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Drobo storage gets faster eSATA interface

Data Robotics' new Drobo S storage system comes with a faster computer connection that could make it good for active storage, not just backup.

Data Robotics eSATA-enabled Drobo S
Data Robotics eSATA-enabled Drobo S
Data Robotics

Finally, it looks like the Drobo storage system I've been waiting for has arrived.

I've been struggling with the right way to deal with data as I move from a desktop machine with abundant internal storage to a laptop that can't fit my burgeoning photo library. Earlier four-drive Drobo models, with FireWire and USB ports, looked better at backup than storing live files I'd be using constantly.

But Monday, Data Robotics announced the Drobo S, a five-bay, $799 storage system that adds an eSATA connection to the mix.

Drobo systems use technology called BeyondRAID that stores data across a mixture of different drives. It offers redundancy and automatically rebuilds your files when you replace an older drive or add a new one that's more capacious. Drobos don't come cheap, but they offer longevity, and right now Amazon is selling 1.5-terabyte drives for $99.

So why should the prospect of dropping $1,000 on a storage system excite me? Because of eSATA. For those unfamiliar with the technology, eSATA is an external incarnation of the high-speed Serial ATA technology used to attach hard drives internally.

I've been disappointed with eSATA, though. It remained an obscure technology suffering from the classic chicken-and-egg problem in technology: storage system makers had no incentive to support it until computers had an eSATA port, and computer makers had no incentive to add the port until there were eSATA storage devices on the market. USB is universal, and even FireWire, while rare by comparison, is abundant compared to eSATA.

Worse, my eSATA Western Digital MyBook external drives have been flaky. Whether the blame lies with the drives, computer, cable, operating system, or something else I don't know, but I threw in the towel and just use them as USB drives. It's mostly for backup, anyway, where transfer speeds are not as critical.

But perhaps things are turning around now. The latest higher-end laptops from Dell and Hewlett-Packard have combination eSATA/USB ports, which means precious real estate on the side of their laptops doesn't need to be squandered on a port most people won't use even if eSATA does become popular. And Data Robotics' move is another good sign.

It's not yet clear how well the new model will fare in the real world. Here's what Jim Sherhart, Data Robotics' senior director of marketing, had to say about performance, though: "We have consistently seen 70-90MB/s sustained throughput on eSATA using standard benchmark tools such as Kona, Black Magic, and IOMeter."

Drobo devices don't come cheap, but losing data is expensive, and I like Drobo's built-in data protection. In addition to the drive redundancy, the system also checks for bad patches on its drives and moves data accordingly.

And I have a lot of data to deal with. My camera's photos are typically between 20MB and 30MB apiece, and now that I can shoot 1080p videos with my SLR, I find a lot of 500MB videos eating up my hard drive. A four-bay Drobo probably would have sufficed for me, and I'm not going to spring $1,799 for the 10-terabyte fully-loaded Drobo S option. But pay-as-you-go is an appealing technology, and Drobo said the system will accept drives larger than 2TB.

Now I just wonder when Drobo systems will get a Light Peak interface.