and every week, I’d get two to three inquiries to resend the images because “the link was no longer valid.” This was maddening for us!

Now that I’m incorporating the Drobo 5N into our workflow, we can put a copy of the final files in a public folder and send an auto-generated link to our clients, showing them where their files are for download. Now, not only am I chomping at the bit to cancel my Dropbox subscription, I can’t wait for the day that we don’t get those darn emails anymore!

When I got the box, it was nicely packaged with all the materials one might need for the initial setup. It also came with three four terabyte drives to insert into the Drobo unit. Signage was everywhere, and it made me feel really at ease when putting the unit together. Everything was perfectly spelled out for me. I’m a visual person, so I particularly liked the clear image examples of what the different colored lights meant inside the front plate of the unit.

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Set up was a breeze. First, I downloaded Drobo Dashboard, and then followed the online PDF for instructions to insert the drives and then, I plugged my drobo into my Apple Airport Base Station (which I use as my internet router). It immediately showed up and Drobo started installing the latest firmware to the device automatically. Then, the Drobo turned itself off and on to re-set. So much of the installation process for this device is completely automated which made my life a lot easier since I wasn’t stuck having to read step by step instructions.

After the Drobo set up with it’s drives, it was time to try connecting them to my computers over the network. Finding the Drobo on my network computers was easy since it automatically showed up in my Finder window under “Shared” devices! Using the password and username that I chose to register my Drobo in the Drobo Dashboard, I was easily able to connect to the device!

Useful apps: I’d highly recommend installing these two Drobo Apps: MyDrobo and DroboAccess. The MyDrobo app will allow you to share your files with clients using a registered domain that you create and it will also be securely protected by SSL from end to end! And the icing on the cake is that there are apps in both the Google and Apple stores to install on your mobile devices that allow you to access files on your Drobo as well. How awesome is that! The DroboAccess app is for the Drobo hardware unit. It allows you (and whichever additional users anywhere around the world) to have their own accounts and access any file they may need.

Let’s address the elephant in the room. Yes, the Drobo unit is not the cheapest storage solution on the market, but the price is completely warranted when you think about the money you’ll save by closing your subscription accounts. Let’s do the math: Yearly subscription to Dropbox: $99.00, purchase of one business Teamviewer license: $800, and four to six mini hard drives purchased yearly at about $100 each (lets just call it $500 a year). So yearly, that’s about $1,400 that I spend on image delivery, computer remote access and storage. Take it from me, buy the Drobo 5N instead. It will quickly pay for itself and end up saving you money in the long run.

So by using the Drobo 5N, I’m eliminating three, incredibly frustrating aspects of my workflow. One: I now have a complete drive that is connected to all of my computers where all of my images live, allowing me to never buy another travel hard drive again. Two: I can now deliver files to a client, and leave that delivery up on the same link so they can go back and access their files for years, and three: I can now access any of my files from anywhere in the world. Who knew one device could solve so many problems!

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