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What’s on your Drobo?

Updated 1/14/19: I have revised my opinion of Drobo devices. After experiencing multiple, serious data loss events on multiple Drobo models, even recent ones, I no longer consider them safe for my data.

The folks at Data Robotics put together a short video that showcases Drobo owners talking about what they store on their Drobos, and asked their Twitter followers what’s on their units.

That got me thinking about what I store on my Drobos. I have four Drobos in total: three 1st Gen Drobo units (USB 2.0 only) and one 2nd Gen Drobo (Firewire 800 + USB 2.0). Perhaps that makes me a bit unusual. Most people have one or two units, not four. But there’s reason to the seeming excess.

For one thing, I have a huge photo library. (You can find the photos I edited and published here.) For another, my wife and I have a huge video library. These are movies and cartoons we had on VHS tapes, which we digitized, or on DVDs, which we archived for easy viewing, or TV shows and movies that we recorded from TV. We’re big fans of classic movies and cartoons from the 1920s, 30s and 40s, and we collect all the ones we like. We also digitized most of our old paperwork. My medical records are all digital. So are my dental records. So are a bunch of our other documents. I scanned all the stuff I could scan, and now when I need to look something up, it’s right there at my fingertips. I’ve also started shooting video more intensively this past year, in SD and HD. (You can find my published videos here or here.) All that stuff takes a fair amount of space — terabytes to be more precise. And to top off this whole list, we live our life on two continents (North America and Europe).

Here’s what I do to make sure I don’t lose my data:

  1. I keep a Drobo with my parents, at their place. On it, I store a backup of my photo library and our video library, along with their files. I back up my live photo library to it using CrashPlan, a piece of software that will let you back up your data to a friend’s machine. I’ve actually just started using it, and while I’ve been able to back up just fine with both machines on the same network, being able to do it from thousands of miles away will be a litmus test of the software’s capabilities. I’ll be sure to write about it if it proves workable. The video library gets backed up every once in a while in a pretty simple manner: I carry movies and videos to them on a hard drive and copy them onto the Drobo. Updated 4/21/10: CrashPlan does indeed work as advertised!
  2. I keep two Drobo units at our home. On one of them, I keep our video library, and an extensive, historical file archive. On another, I keep a mirror copy of my live photo library, which is currently stored on a WD Studio drive, because it’s smaller and easier to transport than a Drobo, and I do a fair bit of traveling. I mirror my photo library with an app called Synkron, which works great. I switched to the WD Studio when I started traveling extensively and realized the Drobo couldn’t always fit safely into my luggage. (Where oh where is that Drobo carrying case I wrote about last year?)
  3. I gave the fourth Drobo to my brother, who needed a solid data storage device to begin to archive his ever-growing library of ethnological videos. He’s a documentary filmmaker who travels around Romania studying and recording religious and secular customs, which are being forgotten and buried along with the old folks. He wants to preserve these things for posterity. You can learn more about what he does at his website, called ORMA.

So that’s how I use my Drobos. However, I’ll have another logistical issue to deal with in the near future. I’m running out of space on the WD Studio drive, which has 2 x 1 TB drives in it. I run it in RAID 1, and in another month or two, it’ll be completely full. I’ll need to start using one of my Drobo units as my primary photo editing/storage device again. This means I’ll shuffle all my data around once more. A possible new arrangement will see me using the 2nd Gen Drobo for the storage and editing of my photos and videos, and the other for the storage and retrieval of our video library and historical file archive, while the WD Studio drive will see some backup duty or be relegated for travel-only purposes.

The current drive distribution among the three Drobos I use actively is as follows:

  • 2 x 2 TB drives + 2 x 1 TB drives in the Drobo that stays with my parents
  • 4 x 1 TB drives and 4 x 500 GB drives, respectively, in the two Drobos that are with us
  • I can’t speak for my brother, but I believe he’s using 4 x 1 TB drives in his Drobo

I’d love to hear how you are using your Drobo. Perhaps you have some ideas for me?

Image and video used courtesy of Data Robotics. The 2nd Gen Drobo is available for purchase from Amazon or B&H Photo. The 1st Gen Drobo has been discontinued as of 2009. Be sure to also check out my reviews of the Drobo S, DroboPro and DroboElite.


14 thoughts on “What’s on your Drobo?

  1. Jason says:

    Hey there, I am thinking of getting a DROBO. I basically want it just to back up my DVD library so I can watch them easily and dont have to open the DVD boxes each time. My kids seem to wear the DVDs out quick with scratches and all.
    So, if I put the Drobo over with my Home Theater Equipment, how does it work? Do I just connect it to my PC and to my LCD TV. Then back up each DVD to the Drobo?
    How would I pllay movies? Should have a dedicated PC over with it or does the DROBO work like a PC as well?
    Sorry for all the Dumb questions.
    Also,I usually back up movies into an ISO file which makes them about 4.4GB each. Is there a way to compress them smaller without losing quality?



    • That’s a heck of a question, Jason. Quite a lot to answer! Let me see if I can summarize things. Yes, if you have a PC connected to your TV, you can back up your DVDs to the Drobo and connect it to the TV. You could then play the movies through your PC (there are video players that can play ISO files directly). There are also media players (WD TV, Apple TV and many others) that can take certain video files (not all formats) and play them on your TV. The Drobo is a storage device and does not work like a PC. You would need something else to help you play the videos.

      You can definitely compress the video files to make them smaller. You can use a free app called Handbrake, or if you want to spend a little money, I use a device called Turbo.264. Neither solution is all-encompassing. You may find some DVDs that you can only encode with Handbrake, or some that you can only encode with Turbo.264. There’s also ffmpegx, another free encoding app.

