Stuff I Use: The Drobo


I’m a bit of a backup Nazi. My current house-transition aside, I consistently have two or three backups of just about every piece of data I consider precious (which is most of it). When I first started contemplating moving around the continent, I began to look for an affordable & portable storage solution for all my masses of files.

I’d been here before… I have only my laptop (a Macbook Pro), which eliminates several options. I wanted something with redundancy, so it could handle a failed hard drive – which, with their spinning platters moving several thousand rotations per second fractions of a millimetre from the read head, are not known for their reliability – while still being fast enough to be usable. In previous searches I’d discovered you had to pick one of safety or speed, or be prepared to pay 4-5 times more to keep your stuff safe.

Then I ran across the Drobo, short for ‘data robot’. It uses block-level redundancy (instead of disk-level), which means it can handle any single drive failing, but the drives don’t all have to be the same. You can stuff it with whatever SATA drives you have on hand (or can afford), and expand it as your storage needs grow.

So I bought two.

And then I bought a third six months ago for a project I’m working on, along with a DroboShare, which lets you access the drives over a network. In all, 10 Terabytes of hard drives are spinning in my Drobos.

They’ve been great. They work without any management or thinking required, chugging away in the background. I use them to back up my cheap-but-speedy striped SATA RAIDs – which are fast, but not saf. So in the end I ended up with two copies of everything, one on fast local drives, the other on Drobos for backup with their redundancy and set-and-forget working style.

The only downside has been that they’re not particularly fast – 15-20 MB/s is a reasonable expectation. Better than the competition, but 10 TB takes a long time to backup at that speed.

So today, I was happy to see that they’ve released Drobo V.2, with Firewire 800 and greatly improved read & write speeds – almost triple the performance in some cases. In my mind this takes the Drobos from being mostly for backup, to being a good primary drive solution for many uses.

So if you’re in the market for some safe, speedy, affordable storage… take a look.