Store your stuff, Preserve your Memories, use a Drobo and/or online services for secure file/image/video/etc storage

Date: Wed Nov 25 2015 Drobo »»»» DropBox »»»» Google Drive »»»» Backup »»»» File Backup »»»» Photography
You know that it's best to backup your files, because good backups are crucial to recovering from a disaster. If the disk on your main computer crashes, will you lose your files? What if the only pictures of your children anywhere is on that disk? You can replace the disk, reload the operating system and your applications, but those pictures, your financial records, the things you've written, your hopes and dreams you'd laboriously put into software or other creative work, all that is your stuff and cannot be replaced just by downloading a fresh copy from an app store. Those pictures from that trip to Machu Picchu cannot be recreated. While "backups" seem like drudgery that we never get around to doing, there are tools to make it an easier task, and there are gadgets and internet services that offer reliable safe storage of your stuff.

Online file storage services for file backup and mobile access

A trivial method is using services like DropBox, Box, Google Drive, Apple's iCloud, or other online storage service. All have app's for mobile computing devices (smart phones, tablets, chromebooks, etc) to access files while on the go. That's an advantage in addition to having backups for disaster recovery, because now your files aren't trapped inside a specific computer but are available from "anywhere". Additionally, the service provider makes strong guarantees that your files won't be lost.

Many of these offer a free account, with additional paid services -- the Freemium model.


  • Reliable storage
  • Files won't be lost
  • Available from multiple devices
  • Apps that integrate with these services can possibly add more value -- zillions of app's offer a "save to Dropbox" feature

You could, in other words, stash your entire digital life in one (or more) of these accounts and be done with the problem. Your data would be backed up by a reliable service and easily accessed from "anywhere". There's even the possibility to automatically backup "things" as you create them using a mobile device, because of the large number of ways to automatically upload stuff to an online service. For example, Google Photo's or Flickr can automatically upload pictures you take.

But there are enough caveats and warnings to raise a red flag or two. Here's a few considerations:

  • What if the service goes away?
  • Big brother snooping into your files?
  • Forget the password?
  • Service provider cancels your account?

Basically you're entrusting your files to a 3rd party service. That service provider doesn't have your best interest at heart, but needs to make money somehow. In the history of the Internet several of these service providers have gone bankrupt taking user files with them. Some decide (like Yahoo) they need to "retire" accounts that are "old" and haven't been used for awhile. You may forget your password and lose access to your files.

The different services have different levels of "issues". The ones that are most likely to "die" are the ones with no obvious business model. Or maybe the service is making money elsewhere - for example Google is data-mining everything it gets its hands on to learn more about our habits and preferences so that Google can sell targeted advertising. As the saying goes "If you're not paying for it, you're the product."

Owning your cloud storage - requires some work, gives you control of your destiny

Generally speaking, the cure for the considerations I just mentioned is to take control of your "cloud storage". Or, as I do myself, take a hybrid approach where you use a 3rd party storage service for some things, and your own storage service for other things.

A Drobo - or other home NAS product - lets you own your own cloud storage device. NAS means Network Attached Storage. Drobo's and other NAS products are essentially a box, containing disk drives, connected to your home WiFi network. You may or may not be able to run software on the Drobo/NAS box and in some cases the storage unit is not a standalone computer, but must be slaved to another computer.

The advantage of owning your file storage is you're not trusting a 3rd party to stay in business, or to keep your data truly private from hackers or government spies, etc. It's your box, you paid for it, you can take it anywhere, and so forth.

The disadvantage is you now have yet another computer device to maintain. It's a single point of failure, and if that NAS device dies there's the risk of losing your data. It's useful, then, to have a backup device for your backup device, getting us to the 3rd party services mentioned above.

The Drobo is an interesting option among NAS devices because of its algorithms to protect your files. Any Drobo device requires at least two disk drives, and can hold four or more drives. It uses those multiple drives to improve reliability. The data is duplicated among the drives and a Drobo device can have up to two drive failures and still preserve your data. Here's what Drobo says about themselves:

Drobo is different because regardless of which Drobo you use, we make sure that it can be setup easily in minutes, can expand without tools by installing larger drives at any time and that your data is always protected. Drobos are self-healing, self-managing and even self-optimizing. Drobo will even let you know when you’re running low on capacity and need to install bigger drives. You insert the drives, but Drobo will take care of the rest!

This means you can add or remove drives from a Drobo at more-or-less any time. You add storage space to a Drobo by simply inserting a drive into an empty slot. If all the slots are full, simply replace one or more drives with larger disks. If a drive fails, simply replace it with a new drive. Each time you add or remove a drive, the Drobo will go through a period of recalculating the storage - indicated with lights on the front of the unit.

