The Drobo FS in-depth, Part 1: what it is, how it works

ars technica by Lee Hutchinson

I have a buddy named Matt who's a digital pack-rat. He's the guy you call when you need a movie or a TV show, because chances are he's got it. Among the finer things in his collection is the entire multi-decade run of "Dr. Who," including lots of rare black and white Hartnell stuff. He's long since reached the point where he could put his collection on random play and die of old age before he sees a repeat.

Matt's not alone, either—we're coming to a point where everyone and their dog has at least a digital music and photo collection, and tons of folks (especially folks in the Ars reader demographic) have collections of ripped movies and TV shows on top of that. All that stuff has to reside somewhere, and to that end there's a huge array of network attached storage devices—NAS boxes, as we in the biz say—that can keep the data safe, with redundancy and protection that you wouldn't get from storing the collection on your computer's main hard drive or on a single external disk.

I recently got my hands on a Drobo FS from Data Robotics, and I've been using it intensively for some time now. If you're interested in the Drobo, then this two-part review is perhaps the longest and most thorough look at the device you'll find anywhere. Indeed, it's more than just a review—In Part 1 I dig into Data Robotics patent filings so I can explain how the device works. In Part 2, I'll describe how the Drobo functions in day-to-day use.

How a WHS snob ended up with a Drobo

Though my own media collection pales next to Matt's, I'm no slouch—I've got my own sprawling collection of stuff, and since late 2007 I've been a user and evangelist of Windows Home Server, my favorite Microsoft product. Windows Home Server has two killer features: first, it will painlessly and automatically back up any Windows PC on your home network; and second, you can toss a bunch of differently sized hard drives into it and it will treat them all as a single usable glob of space. Microsoft accomplished the second feat with a technology they called Drive Extender. It uses some clever tricks and a specialized service or two to elegantly create the functional illusion of a single giant hard drive out of multiple hard drives, without the server administrator having to manage RAID groups or LUNs or any of the things that high-end servers and disk arrays need to approximate the same functionality. It was great. Over the years, I seamlessly grew my WHS from two terabytes of space on four 500 GB disks up to more than five terabytes on several mixed-size disks. read more...

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