Digital Outback Photo
- Photography using Digital SLRs


Backup, Backup, Backup #6

Technology Preview: Drobo Storage Solution

report by Uwe Steinmueller



7/11/2008 Drobo now with Firewire 800 ports announced

For the next version of Drobo we will see Firewire 800 ports. We hope to be able to test one of the new units too.


Lets assume a group of good photographers meets for a fine dinner and one would suggest to talk that evening only about data backup. I hardly think this would excite the group that much. This means talking about backup is not as sexy as talking about your latest new lenses. Yet backup and data storage is a real pain, costly and time consuming.

There are different strategies:

  • Ignore the problem and
    • either be lucky
    • or whine once the valuable photos are gone forever
  • Be disciplined and have a detailed backup strategy
    • Hard to find this time and energy
  • Try your best and keep many redundant copies on as many as possible external hard drives (kind of what I do right now)

All you need is RAID, right?

It is nearly always a big mistake to translate a problem into a need for technology. It is much better to understand the problem and then look for the solutions.


  • We need as safe as possible storage
    • Data needs to be redundant on more than one storage medium
    • Also in more than one location
  • We want to spend as little time on backup as ever possible
  • Cost is always a big factor
  • How does the backup solution scale (grow with your needs)

So what about RAID? RAID is a well proven technology for storage redundancy but it has quite a few issues:

  • Not cheap (do-it yourself costs time)
  • Not that scalable (cannot easily change a 500GB RAID to a 1.5TB without moving massive data). Even changing disk names will cause many backup programs to fail.
  • Rebuilds in case of failure can cost a lot of time

The Drobo Way

Drobo Open

We had the chance to visit the company Data Robotics, Inc in Mountain View. They actually started looking at the problems we mentioned above and looked for solutions. The very first step and their first product is Drobo (they call it "world's first storage robot"). Here it what it does:

  • Acts to the computer as one single disk (nothing new here)
  • You can add new disks (SATA drives with different capacity) as you go (up to 4 disks)
  • You can replace a single disk with a different disk of higher capacity
  • The unit is up while you add capacity
  • The Drobo keeps you informed about its state all the time (Computer UI and on the Drobo front)
  • Actually, Drobo uses different RAID-like strategies all at the same time (even though Drobo does not use RAID).
  • Drobo heals itself if a drive fails, spreading data from the failed drive onto the other disks.



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