Back in September, I approached the booth at Photoshop World where the Drobo was humming along quietly. I was interested in the box, and thought it might be a solution. I asked a few questions of the booth attendant, and she just didn't know the answers, and the guy that did was talking to the person next to me about all sorts of non-Drobo things, as far as I could tell. After about 10 minutes waiting, I decided that I would do my research online instead.
What did I find? Beware the results.
The immediate deal-breaker for me is it's proprietary file system, and I couldn't find anywhere that gave a justification for this, in fact, it seemed to be glossed over.
What is a proprietary file system? Well, back in the days of VHS vs. Betamax, VHS was an open system, that anyone could use, hence the broad adoption of VHS. Sony, on the other hand, developed Betamax, a proprietary way of playing tapes, and no one else could use it. So, Betamax died. Just as with this, if you have a drive on one computer, you can unplug it, or take it out if it's an internal drive, and plug it into another brand of computer, and the drive will work. With Drobo, if you're not plugging your drive into another Drobo, the data is just plain inaccessible. For me (and many others), that's just a deal-breaker.
There are, as you probably know, two types of people in this world - those that have had a hard drive fail, and those that will. If the you're the former, you'll question seriously a proprietary file system. If you're the latter, you'll be taking risks for which you don't know the consequences, until you have had a failure, and then you'll get religion.
But what other problems are there?
ZDNet did an interesting review, but they say "Another consumer friendly innovation is that the Drobo doesn’t require the user to pick up a screw driver to put the hard drive in to a carriage bay." Sorry, this isn't a selling point for me, in fact, owning professional drive systems from places like Wiebetech, OWC, and so forth, not to mention Apple's expensive RAID solutions, require that users can wield a screwdriver.
The review correctly criticizes the speed, at between 11 and 16 mb/sec. So, when you shoot 500 images on an assignment with a D2X/Mark II or better, be prepared to wait a long time just to copy your files over, open and update raw files with camera raw, and write them back. A FW800, GigE or SCSI connection will serve you much better.
What surprised me is that the reviewer says:
We can build a server that supports this configuration with gigabit throughput for about $600 including shipping and that lets you serve data on the network at 70 MB/sec or more out of a single Gigabit Ethernet adapter which can be shared by all the PCs on the network. That does however require some skill or at least willingness to learn how to build a PC. But this isn’t the market that Data Robotics is targeting; they’re after Photographers or other professionals that just want something to work out of the box without having to mess with all these settings let alone build something. Those people lose money by the hour and they can’t afford to waste time building or learning about this stuff.The reality is, with the S L O W throughout, you'll be losing money by the minute as you wait for massive amounts of images to be copied to and fro, and this will add up - I promise you.
Photographer Doug Plummer reported on his problematic experiences with the Drobo and the good folks over at Luminous Landscape are (and have been) debating this for awhile too.
Don't trick yourself into thinking there is an easy path to effective storage, where you don't need to understand the behind-the -scenes issues at hand. You had to learn things like depth of field relative to focal length, and flash duration. So too, do you need to understand how to do effective image archiving and storage, and why the Drobo, as a turnkey solution (or any solution) just is not a good choice, in it's current incarnation.
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