Network Attached Storage Review: Data Robotics Drobo FS - Page 2

By Joseph Moran
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Expanding and Replacing Network Storage

Like its non-networked forebears, what really makes the Drobo FS shine is how painlessly you can replace a bad drive or expand capacity without having to partition drives or temporarily migrate data off the unit as you normally do with conventional RAID storage. Case in point: when we popped a 1.5 TB drive into the Drobo FS's remaining empty bay, it was online and available within less than 30 seconds with the Drobo Dashboard promptly reporting an extra .79 TB of usable capacity for a total of 2.95 GB.

 Drobo Dashboard software, network attached storage; network storage devices
To configure the Drobo FS or to view detailed information about its available storage capacity, you need the Drobo Dashboard software.
(Click for larger image)

We then initiated a large (10 GB) file transfer to the Drobo FS while streaming high-definition video from the device, and then yanked a random drive to simulate a failure. As expected, both operations proceeded without interruption or any perceptible decrease in performance. Upon replacing the "bad" drive -- which turned out to be the 250 GB one -- with a new 1.5 TB drive, the Drobo FS began its data rebuild process (it took about 30 minutes for us, but times will vary based on how much data is on the unit) in the background and updated its usable capacity to 4 TB.

You can keep tabs on the Drobo FS's status without having to fire up the Drobo Dashboard. Each drive bay has an indicator light that tells you the status of the drive and by extension, the device's overall condition.

Healthy drives naturally show green, failed drives blink red, and when the Drobo FS reaches 85 or 95 percent capacity, a solid yellow or red light (respectively) appears next to the bay that requires a new or upsized drive. There's also a row of 10 lights at the base of the Drobo FS that provides a rough gauge of the unit's available storage -- each light represents 10 percent of storage in use.

If you're willing to sacrifice some capacity to gain even greater data protection, the Drobo FS offers a useful dual-redundancy feature. It's turned off by default, but when activated via Drobo Dashboard it redistributes data across drives in such a way that it can withstand two drive failures instead of just one.

When we turned on dual-redundancy, the background conversion process (which took about two hours) knocked our Drobo FS's capacity down from 4 TB to 2.70 TB. We then promptly pulled two of the Drobo FS's five drives while it was copying files and streaming data, but there was nary a hiccup from the unit. Another nice aspect of the dual-redundancy feature is that it's reversible; you can deactivate it at any time if you need the extra space.

The Drobo FS lacks many of the features that standard in small office networked storage devices, such as FTP, iTunes or UPnP/DLNA streaming media servers. Although not features a business is likely to need, these and other features are available via free DroboApps add-ons (see the complete list). Because they're community-created, however, they're not supported by Data Robotics. Also absent is any way to remotely access data stored on the Drobo FS. (Data Robotics says that's coming later.)

Although the $699 price tag for an empty Drobo FS is steep, it becomes more palatable once you consider that you can fill it with the least expensive drives you can find (spacious 1 TB drives, for example, can be had for less than $70 online). Even better, the flexible upgrade path lets you buy the most economical drives today -- rather than pay a premium for larger sizes -- and take full advantage of the ever-falling cost per GB. After all, it's a safe bet that a given capacity drive will be cheaper in 6 or 12 months than it is today.

The Drobo FS is pricey, and it doesn't have all the features of even lower-priced competitors. But if you're looking for a networked storage device that offers both storage protection and no-hassle, cost-effective future expansion, it's the one to choose.

Price: $699 (without hard drives)

Pros: Simple setup and painless expansion or replacement of storage via ordinary SATA hard drives; dual-redundancy feature protects against two drive failures

Cons: Pricey; device configuration performed via software utility rather than Web browser; doesn't support shared printers or walk up device sharing via USB; lacks remote access feature

Joseph Moran is a veteran technology writer and co-author of Getting StartED with Windows 7, from Friends of ED.

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This article was originally published on August 31, 2010
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