Drobo: Your Own Personal Data Robot

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Rosie the maid it's not. Data Robotics' new Drobo won't do floors, but it does aim to keep your data safe from harm. The company's innovative approach to data handling distinguishes Drobo from the sea of multidrive external enclosures currently available.

Drobo, a storage appliance that retails for $499 without drives, employs its own disk and storage virtualization algorithms to give users many of the data redundancy benefits of RAID without RAID's complexity. With its own operating system, CPU, and memory to power data handling smarts, the appliance allows you to swap failing drives in and out even as you continue working on your files.

"The technology is basically a replacement for RAID," says Daniel Stevenson, president of Data Robotics. With Drobo, the company wants to make data redundancy transparent and seamless to the consumer.

Plug the Drobo into your system, and it's recognized as a USB mass storage device--no host software is required on your PC to read the drive. It's also a direct-attached USB 2.0 unit with four Serial ATA drive bays that can handle drives with capacities of up to 1 terabyte each. Each bay has its own pop-out lever for easily removing a drive.

Inside the Machine

The Drobo is what the company refers to as a "DataAware" device. It knows where each of block of data is stored on a disk, and its algorithms are more flexible than the RAID standards in wide use today. Together, these factors make it easier to manage a data device as one large "pool" of data, and for Drobo to monitor itself for data corruption and other issues that cause disk failure.

LED status lights use a simple, color-coded green, yellow, and red approach to informing you of Drobo's status--and more precisely, of the health of the individual drives inside Drobo. Drobo can interact with the Self-Monitoring and Analysis Reporting Technology (SMART) capabilities integrated on many hard drives.

Explains Jim Schaff, director of marketing, "We can then monitor bad sectors, and will proactively fail a disk," so you can replace the disk drive before any further failures happen and still come out with your data intact.

If the status lights are green, your data is safe. If the lights turn yellow, it indicates that Drobo is at 85 percent capacity, and you need to replace a drive with a larger one (unlike with RAID, Drobo will take advantage of whatever capacity drives you insert, regardless of whether or not the drive sizes are matched). Red indicates that your data is not being automatically protected, and that you should add or replace a drive, immediately.

You can easily replace a drive by removing it; Drobo will let you continue working on your files even as you insert a new drive (no formatting required) into the drive bay, and wait for it to integrate with the system (a process that takes very little time compared with waiting for a drive to rebuild itself on a RAID system).

Streamlined Management

Managing the device should be simple as well: A streamlined applet, Drobo Dashboard, comes with the unit for handling some basic device functions.

While Drobo will offer the data redundancy necessary to protect you against hardware failure, it won't protect against theft or catastrophic disaster. You may still want to keep a second copy of your data elsewhere, as a true backup.

Drobo will work with Mac or PC systems. The unit is shipping now.

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