Drobo has landed

After suffering my third hard drive failure this year I decided to try out a Drobo (www.drobo.com). Even though my data is all backed up on multiple hard drives around the home and to iDrive.com in the cloud it’s still a real pain when a drive does fail. Three hard drives seems like a lot but when you have so many it’s inevitable that some will fail. One common factor I’ve seen is small form factor PCs - they cook hard drives. Aside from that issue which affected two of the failures, there was little else in common - different PCs, different drive manufacturers, widely varying ages of the hard drives, different UPS’s, … so basically just bad luck!

Drobo is exactly how storage should work, Microsoft should take note and make Windows work like this instead of the utterly arcane way that users are forced to think about how to partition their data across drives and/or how to replicate it. Redundancy and replication should just be built in at a level below where the average user needs to worry about it. Add a drive and your storage should just get more redundant, larger and faster without you having to understand the difference between RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, RAID 1+0 etc.

There are systems from companies like Isilon that can provide easy-to-manage storage like this but they are hugely expensive. Drobo brings that kind of block-level automatic replication and growth management down to the average user which is simply brilliant.

My initial Drobo experience was great. Despite it’s black coloration it has an ‘Apple-like’ out-of-the-box-experience (OOBE). Nice touches abound, like a magnetically attached front panel - which means there are no screws to deal with.

My first 1TB drive slipped in easily with a nice positive connection and Drobo immediately went to work. On screen there were helpful prompts explaining what was happening and it was made very clear (in red) that one drive wasn’t going to cut it in terms of data protection. After I added another 250GB drive it went to work replicating data between the two drives and now I have 1.2TB total but only ~250GB available. Green leds on the unit and green in the UI tells me that Drobo is now happy. As I add some more drives this will go up linearly until I reach 1TB, the size of my largest current drive in there, but for the moment I’m just plugging in all my old SATA drives along with the new 1TB drive, later I can replace the smallest one with another 1TB drive (maybe 1.5 or 2TB by then??).

Another nice touch is that when my PC shutsdown, Drobo puts itself to sleep too, so hopefully this isn’t going to be another all-day, every-day, power-sucking device in my trying-to-be-green home.

I’ve never been a big fan of RAID - all that F6-floppy disk nonsense during Windows setup is ridiculous in this day and age (ever heard of a USB memory stick Microsoft?). I’ve also seen RAID arrays fail in ways that render all of the data useless (controller failure, or software failure) so I always have a copy on a different hard drive on a different computer. HandyBackup is an excellent shareware application to manage the processs of making backups between PCs like that. I also run SVN at home and check in most important documents. And, then I have iDrive.com which has a copy of all my really important stuff. Backing up to the sky is great as an ultimate disaster recovery solution but it isn’t going to work as a day-to-day recovery solution given how long it takes to pull data back down from the cloud or to push it up there.

Sadly Drobo isn’t going to solve all my data recovery issues.

​1) None of my PCs seem willing to boot from it (BIOS too old) and that means if C:\ fails I’m going to have to install Windows all over again, and that’s about a 4 hour process now by the time you’ve downloaded all the patches. To solve that issue I bought Norton Ghost but then disovered it doesn’t support Windows Server 2003, great!

​2) I only have one Drobo and lots of PCs …

But for what it does do, Drobo is a great idea and provided it proves to be as reliable as it should I’m going to be one happy camper.

Wed Aug 13 2008 21:32:00 GMT-0700 (Pacific Daylight Time)

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