December 2007


I am The Cyberwolfe and these are my ramblings. All original content is protected under a Creative Commons license - always ask first.
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A storage robot?

One of the benefits of working for my Boss is the fact that he’s a bloody magpie when it comes to technology. If it is new and shiny, and even remotely usable by us or our clients, sure as shit he will buy one. even better, he is often too busy to play with the new toys, so he will hand them out to us to play with first :)

This week, he ran across an ad for Drobo, the “Storage Robot”. Yeah, it’s a silly name, but it got his attention. The marketing hype says “…we’ve created Drobo, the first fully-automated storage robot to take the pain out of keeping your important digital content safe.” They even have a video of the thing in action.

What it is, is an external storage device that uses a USB interface. Unlike all of the other USB drives out there, though, Drobo is a user-configurable multi-disk configuration that uses a proprietary control interface similar to a RAID array. You buy the box, then you go buy SATA drives to fill it with, stuff ’em in the drive bays (no trays), and then fill it with files. The cool part is that you can swap out disks whenever you like – WITHOUT having to back everything up somewhere else while you rebuild your RAID array.

“Too good to be true!” I thought – then I got it on my desk.

I’ll be darned – it works exactly as advertised.

Short story:
It uses a proprietary modified RAID, completely controlled by the unit (there is no need to install software on your computer, the initial activation can be done through disk management tools.) If you format the disks to FAT32, the unit can then be used on any operating system that recognizes USB storage. If you live in a simpler network, it can be formatted for Windoze or MacOS too.

Long story:
You will lose the largest capacity drive to data protection / overhead. I started with an 80GB and a 250GB disk, and was given +/-70GB of storage. I copied 6GB of data to the device, then popped out the 80GB disk. Lights went to warning, then I loaded a second 250GB. The dashboard software then told me not to do anything drastic while it went into “Data protection mode” I.E., it mirrored everything to the second disk. Once that was done all lights went green, and I had 250GB of storage available.

Then I stuck the 80GB disk back in, and in 15 seconds I had 297GB of space available. Popping one of the 250’s puts it back into data protection mode, and popping that one disk back in did not cancel this – I think it assumes that any disk inserted is a new disk.

The cool part, however, was just like in the demo video – I had access to all the data during the whole process of adding / removing disks. As long as you don’t mess with it while the lights are flashing different colors, you should be fine.

Now you might think it’s a bummer to lose your largest disk, but the way it works (as best as I can tell) is that it will store your data in the smallest disk first, then mirror it to the next largest drive, and use any remaining capacity for parity and future expansion. In the end, you get all the benefits of RAID, with the ease-of-use of a USB device that you can upgrade whenever.

I want one!

One reply to “A storage robot?”

  1. GreyDuck Says:

    I, too, want one!