      I recommend you read up on the best way to encode the DVDs. I use the H.264 codec, and encode them to play on my Apple TV, since that’s what I’m using right now. This way they play on any Mac, PC, Apple TV or WD TV device, including many other media devices. Manufacturers are adding H.264 support into pretty much any media player they make these days.

      Hope this helps. Keep in mind I’ve just scratched the surface. You’ll need to do a bit of reading to get a sense for what the market offers, and which direction you’ll want to go. It’s exciting, but it’s not easy to explain right away, because there are a lot of options and a lot of different paths you can take when it comes to building a digital media library and playing those files on your TV.


  2. Raoul,
    I am just getting used to my FW800 Drobo which I bought two weeks ago. You have to forgive me, but I am always a little suspicious of devices that store my files in a proprietary way.
    My storage needs are mainly for digital images I have taken over the years. The count is about 60,000 and includes many high quality scans of 35 mm slides and negatives from my pre-digital days.
    Photography is not my business – merely a serious hobby.
    Till now I have used two FirmTek enclosures, each has two bays, and these are connected to a SATA card in my Mac G5. I now use two 2 TB sets in each.
    The set is mirrored and I can easily make another set for off-site storage by copying one two drive set to another one. The external SATA drives will continue to be used.
    Unlike Drobo, data files are stored using standard HFS+ mode and can be easily transported and used elsewhere. For a few years I have used SoftRaid software, which also keeps track of bad blocks etc.
    In my case, Drobo is used only for storing images on which I am currently working with Photoshop. A single folder will hold all the images for a project. That folder is transferred to Drobo – the originals are NOT put there. My Drobo space for available data is 1.8 TB right now.
    After a couple of weeks, the completed work will be transferred out from the Dobro to permanent SATA disks.
    I got quite a shock when I did my first DroboCopy. About 900 GB were to be backed up to a mirrored SATA disk set. The path would have been sending the data out on the FW800 Drobo connection to the Mac. The Mac then sends it through the internal SATA card to the SATA drives in the FirmTek enclosures.
    I realize that the FW800 connection would have been the botttle-neck in this path, but was not not prepared for the over 14 hours that Drobo took to complete the back-up.
    Therefore, I am seriously considering getting a Drobo S.
    Having learned my lesson, I will start an occasional DroboCopy in the evening so it is ready next morning.
    Am I happy with my Drobo? YES. But for now my workflow will remain as outlined.


    • Claus, it sounds like your workflow is more bandwidth-intensive than mine, so perhaps a Drobo S would be a better choice for you. Still I would caution you to check and make sure that your SATA card is compatible with the Drobo S (Data Robotics has a list of approved SATA cards on their website), and that copying large amounts of data between the two eSATA devices (Drobo S and your Firmtek RAID sets) will work reliably. Sometimes the SATA cards do screw up. I for example have been using a SATA card for my MBP, to connect a WD Studio Edition drive to it through eSATA, and every once in a while, the connection freezes and I have to do a hard reset of my Mac. So please, for the sake of your sanity, do some research on the SATA card compatibility ahead of time.

      I haven’t yet used the DroboCopy app, and I’m not sure how it checks for updated files. I use Synkron, a neat little app for the Mac that will synchronize two folders. You can set it to only copy the files that have been updated, which means that unless you’ve worked on all of the files in a folder, a regular sync operation will be a lot shorter than a wholesale folder copy. Check it out (it’s free) and see how it works out for you.


  3. Dave says:

    Thanks for the interesting article, i wonder if i could ask you about Drobo and offsite backups?

    With a drobo, would i be able to do the following:
    Have 3 drives, 2 of which are installed in the drobo at any one time, the third is kept of site. Then every week just swap round the 2nd and third drives?



    • Dave, you cannot do that with a Drobo. You can only switch disk packs (entire sets of disks) from one Drobo to another, or, if that’s how you want your offsite backup process to work, you can have two sets of hard drives for a single Drobo, back up the data to one set, take the whole set off-site, insert the second set, back up the data to it, and switch it with the first set.

      Make sure you read through this knowledge base article on the Drobo website to get the details. And also make sure you shut down your Drobo safely before you switch any disk packs, or the Drobo will assume you’re just adding extra capacity and will erase them.


  4. Pingback: CrashPlan works for transatlantic backups « Raoul Pop

  5. Pete Nelson says:

    You might want to take a look at the CrushSync product:
    And along with that CrushFTP. Using these together with Drobo storage you can set up an FTP server that can act as your global backup repository. You can even create schedules that would perform auto unattended backups between multiple sites and can use https for securing the transfers. CrushSync is not perfect (yet) but it’s priced right and gets better and better over time.


  6. I have a Drobo 2nd gen I use at work to backup all the graphic designers artwork and layout documents.
    I have 3x2TB and 1x1TB hard drives in it. I plan on replacing the 1TB with a 2TB next month. I currently am using 53%(2.41TB) of the Drobo.. Cant Wait till 2.5TB hard drives become mainstream (lower price).. Might just have to invest in a second Drobo unit and run multiples like yourself!


    • Right. The second piece of the backup puzzle is getting your data backed up to a different geographic location. Perhaps you could look into the cost of offsite backup for your data, or see if you can set up Crashplan to back up from a work Drobo to another Drobo you set up at your home or your company owner’s home.


      • Yeah I have a Quantum SuperLoader that does tape backups I take off site then restore to a 6TB Qlogic SAN at another office location. We def could use another Drobo around here though.


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