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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 Drobo, 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.
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.
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.
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.
The Drobo is a complex machine, but it's incredibly easy to set up. Doing so is a case of inserting the accompanying CD, running the Drobo install application and connecting the Drobo FS via the supplied Ethernet cable. For those who wish to share the Drobo across a network, it's also possible to connect the Drobo FS to a router, where it'll be accessible by any device on the network, whether they're a Mac or PC.
The Drobo FS includes the DroboCopy application, which lets you select which folders or entire PCs you'd like to back up, and schedule what time you'd like those backup jobs to run. It's also compatible with Apple's Time Machine backup software.
The Drobo FS' main claim to fame over its sister products is the fact it can be connected to your PC or network via an Ethernet port, which theoretically makes it quicker than the standard models that connect via USB or FireWire 800.
In our real-world tests, the device achieved moderate write speeds averaging 36MBps, which is in line with Data Robotics' own 30-40MBps projections. We couldn't replicate the company's projected 35-50MBps read speeds, however. In our hands, the device managed a mere 22MBps.
These figures are only slightly quicker than you can expect from a second-generation Drobo using FireWire 800. As a result, we recommend you think twice if you're considering buying a Drobo FS merely on the promise of it being quicker than other devices in the range.
The Data Robotics Drobo FS is a fabulous piece of kit. It isn't as quick as we'd hoped, but the addition of an Ethernet port opens up a world of network-attached possibilities that were sadly missing from previous devices. If you're looking for a smarter-than-usual NAS that provides peace of mind and is hugely flexible, you should definitely pick one up.
Edited by Emma Bayly