Drobo Rocks

I have made it back from Beijing (woot) and am slowly getting caught up. I want to begin with a review of my Drobo.


It really is as simple as they say. I unboxed it, plugged in three fresh 500 gig SATA drives, turned it on and formatted it. That was it. No setup, configuration, or anything else. As an aside, the drives were only $99 each, on sale at NewEgg. If you’re in the market, keep an eye on the “cheap drive deals” forum at DroboSpace.

Next, I started copying data to the Drobo. While doing so, I popped in a 300 gig drive in the fourth slot. There was no excitement whatsoever – the copy continued, the green light came on and the Volume was suddenly a little bit bigger.

Picture 2-2

So, setup is as simple as could be.

Performance is probably the biggest downside of Drobo. If you need crazy thruput, this isn’t the device for you. I’m seeing about 16 Megabytes/second, compared to about 60 megabytes/second on the internal disk. That’s a pretty big difference, but I’m just using the device for archival purposes.

Some folks are also confused by the way it reports free space. The DroboDashboard application (shown above) reports the true disk space of Drobo. However, the OS will report it as a 2 terabyte volume, no matter how large the actual drives are. This is how they’re able to grow and shrink the volume dynamically – they trick the OS a bit. What it means is that you can’t trust the “Free space” report in Finder. There are also lights on the front of Drobo that tell you how much space is available. Not a big downside for me, but some folks might not be so keen.

Another issue that some folks have is noise. Drobo does have an 80mm fan in the back, which runs at varying speeds depending on workload and ambient temperature. For me, it seems pretty quiet, and I certainly can’t hear it over my air conditioner. If you’re one of those silent-workspace types though (still running a Cube?), you won’t be thrilled.

Overall, I’m very impressed. Build quality is nice, with a bunch of high end touches, like magnets to hold the front faceplate on. For a first product from a new company, it all feels very polished.

So, if you’re a person with lots of data to store, without a need for high disk bandwidth, and you want to be able to grow over time, Drobo will make you very happy.

Drobo is taking over the world!

If anyone wants to learn how to market a product in the 21st century, look no further than Drobo. First off, a bit about why it’s so cool (and why I’m going to buy one) and then I’ll explain how amazing their marketing has been.

Drobo is an external storage solution which uses RAID-like technology to protect your data. What makes it cool is that it can be dynamically expanded, without reformatting, and supports mixing and matching of various disk sizes. So the deal is that you connect it over USB2, pop in whatever SATA disks you have lying around, and it creates a single large volume for you. Any one of those disks can fail catastrophically without you losing access to any of your data. When that happens, you just pop in a new disk and it keeps humming along. Similarly, when you start to run low on storage space on the array, it’ll turn on a light next to the smallest drive in your array, queueing you that it’s time to upgrade. Just pop the smallest disk out and pop a larger disk in. Magically, you’ve got more space in your volume.

I’m excited about it for two reasons. One, I’ve got five external disks hooked up to my Powermac at home, along with two internals. Around 1.8tb of space overall. About 1.5tb of that is totally unbacked-up. That’s a bit scary. It’s also annoying to have data spread across seven different volumes. So, I’m looking to get a Drobo populated with two 500 gig disks and two of my existing 250 gig disks. It’ll give me just about a terabyte of usable, redundant storage, which is a pretty good start.

So, it’s obviously a pretty cool product. But why the buzz? Because this company is very clever.

Their marketing began (as best as I can tell) with a video on YouTube, demonstrating the ways the array reacts to having a drive removed, replaced, etc. From there, they got samples into the hands of the influential tech bloggers and podcasters – DL.TV, Leo Laporte, Engadget, Scoble, etc. Suddenly every blog I read and podcast I listen to is talking about this device like it’s the second coming. This morning I got an email from MacConnection telling me how awesome it is. The marketing must be working because the device is apparently pretty hard to find in stock at the moment.

Bright guys.

Clever Kids at Kodak

Kodak has announced a new sort of filter to go on CMOS or CCD sensors to replace the existing “bayer pattern.” For those who don’t know, a CCD or CMOS chip is inherently only sensitive to variations in brightness, not to colors themselves. In order to get around that, you either need a three chip camera (with each chip filtered to just received red/green/blue light) or you need a bayer pattern on a single chip. Essentially a bayer pattern is just a grid of very small filters, so each pixel on the sensor is only receiving one of the three primary colors. A true RGB image can later be reconstructed by interpolating the pixels.

The new Kodak filter ads a “clear” filter to the existing bayer pattern, which allows for much greater light sensitivity. In essence, it’s like adding a “luma” pixel to the RGB pixels. Pretty clever!

WWDC Bummer Roundup

So yesterday was a SteveNote out in San Fran. Here’s the gist – Leopard still looks pretty cool, but it won’t blow your mind. There still isn’t a way to develop for the iPhone (though they’re very proud of the fact that you can make webpages for it), and that’s about it.

Safari 3 beta is pretty slick, though I don’t fully understand the logic behind the Windows release – perhaps as an iPhone development environment? It is a hell of a lot faster though, especially in pages that are obscenely heavy in javascript and dhtml stuff. The Media Mill “custom” layout is far more usable, even on slower machines.

MacRumors has confirmation that the iPhone won’t ship with Flash support, which is quite a bummer. One hopes they’ll still move this direction, particularly if there is user outcry. The web is a lot more useful when you can load Flash content.

MacRumors is also saying that ZFS won’t ship in Leopard, and certainly not as “the filesystem.” Sun’s Jonathan Schwartz said last week that ZFS was going to be the future of OSX. One hopes that this isn’t a case of a major project being “Steved” …

Hopefully more good comes out of WWDC for the developers that are out there. For those of us watching from the sidelines though, it’s been a bit of a disappointment.

New MacBookPros, hoorah

Apple released new 15″ and 17″ MacBook Pros today. Plenty of upgrades: Santa Rosa chips, 2gigs of ram standard, Geforce 8600M GPUs. The 15″ gets LED backlighting, while the 17″ gets the option for a higher res screen – 1920×1200, the same as the 23″ cinema displays. That’s a really huge feature, both for folks working with video (it means you can view 1080i at 1:1 resolution) and for normal users. Personally, I find the 23″ has just about enough screen realestate to productively multitask, so I’m excited about that many pixels in a laptop.

I’ll be very excited to see LED backlighting in person as well, as it’s supposed to be pretty beautiful. The 15″ also picks up a little extra runtime thanks to the lower power backlighting, so Apple estimates 6 hours of battery life. Nice.