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You know you should be backing up, right? And still, the dirty little secret of modern computing is that most of us--Mac|Life staff included--don’t back up as much as we should, and in some cases, not at all. And even if you do back up, using that old drive you purchased in a fit of Y2K preparations isn’t much protection. Drives fail, and it’s always a question of when, not if. Data Robotics, the makers of the Drobo, hope to make rock-solid backup simple and foolproof with their line of external drive enclosures.
The front of Drobo’s black enclosure features five pill-shaped lights that indicate the status of each drive. Green means you’re all good. Orange means you’re going to need additional space soon. A red light means that a particular drive needs replacement. Blue LEDs across the bottom of the Drobo serve as a capacity meter, showing how much space you’re using in 10 percent increments. We love being able to quickly check Drobo’s status from across the room without having to fire up a utility. Connecting Drobo to a Mac is easy with a USB 2.0 port, an eSATA port, and a pair of FireWire 800 ports at your disposal.
Green light, red light!
At its core, Drobo is similar to a RAID device. Instead of being backed up to a single drive, your data is spread over multiple drives. This redundancy is what makes RAID backup special. If you back up to a single drive, your data dies along with that drive. But with a RAID, your data is copied to multiple drives, so that if any particular drive kicks the bucket, there’s a redundant copy of your data on another drive.
Unlike standard RAID devices, Drobo S uses a proprietary system that Data Robotics calls BeyondRAID. This technology allows you to cram any 3.5-inch SATA or SATA II drive into the Drobo. Where different drive sizes and manufacturers might trip up a traditional RAID, the mix-and-match approach is no problem for Drobo, which makes it easy to add or replace drives as your storage needs change. Drobo pools the storage capacity from all your drives, sets aside space for redundant data, and mounts on your Mac as a single volume. There’s no complicated backup software to install, and you can use Drobo in tandem with your favorite backup software if you wish, or simply store all your files on the Drobo itself, secure in the knowledge that everything is continually backed up.
Individual disks are also hot-swappable, a distinct advantage over traditional RAID boxes. When a drive fails, you can quickly replace it without even bothering to power down your Drobo. We tested this feature by randomly swapping out drives, and in all cases, our data survived intact. When you replace a drive, Drobo immediately goes to work “healing” itself, restoring missing data on the new drive to return your Drobo to its intended redundant state.
Our only real complaint is that all this behind-the-scenes data shuffling makes Drobo slow. In our FireWire 800 test against another external drive, the Drobo S transferred data at about half the speed of our other enclosure. Unlike RAID setups built for speed, Drobo is focused on redundancy and simplicity. It works great for relatively small files like photos and such, but high-end users looking to use Drobo to bulletproof their video-editing workflow will be disappointed in Drobo’s speed.
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If you need to store large amounts of data without worrying about drive failures, the Drobo S is a pricey--but great--addition to the home office or small business. If you’re looking for an external RAID-type device for HD video editing, you should look elsewhere.
COMPANY: Data Robotics, Inc.
REQUIREMENTS: Mac OS 10.4 or later, USB 2.0, FireWire 800, or eSATA
Expandable, hot-swappable storage with built-in backup.
Too slow for HD editing. Pricey.