Drobo's come in two flavors :- those which connect to a host via USB, and those which connect to the network. The NAS-Drobo's have the capability to run a software service on the Drobo. For example, the Plex server can be installed to make a Media (video) collection available to any device on your network, or over the Internet. Servers like Owncloud and Pydio can be installed on a Drobo giving you the same capabilities as Dropbox but using your own hardware and software.

Another cool feature in Drobo's is the mSATA slot. This lets you insert an SSD drive which the Drobo will use to accelerate disk access.

Drobo Mini - 4 bays - Portable

Drobo mini: Direct Attached Storage - 4 bay array - USB3 and Thunderbolt ports - Designed for portability. (DR-MINI-1A21)

  • Holds 4 x 2.5" SATA I/II/III Drives
  • Holds 1 x mSATA SSD
  • 2x Thunderbolt & 1x USB 3.0
  • Includes USB 3.0 Cable (Thunderbolt Cable Not Included)

This unit uses laptop drives (2.5 inch SATA). This makes it small and portable (7.10 x 7.30 x 1.80 inches, 2.2 pounds) and therefore feasible to take with you on trips. The USB3 and Thunderbolt ports means ultra-fast disk access, for computers which support either interface.

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Drobo for Desktop - 4 bays and 5 bays

Drobo Gen 3: Direct Attached Storage - 4 bay array  - USB 3 port. (DDR3A21)

  • Scalable desktop storage array
  • 1 x USB 3.0
  • Holds 4 x 3.5-Inch SATA HDD's for up to 24 TB

The Drobo 5D is the same, but supporting five drive bays.

These two products are meant to sit next to a computer, and connect via USB 2/3 (the Drobo 5D adds Thunderbolt capability).

The vertically arranged lights show the status of each drive - Green says the drive is okay, Yellow indicates a problem has been detected, and Red says the drive has failed. The blue lights along the bottom is a quick glance at the storage capacity remaining in the drive.

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Drobo for the home network - 5 bays - network connected

Drobo 5N 20TB: Network Attached Storage - 5 bay array with mSATA SSD acceleration, 20TB storage included with 5 x 4TB hard drives - Gigabit Ethernet port (DRDS4A21-20TB)

  • Highly scalable network storage array
  • 1x Gigabit Ethernet
  • Includes 5x 4TB 3.5in SATA HDDs
  • Optional mSATA SSD improves performance up to 10X
  • Optional Drobo Apps include Plex media server, CrashPlan cloud backup, and Transmission BitTorrent client

With a network port this Drobo shares file storage out to any computer on your local network. Files are accessed using the SMB network file system that's supported natively by all desktop computer operating systems.

The Drobo App's let you install software inside the Drobo to extend its capabilities.

I originally purchased a four bay desktop Drobo several years ago. Last year I upgraded to the Drobo 5N. This let me eliminate one desktop computer from my life, simplifying my life a little bit. I'd kept going back and forth between a MacBook Pro laptop and the desktop Mac Mini, with some files on one computer, and some on the other. Further, accessing files on the Drobo was a little different depending on whether I was using the laptop or the Mac Mini.

Switching to the 5N meant all computers are on equal footing with accessing stuff on the Drobo.

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Enterprise Drobo - 8 or 12 bays - extended features

Drobo B810n Network Attached Storage 8 bay array with optional SSD acceleration - Gigabit Ethernet x 2 ports (DR-B810N-5A21)

  • Eight storage bays, each of which can hold one standard 3.5 inch SATA I / II / III hard disk drives or solid state drives. Also support 4KN drives. Expandable up to 48TB
  • Additional Software Features - Hot Data Cache and Data Aware Tiering with use of SSD's, OS X Time Machine Support, drive spin down and dim lights. Drobo Apps with new infrastructure
  • Dual Gigabit Ethernet port with Ethernet cable included
  • Uses Network Protocols - Common Internet File System (CIFS)/Server Message Block (SMB) and Apple Filing Protocol (AFP).

Drobo B1200i Beyond Raid 12TB SAN for Business 12-Bay Dual Gigabit Ethernet/iCSI SANs/SATA 6GB/S Storage Array with Six 2TB 7200 RPM SAS Drives

This is similar to the B810 above, but with 12 drive bays. It additionally supports the iSCSI protocol that's widely used to provide "storage" to server computers.

Both of these are targeted at small to medium sized businesses. For example an "office" could easily set one of these in a closet to provide file storage for everyone in the office.

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