Robotic Hard Drives

by Micah Walter

drobo.pngA little less than a month ago I was directed to a new product, which I think might be of use to a number of Aperture users. Billed as "The Worlds First Storage Robot" Drobo offers "Fully automated storage you don't have to manage."

So, what is a Drobo? I took a read through their website, and watched the demo video, and all I can come up with is, "a very cool thing." Drobo (which has already dropped in price from $699.99 to $499.99 without any drives) is a robot for your hard drives. From what I can tell, it is essentially a RAID controller that you don't have to configure or worry about. You simply plug in up to 4 drives and Drobo does the rest. The drives are hot swappable, and can be any size you choose. So, if you have a bunch of miss-matched drives hanging around you can plug them right in, and Drobo will take care of the formatting, and mirroring for you.

What you get is a single drive on your desktop redundantly mirrored without any work at all. They even have a "Drobolator" which you can use to figure out how much free space you will have based on the drives you install.

One major advantage I see with the Drobo is that you can use any size 3.5" SATA I or II drive, from any manufacturer, in any of the four bays. If you want to expand to a larger drive, you don't need to worry about migrating your files to the new drive, you just plug in the new drive and you are done.

This is a very slick product that I can see sitting on the desks of many Aperture users.


2007-05-08 06:19:16
Only USB2, no FireWire 800 ;-(
Eric M
2007-05-08 06:39:05
Yeah, I've been looking at this, and it seems pretty sweet. Everyone should go look at the vid:

It may be only USB, but with newer drives I've been finding less and less difference in usable speed between FW and USB. Remeber, no drive can keep up with USB 2, let alone FW 800, except in a burst no bigger then the cache size. Real world USB 2 performace has really inproved in the last year or 2

2007-05-08 07:29:21
Looks alright, but considering it is just as much money as a ReadyNAS, I'd rather go with that. When talking about a storage device like this, it's far more useful to have it available to the entire network rather than directly connected to a computer with USB2. Disclosure: I've been using a 4x400GB ReadyNAS NV for the last 6 months with my network of 4 Mac OS X clients, 2 Windows XP laptops, andd 1 Xbox Media Center.
2007-05-08 09:03:03
well for those of us with one work station this product may be a great solution. My buddy who works in the IT industry is always wary of RAID systems, data retreival being the biggest concern. I highly recomend anyone to watch the video to understand the product.
Michael Rothfeld
2007-05-08 09:15:13
I want to love this thing, but something else (other than listed below) that makes me weary about this beast is that it doesn't use any standard kind of RAID. It is a proprietary system. That is where some of those neat, addition features you wont find on a standard RAID set up come from. I'm not saying that propriety instantly spells doom, I just want to give this thing a little time in the real-world before I sink any money into it.

Also, USB 2? A note on transfer rates: First off, all published transfers rates are always theoretical maxs. Meaning, don't hope to get close to them in real world situations.
Now, the issue with USB (1 and 2) is that USB uses bursts of data (non-isochronous) and requires much more processor overhead to prepare each burst. its theoretical maximum data transfer speed is made up of a theoretical average of said bursts over the duration of a transfer.
FW purposely uses little processor overhead and provides a sustained data rate (isochronous) which is more effecient when dealing with large files. This is why, in real world situations, FW 400 (rated up to 400Mbps) will often out perform USB 2 (rated up to 480 Mbps).
Plus FW 800 blows both out of the proverbial water. I would hope for something more than USB 2 on something like this. I know USB 2 is more universal than FW, but then leave the USB 2 on it and add FW 800. It really does make a difference. Please?

Michael Rothfeld
2007-05-08 09:42:37
One thing I found misleading in the video: The guy fails two drives and says the data is still safe. He was right, but only because of the specific set up in his case. He had a certain set up of different capacity drives which were not full. He was able to fail 2 out of 3 drives and not loose data because there was enough space on the one drive to hold all of his files. This will not always be the case. Say he had 4, 750GB drives in Drobo and they were all full. According to the "Drobolator" on their site, this would mean he is storing 2TB of data.
One drive fails, no problem, Drobo takes it in stride, no data lost. But, let's say that before he replaces the failed drive, a second drive fails. Well, now you are left with 2, 750GB drives which only gives you 1.5TB (1.4TB of usuable) space. His 2TB of data will not fit on only 1.4TB of disc space. Some data is lost.
Now, maybe there is some kind of special compression that happens, or Drobo tries to dump data to your internal drive after the first disk fails, and I also know that having 2 drives fail in a row is rare and that many levels of RAID used today can not withstand more than a single drive failure either, but I just feel his demo in the video is a little misleading. I guess this shows the importance of having disk spares on hand.

PS>I really do want this to turn out to be a great product and I hope someone will point out a feature I missed that makes my above mini-rant false.

Eric M
2007-05-08 12:49:29
Michael Rothfeld:

You are correct, you can't fail more disks then space you are using, but it was showing off a feature that a standard raid 5 can't do. It will duplicate the data into a new safe state after a drive failure, if there is enough space, allowing for another disk to fail. In a standard raid 5, no matter how much space you were using, your data would be toast. I do kinda think they should have mentioned that on the video though.

Steve Simon
2007-05-09 05:20:43
I just emailed to ask if a Firewire version is planned. Is their any worry for aperture users that a single library gets split up when copied to two drives?
2007-05-09 05:28:32
I'm not quite sure what you mean by split up when copied to two drives. Are you talking about using the Aperture Library Spanner. The Drobo shows up as a single drive on your computer regardless of how many drives it has plugged in.

You could use it to house your referenced Masters, keeping your Library on your computer's local hard drive. You could also use it for a Vualt location, or put your whole Aperture Library on there... Just think of it as a giant, expandable single hard disk... I'll be finding out more info on the Drobo this week...

Jim Schaff
2007-05-11 13:44:02
I am the director of marketing at Data Robotics and spoke with Micah - he asked me to post a brief response about how we differ from RAID in protecting/storing data.

If you are at all familiar with RAID, it's a good starting point for the discussion.

RAID forces you to use all the same size disks - then takes the capacity of 1 disk to protect your data.

So... 4x 100GB drives = 300GB protected storage

Drobo fits into that mold but with a bonus. Drobo takes the capacity of your largest disk to protect your data.

So... 4x 100GB drives = 300GB protected storage.

BUT, lets change the scenario a bit.

Lets say you have 100GB, 200GB, 300GB and 400GB drives (for easy math).

RAID can only see disks as the smallest common demoninator - so in this scenario all disks are really just 100GB to RAID

So 4x100GB = 300GB capacity

Drobo uses capacity = to the largest drive for protection, and gives you the rest.

So 100 + 200+ 300 = 600GB on Drobo, we keep the 400GB for ourselves.

That's how Drobo works, hope that offered a bit of clarity to the scenario.

- Jim Schaff

Jim McConnell
2007-09-07 17:16:17
I am trying to use the Drobo with Apertue. MY file is 300 GB. I have 3 500 GB drives in the drobo. When in Apeture I will get the spinning ball even when doing nothing and then I cannot get Aperture to resond for 5 minutes or so while the drive is spinning away. Activity monitor says there is no write activity, read activiy varies from 0-500 KB with 4- 16 the most common range. Any ideas what is going on?