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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.

Drobo does great redundancy
To see if I could make the Drobo lose data or crash, I simulated a drive failure. Yep, I started pulling drives out. I yanked out one and let the Drobo almost finish rebuilding, then I pulled out another. I would let the Drobo rebuild some more--and then yank the same drive again. I tried to get it into a state where it could not recover by failing two drives one after another. The Drobo juggled these emergencies with no problem. Not only was all the data I had previously written to the Drobo still intact, I could even access that data while pulling out the drives.

drobo

The backup software that comes with the Drobo, called Drobo PC Backup, works great once you get past the wizard, which is strangely confusing, especially in the first few screens. For instance, the first screen has a clickable Next button as well as a link that sets up a new backup plan, both leading to the same screen. Why have multiple options for the same step in something as important as setting up your first backup?

drobo

The redundant links problem continue on the second screen. The "Click here to get started" link and the next button lead to the same screen.

drobo

The next screen's link, "Show me which folders will be backed up," actually displays useful information. The next button performs its expected duty of taking you to the next screen.

drobo

The backup app does a good job of automatically selecting the most important folders to back up.

drobo

I prefer to select folders myself, though.

drobo

The next screen allows you to choose a destination for the backup. If you have not already created a share on the Drobo FS for this backup, now would be a good time to do so! You can also back up to network path, but there is not a browse function so you have to know the path by name. Mapped drives show up automatically.

drobo

The Drobo then lets you set the frequency of the backup.

drobo

The advanced backup options, versioning and incremental, are good to have, though I saw no help for the less tech-savvy to figure these out.

drobo

Once you've successfully chosen all your settings, you'll see this screen.

drobo

You're now ready for your first backup.

drobo

Scrolling through the backups for a restore is a neat process where you can go back in time and see files from days past.

drobo

The Drobo also works with the Mac Time Machine; in fact, it was one of the first out of the gate in providing firmware updates for OSX Lion compatibility.

drobo

Applications can be run on the Drobo FS to enhance its capabilities--though you wouldn't know this by looking at the Dashboard. It does have a setting to enable apps, including one that makes the Drobo a media server. But you should start this process with a little reading at the Drobo website. It's not intuitive for non-technical users--you can't even access installed apps from the Dashboard; you have to dig up the IP address of the Drobo FS and access them through a browser. It's surprising that Drobo hasn't partnered with someone to make the home media server option a smoother process. It's much easier to use the Drobo with Windows Media Center or a Boxee Box. Any media player that is able to map a network share should be able to see the FS on the network and access the various media stored on it.

Green power
I'm always curious to know how much power my devices consume (not that it would ever stop me from using them). Case in point: my Windows Home Server 2011 draws 130 watts at idle as measured by my Kill-A-Watt meter. The Drobo FS? It drew 44 watts at idle, 46 watts during a read test--and 15.7 watts at hard drive spindown. If you can tolerate a little wait for the hard drives to spin back up, there is a big difference between the power consumption at idle and in use. Compared to my eight-drive behemoth of a home server, the Drobo is a power miser.

drobo

Conclusion
Truth? At first I wasn't very impressed with the Drobo FS. But I came to appreciate it. I'll admit that I'm accustomed to a very different method of data protection and home storage options, and the RAID 5 array in my Windows Home Server halves the time Drobo FS takes to do the same operation. I've tested and used other NAS products with more speed and more features. Most even do it more cheaply than the Drobo FS.

But nothing beats the Drobo's ability to protect data combined with ease of use. This funky-looking hybrid might get you from point A to point B in a very different way from a standard RAID system, but it does it safely and efficiently.

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