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Drobo FS: Safe, Uncomplicated Network Storage For Non-Techies

If setting up a RAID system for your home or small office is too daunting, this plug-and-play device is easy to install and reconfigure as your storage needs change.

The Dashboard also provides some good visual tools for viewing available hard drive space and the amount of space being used for redundancy.

drobo

Shares and users both are easy to set up. Click the shares to add shares and assign users to those shares via the screen below.

drobo

The status page gives you everything else you need to know about the FS: serial number, firmware revision, and used and free space. There's also a nice graphical representation of the hard drives and their sizes.

drobo

Drobo's data protection scheme, called BeyondRAID, takes the guesswork out of trying to choose what RAID level should be used with your hard drives. It automatically uses the best possible method of protection for the drives that are inserted. I've always liked the ability to have a "hot spare" drive in a RAID--a drive that sits there unused until a drive fails and then it leaps into availability for the array to rebuild. But as a cost-conscious home user I've never liked having a drive in my array that I couldn't use for storage. With BeyondRAID, the Drobo gives you a hot spare without forcing precious drive space to sit idle.

But increasing storage capacity is perhaps BeyondRAID's most ingenious feature. It's mind-blowingly simple--you don't have to make any configuration changes with software or shuffle data around to accomplish it. All you do is locate the smallest hard drive, pop it out, and insert a larger drive. That's it. The Drobo FS will take a moment to rebuild with the larger drive; in the meantime, all your data is still accessible.

Unfortunately, there's no option for offsite file protection with the Drobo FS. (The DroboPro FS, now called the Drobo B800fs, includes Drobo Sync so you can sync to another Drobo product that can be local or remote.)

Calculate the best drive combination
If you've already been experimenting with redundant storage as I have, you probably have at least one or two spare drives lying around. The Drobo will use these with no problem, but I was curious how my odd assortment of drives would match up--overhead wise--compared with five brand new drives. A calculator on the Drobo website lets you simulate adding hard drives to a specific Drobo chassis and view how much actual disk space will be available for use and how much will be used for data protection.

drobo

To my surprise I found that adding drives of the same size increased available space. For instance, plugging in five 2TB drives gave me 7.26TB of useable disk space--or roughly 80% of the actual size of the drives after formatting. The remaining 20% is used for redundancy. But if I plugged in a range of drive sizes, I netted only 67% useable space. Bottom line: you'll want to think twice about using any smaller drives you might have lying around.

Putting the Drobo FS to the test
I tested both speed and redundancy. I loaded up the Drobo FS with five 7200-rpm hard drives of various sizes. My test PC was a Windows 7 system equipped with a 2.7-GHz Athlon 64 5200 processor and 4GB of RAM. I performed two types of speed tests using the RichCopy 4.0 utility. In the first, I copied 500 small files to and from the Drobo. In the second, I copied a 4.3GB image in order to simulate transferring a large software package or big digital photo from a DVD.

I performed the tests in two configurations: with the Drobo connected directly to my test PC with the Ethernet cable, and with both the Drobo and PC connected to my network via a HP Procurve Gigabit Ethernet switch. Finally, just to see how the Drobo might stack up to a RAID, I copied the same files over my Windows Home Server network equipped with three RAID5 2TB drives.

My results? Competing with itself in two scenarios, the Drobo was just as fast over my network as it was directly connected to a PC. But as expected, my RAID was much faster than the Drobo. It took only a couple of seconds to copy the 500 files, compared with 5 seconds to copy the files from the Drobo and 13 seconds to copy them to the device. The bigger the file the longer you'll wait. It took over five minutes to copy the 4.3GB image to the Drobo, compared with two minutes and 40 seconds for the RAID.

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