Innovation

Gear I love: Drobo

Sure, the iPhone has grabbed all of the gadget hype over the past 6 months; however, there is another device that I like just as much. Meet Drobo, the world's first data robot.

Drobo iPhone

That's the Drobo on the left with that other device on the right.

ZDNet's Robin Harris called Drobo "the iPod of mass storage." Actually, I would update that quote to say it's the iPhone of mass storage. Why? Because, like the iPhone, much of what you can do on the Drobo can be done on other devices; however, no other mass storage device does all of those things so well (Not to mention that this post will do much better on Google if I mention the iPhone rather than an iPod.).

What I love about it: The out-of-box experience

The team at Data Robotics took great care to ensure that your Drobo experience begins as soon as you open the shipping box. The inside of the box is black and the top of the box of accessories reads "Welcome to the World of..."

welcome to the world of…

Opening the shipping box reveals this message.

Lifting the accessories box out reveals the Drobo, snuggly held by two black foam inserts and wrapped in a black bag that is neatly folded and sealed with a Drobo sticker.

Drobo sticker

Removing the accessories box reveals the Drobo.

And once you unpack the Drobo and remove the front cover, you'll find two more things that show that Data Robotics put a lot of thought into the process of unpacking and setting up the Drobo. There is a cheat sheet for all of the various hard drive states that your Drobo can display. No need to keep up with where you put the manual. Plus, there is a "Read Me" insert where you're sure to see it.

Lid guide

This guide on the inside of the Drobo's front cover tells you what all of the various lights mean. Very handy.

Read me

The Read Me insert contains info about setting up your Drobo.

The simplicity of installation and setup

I was literally able to setup the Drobo in less than 10 minutes. In fact, the most time-consuming part was opening up the hard drives I was going to use and removing them from their anti-static sleeves. Every other step of the process took seconds to complete.

And, as I mentioned above, Data Robotics included a visual setup guide on the inside of the lid of the accessories box that was simple enough for a child to understand:

1. Cut a hole in the box... oops, wrong list.

1. Insert drives

2. Connect USB and AC

3. Initialize

Inserting drives into the Drobo is a snap. Simply pull back the lever on the left side of the drive bay and slide in your SATA drives. There are no screws or brackets to deal with.

No drives

Here is the Drobo with the front cover removed, but without any drives inserted.

With drives

Here is the Drobo with 4 SATA drives totally 1.3TB installed.

And Drobo doesn't require any special software to be installed on your PC. Once you plug in the USB cable and your OS recognizes the Drobo, you're all set.

Data Robotics does offer a Drobo Dashboard that gives you some advanced functionality; however, you can do everything you need to do right in the OS . I actually installed the Dashboard because it gives me access to information like the capacity of each drive, the health of each drive, etc.

There is an initial format procedure that Drobo performs the first time you add drives; however, once you do that, you'll never have to format any new drives again.

The fact that all of my important data is protected

OK, this is arguably the most important benefit of the Drobo; however, to really appreciate what a great product the Drobo is, I thought it was important to look at all of the other details that Data Robotics bothered to get right.

Anyway, packaging and setup aside, Drobo is really pretty amazing in how it manages your data. Once you've performed the initial format procedure I mentioned earlier, you are now free to remove and/or add drives on the fly. No need to power down or disconnect the Drobo.

And because all of your data is replicated, removing a drive which may be full or, worse, has died does not affect any of your data. The Drobo simply adjusts your remaining storage capacity.

The same thing happens if you want to add a larger capacity drive. Just pop out the smaller drive and add the new larger one. Drobo immediately makes use of the new disk space.

I put 4 drives in my Drobo (500GB, 400GB, 320GB and 160GB). This is a total capacity of 1.3 TB. Of course, Drobo uses some of the capacity for data replication, so my usable disk space is around 820GB. The formula Data Robotics recommends is to add up all of your drives and subtract the capacity of the largest one. That will give you the usable capacity of your Drobo.

I was actually going to shoot a video to demonstrate how Drobo deals with adding and removing drives; however, Data Robotics has posted one on their website. It's a very thorough look of the Drobo in action.

Video still

Check out a video of the Drobo in action.

Also, George Ou has some more technical details about how Drobo manages your data over on his ZDNet blog.

The bottom line

The Drobo provides a powerful mass storage solution that looks great and is incredibly easy to use.

What mass storage solution do you currently use to protect your photos, music and videos? Post a comment and let me know.

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