Drobo and backing up

Paul Boag

Since posting on twitter about my new Drobo, I have received a number of requests for a review of this backup and storage solution.

Backup is horrendously important. It is also not the kind of things you can do by halves. Think for a moment, is your data really safe?

I thought mine was. I was careful to backup all of my music, projects, videos and family photos to an external hard drive using an automated tool every night. At least that was what I believed, until my hard drive failed. I went to restore it only to find my backup had been silently failing for several months. It cost be £500 to recover the data and I still didn’t get everything back.

Ever since I have been paranoid about backup. However, I have always struggled to find the right solution for my situation. First I experimented with different backup software, but couldn’t shake the feeling it wasn’t working.

Next I tried off-site backup using a service called Mozy. I liked this approach because even if my house was destroyed, my data would survive. The problem with this solution is getting started. With over 220GB of data it was impossible to complete the initial upload. If I had been able to get my data online additional incremental backups would not have been a problem. Alas it was not meant to be. It is a shame because off-site backup is the most secure solution and the one I would recommend to those of you with less data.


Finally I decided to take the plunge and buy a Drobo. A Drobo is a little black box with 4 hard drive slots. You can throw in any 3.5″ internal hard drives you have lying about and it will turn them into one big drive. However should one of the hard drives fail, the real beauty is that my data is still safe. As long as I have more than one drive in the Drobo it will automatically backed up my data across drives.

If you are familiar with RAID it is very similar. What makes the Drobo different is that the drives can be of various sizes. This means you can easily steal drives out of old machines you no longer use.

Another unique selling point of the Drobo is if a drive start to fill up you can pull it out and pop in a larger replacement. No need to copy data across, the Drobo handles all of that. Theoretically the Drobo can store up to 16TB of data!

However, the best thing about the Drobo is its easy of use. You just plug it in via USB and add the hard drives. If a drive is getting full it displays an amber light. If a drive fails the light turns red. Simple! I had mine up and running in minutes. I even managed to connect it to my Aiport meaning it is viewable across my entire network.

For those without an airport or equivalent device, you will need to connect your Drobo to a PC. Obviously you can then share it with your network, but only if the PC is turned on. The alternative is to buy an addon called Droboshare. This allows you to connect the Drobo directly to your router. However, the downside of this is that it will cost you extra. That brings me on to the main problem with the Drobo.

The Drobo cost me £245 from Amazon. At first this price doesn’t sound terrible until you realise this does not include hard drives. You will have to beg, borrow or buy the drives for your Drobo. Fortunately I had a couple lying around but if you do not this will start to get expensive.

Also you will not get the entire storage space of the drives you buy. Because the Drobo is backing up your data there is an overhead. Exactly how much space you loose depends on the combination of drives. However, the Drobo website provides a great little application for calculating this.

That said, in my opinion it is worth every penny. It is an incredibly clever piece of technology that has been wonderfully executed. That kind of quality costs! However, as somebody who paid £500 for data recovery this price seems very reasonable. Most of all it provides peace of mind and that is priceless.