I faced a dilemma, my media collection had exceeded the capacity of my 1TB hard drive. I began adding additional content into a second disk, but that required switching between “Media” and “Media2” on the media centers placed around the house. I was looking for a solution which would future-proof my setup as much as possible. Enter the Drobo.
The Drobo (www.drobo.com) is a RAID-like device that allows you to insert up to four SATA hard drives, connect them to your computer via USB or FireWire 800, and use them as a single external drive. The concept is very well done, in that you can put in random drives, as opposed to a RAID setup where the capacity of the drives used must match. Data Robotics took extra care in making the Drobo good looking as well as very simple to use. You don’t need any knowledge of RAID, NAS, or SANs to make the Drobo work on your setup, just plug it in and go.
Although you don’t have to do this, I purchased four 1.5TB Western Digital green hard drives to put in my new Drobo, for a total capacity of 6TB. The Drobo is single disk fail proof, meaning one disk can fail, and you lose nothing, so the total usable storage space in the Drobo is right about 4TB.
The drives I selected are not built for speed, but rather for energy-efficiency. The Drobo itself is not built for speed, but rather data integrity. For these reasons, if you’re looking for a high-speed video editing drive, the Drobo is a bad choice for you.
But back to the project at hand. Drobo can only be connected to a single PC — that would be fine, if I never wanted to access my media collection from the bedroom’s PC — but I do, enter DroboShare. DroboShare is a network adapter for the Drobo. Actually, it can support up to two Drobos, very handy, and connects them to your wired network.
The DroboShare setup is painless, the unit grabs a DHCP IP address from your router (or whatever you’re using for DHCP) and the Drobo software instantly sees it.
I chose to install the Drobo Dashboard software on each of my media center PCs, it makes mapping the Drobo as a network drive simple.
Setup complete, I began testing the new Drobo. The first task was to copy 1TB of video to the Drobo. Yes, that’s right, an entire 1TB hard drive full of nothing but video. While connected to the network via DroboShare, Vista spent 20 minutes and still couldn’t tell me how long the transfer would take. So, I elected to switch to USB. With the Drobo connected directly to my PC via USB, the transfer of 1TB of data took about 12 hours. Now, that’s not exceptionally fast, but I’d only be doing this transfer once, so I didn’t care.
Transfer complete, the Drobo went back on the network via DroboShare. With the Drobo mapped as a network drive, I fired up a video. The browsing performance in Windows Media Center is noticeably slower on the DroboShare than on an internal SATA drive, but it works just fine. The video played on the first try, and played without problems.
Testing the DroboShare on another media center revealed an issue. The video indicated it could not be played, but after waiting 30 seconds, media center would then begin playing the video. This happened multiple times on different videos, so I can conclude that the DroboShare was reacting slowly, and the PC was unable to access the video on the first try.
The next test involved copying data to the Drobo while playing a video on the other PC. Again, connected via the DroboShare, I fired up a video and fired up a large file transfer. Bomb. The DroboShare was unable to keep up, and the video began freezing as Windows waited patiently for the data from the DroboShare. Multiple tests later, I removed the Drobo from the DroboShare and connected it via FireWire 400 (I didn’t have a FireWire 800 card available) to my primary media center PC and then shared it over the network from Windows Vista.
I will say the performance increase via the network is amazing. I don’t know what the DroboShare is doing, but it is drastically handicapping the capabilities of the Drobo.
The Drobo is an excellent device, which makes keeping a large collection of data safe easy enough for anyone with any skill level. However, don’t be fooled into buying a DroboShare, it is not worth the extra money, and unless you’re only using the Drobo for basic file sharing across your network, with extremely low demand, you’ll turn it off and revert to attaching the Drobo to a PC via USB or FireWire. The DroboShare really is that bad.