By Neil Bennett | on February 04, 2008
Price When Reviewed: 299
Pros: Most easy-to-use secure backup system yet. Very flexible.
Cons: Limited connection options. No backup software.
Data Robotics describes the Drobo as ‘the world’s first storage robot’, but it’s actually a hard drive enclosure with some nifty built-in technology that makes securely backing up your projects a doddle. This unique product has been well-received in the US, and is now available in the UK.
The Drobo is a toaster-sized box with a reasonably attractive gloss black finish. The front pops off to reveal four drive bays that accept the same standard 3.5-inch hard drives you’d find in a desktop computer. Fill these bays up, and the Drobo automatically formats them and creates one virtual drive that appears on the Mac desktop or My Computer on Windows systems.
The unit accepts different-sized drives, and the capacity of the Drobo is equal to somewhere between half and two-thirds of the total capacity of the drives – depending on the sizes. The spare space is used to keep a secure version of your data, so if any of the drives fail you won’t lose anything.
This is similar to many desktop RAID drives on the market, but where the Drobo excels is that it takes care of all of the mechanics behind the scenes, so you don’t have to know anything about RAID systems to use it. This is excellent, as setting up and maintaining RAID arrays is both complex and incredibly dull.
Most RAID setups require identically sized drives to work, but the Drobo’s mix-and-match approach is much more flexible. You’d probably set up the Drobo with identical drives originally – but if you run out of space you can slip in one or two higher-capacity drives to boost its capacity. Also, if one drive fails, you can pop in any 3.5-inch drive you have to hand to keep your data secure.
Changing a drive is as simple as popping a latch, pulling out the drive and pushing in a new one – there are no drive bays or attachments to slow the process. The Drobo then rearranges your data across the drives. This may take a while, but you can still access your data in the process.
Copying data to and from the Drobo is slow, but the unit is designed to be a backup drive, not for directly working off. The single USB 2.0 interface is a bit limiting; Serial ATA would provide faster access. A recently announced companion, DroboShare (£119 plus VAT), allows the Drobo to be accessed across networks.
Data Robotics doesn’t include any backup software, just a basic console to show how full it is, if any drives have failed, and some basic tools. You don’t need to refer to the console often, though, as the lights on the front of the unit provide a quick guide to its status. Each drive has its own light, showing either green (working), yellow (almost full) or red (replace) – and there’s a line of blue LEDs along the bottom that light up as the unit fills up.
The Drobo is the best new storage device we’ve seen in a long time, making secure backup simple – at last.