Product Review: Page (1) of 2 - 06/05/07 Email this story to a friend. email article Print this page (Article printing at MyDmn.com).print page facebook

Drobo Storage Robot

The holy grail in external USB hard disk-based storage devices? By John Virata

I have all kinds of external storage devices, from USB flash drives, to 12GB pocket drives, to hard disk based external hard drives in eSATA and USB/FireWire configurations. My system drive is a 120GB model with a 500GB Seagate drive as my media drive, which is a fairly decent amount of storage space for most uses. Since it is a Media Center PC, I've got all kinds of external storage connected to the back of the box, one via eSATA (500GB), and three others via USB at 160, 320, and 750GB capacities. The problem is these drives are filling up fast as I resume my quest to store my home videos, my music, my photographs, and every episode of Hawaii Five-0 (all 12 years of them--278 1 hour episodes).  I can't really archive them (finally I hear they are coming to DVD) because I want them to be online whenever I want, so I can watch a particular episode when I want. 

It has gotten so crazy that I don't want to add another external drive taking up yet another USB port with yet another AC adapter to try to connect to a surge strip. While external USB hard drives are an adequate solution for many, they do have their drawbacks. For starters, most of these drives come in sealed cases. That means, when the drive fails, and ultimately they will, you are pretty much stuck with a throwaway item, which is essentially electronic junk that ends up in the landfills.

I remember visiting with Maxtor one year at CES, where they showed me their latest external drive, a One Touch II, which replaced the company's popular One Touch. It was in a boxy enclosure made of near see through plastic, and the first question I asked the Maxtor rep was if the hard drive was user replaceable, and his answer was no. In fact, most, if not all hard drive manufacturers that make external USB hard drives encased in plastic or whatever material have enclosures that are not user serviceable. They just want to sell you another external drive. That is their business, which is fine. To attain user upgradeable external hard drive enclosures, you have to seek out other manufacturers such as ADS Tech, which offers kits that enable you to add your own hard drive to their enclosure for an external solution. But this doesn't really solve the backup part of all this because the drive will still fail, and if you have only one back up and it is your external drive, and it fails, you are still out of your data. Until now.


I think I've found the solution, and it is called Drobo, from Data Robotics. Drobo is an external hard drive backup and archive solution that, like other external storage devices, relies on the USB 2.0 port to connect to the computer. But that is pretty much where the similarity ends, as Drobo gives users what they want, and that is the capability to change drives out as they reach capacity or fail. In fact, Drobo doesn't ship with hard disk drives, you supply your own, and from the manufacturer you like using.

What it is
Drobo is what the company calls the first storage robot. Essentially it consists of an external, four hard disk drive enclosure that can accept any capacity 3.5-inch SATA hard disk drive from any manufacturer. The enclosure includes some cooling fans, indicator lights, and some mojo that monitors the performance and capacity of the hard drives for you. It connects to your PC or Macintosh computer via USB 2.0 and is powered separately from the computer. When more than one drive is in the Drobo, it provides protection of your data without resorting to a traditional RAID configuration.

Drobo uses lights to assess storage health, mode, data transfer, and capacity. Drobo is about the size of a toaster. Image courtesy Drobo.

Light it Up
The enclosure is glossy black in color and includes a removable front magnetic door with blue lights on the bottom and a green/yellow/red light configuration on the right side of the device. Pop off the door and you easily slip your hard drives into the enclosure for a perfect fit. The blue lights enable you to take a quick glance at Drobo to determine its capacity limits on the drives inside Drobo. For example, if three lights are showing, Drobo is 30 percent full, if six lights are visible, Drobo is 60 percent full. The combination lights on the side of Drobo enable you to determine capacity of individual drives as well as relative safety of your data. All green lights and your data is deemed safe. When a yellow light appears, Drobo is 85 percent full and recommends that you replace the drive with the smallest capacity, which is the drive that sits in the bay indicated by where the yellow light appeared. A red light means the drive must be replaced immediately. Since stop lights are a common everyday occurrence, this lighting scenario will work with virtually everyone. Green means go/safe, Yellow proceed with caution, Red is stop/replace.

 

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Related Keywords:storage, hard drives, external storage, backup, Drobo, Data Robotics

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