The Data Robotics Drobo FS is the latest incarnation of the critically acclaimed networking storage gadget. It features all the same data-protecting, drive-healing gubbins as the original, but now comes with a high-speed Gigabit Ethernet port, allowing it to be used across a network. Anyone who wants to get their high-speed network-attached-storage rocks off can pick one up for around £425.
Box of tricks
The Drobo is an unassuming-looking device, but don't let that fool you -- it's smarter than your average network-attached storage box. It doesn't have a fixed capacity, for a start. Inside, it can accept up to five separate 3.5-inch hard drives, each of which can be hot-swapped and replaced with higher capacity models as they become available, even, miraculously, while the Drobo is still in use.
Failure, Will Robinson!
Ordinarily, yanking operational drives from their bays would spell disaster, but not so with the Drobo FS. The device uses Data Robotics' BeyondRAID technology. This, like ordinary RAID-enabled storage systems, offers data redundancy, where data is stored across more than one drive simultaneously. If one drive fails, the data remains safe on one of the other drives.
For the more paranoid user, Drobo FS offers dual-drive redundancy. You'll need a minimum of three hard disks installed on the Drobo FS to enable it, but, once activated, Drobo FS will prevent data loss even in the unlikely event of two drives failing simultaneously.
In the event of a drive failure (or in the event someone misguidedly removes two drives at once) the Drobo will begin healing itself automatically, reconfiguring the data to ensure it's protected. Healing can take a rather long time, particularly if you're using high-capacity drives, but data remains completely usable during this process. If you've been watching a movie stored on the Drobo FS, for instance, it'll keep playing even if a drive is removed.
99 problems (and a disk ain't one)
Traditional RAID set-ups have their drawbacks, but Drobo FS' BeyondRAID technology sidesteps many of these. In a basic RAID set-up, mixing and matching drives isn't recommended, as the storage amount is restricted to the size of the smallest disk. If the user installed three 1TB drives and one 500GB drive, ordinary RAID systems would treat all four drives as if they were 500GB, wasting a vast amount of storage.
With Drobo FS, it's possible to mix and match drives of different sizes, speeds and manufacturer without limiting data capacity to the smallest drive. Using the same four drives mentioned in the Drobo FS would guarantee the user 2.26TB of usable space with 0.91TB used for redundancy in case a drive were to fail.
The Drobo FS can be used as a dumping ground for files or as a backup solution, but it has a few extra tricks up its sleeve. Data Robotics has now begun allowing third-party developers to create Drobo apps that change the ways in which you can use the Drobo FS. The app 'store' isn't exactly filled to bursting point, but there are cool additions including CTorrent , a Bittorrent client; Firefly, which serves digital music over the Web; Pure-ftpd, an FTP client; and FUPPES, an audio-video media streamer.