Drobo Review, Part One: First Impressions and Setup
Adding drivesOne installation screen casually asks to what capacity should the Drobo be formatted, and this one stumped me for a second. Based on the selections, it became obvious that my choice would affect future usage when adding storage. The Drobo can be formatted virtually to simulate total storage capacity of 2, 4, 8, and 16 terabytes. Yes, even if you only bought two 120 GB drives. The implication here is that if you choose say, 2 TB as the volume capacity, the Drobo will cap that initial “chunk” at 2 TB and split the remainder of the virtual space into another volume. This may be a necessary option for some users as their operating system may not be able to address a device larger than that. If you have a fully 64-bit OS like Mac OS X, this isn’t a problem. However, Data Robotics makes it clear in all its FAQs and during installation that larger virtual volumes require more time to prep and protect on-the-fly. At the top-end (16 TB), volume preparation is said to take 15-30 minutes, a far cry from the mere moments demonstrated by Cali Lewis. If you don’t mind have multiple volumes with a maximum capacity of 2 TB each, choose the smallest size on the installation screen slider. It should be quick to format and faster to update if you swap drives a lot (for what reason, I can’t imagine). For our use, I chose the 16 TB maximum volume size because we envision rarely needing to swap out drives (except in cases of capacity or drive failure). The lengthy setup time of about 15 minutes was bearable because in the long run I don’t want to hunt down b-roll video clips across multiple mounted volumes.
SpeedOkay let’s get down to business: how fast is this unit and is my data really safe? Most benchmarks don’t give me data I can translate to real world usage so I set out with my usual workflow. 35-50 MB/sec read and write speed over FireWire 800. There, that’s all there is to say! In my tests (which are by no means scientific) the Drobo will push about this much data over your 800 Mbps connector to your local computer. The only thing I will note is that I was moving very large files back and forth between the Drobo and a MacBook Pro internal drive (SATA, 7200 RPM). These files ranged in size from 250 MB to a few gigabytes. This, of course, isn’t even close to the theoretical maximum of the interface or the drives in the Drobo and this is due to Data Robotics’ proprietary overhead method doing its thing to keep the data intact over redundant drives. While I lamented about not breaking any speed records, I found that the throughput was more than enough to sustain smooth playback of multiple instances of high-definition video (1080p) locally. I was also able to have multiple remote workstations on my LAN crunch on video projects from the shared Drobo, albeit very clumsily (more on that later).
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Social web & visual media nut. Reactivated PASACAT musician. I love disruptive open technology, HTML5, Web 2.0+, Gov 2.0, paintball, kung fu movies