Thursday, May 03, 2007

Drobo - A Beta Tester's Thoughts (and a deal...)

I had the pleasure of beta testing a nifty piece of hardware over the last few months. The Drobo, by Data Robotics, which does some amazing stuff with your data deceptively simply.

I've been bitten a few too many times in the last 12 months or so by failed drives. Yes, I do backups. Not as frequently as I should for sure. However, I've had two, count'em TWO backup drives fail on me in the last 6 months alone. Mind you, this was not my main drive (I've had two of *those* fail in the last 12 months too) but it was painful none-the-less because there were things on the backup drive that weren't on any other drives at the time.

The designers & engineers have put a lot of thought and effort into this product. The current unit can hold up to 4 SATA drives. I'm not going to go into spec details here, those can be had at . They've managed to bring down the price from $699 to $499 even before their “official” launch June 1. A much better price point that should help them move even more units based on the current configuration of the box.

If you know a beta tester — and if you are reading this, now you do — you can get an instant $25 rebate off the new price through May 30th. For those of you lucky enough to see my blogs just use REFJENL at to get that discount. Be sure to use all caps.

The cool thing about testing this hardware was simulating the drive failures. Seriously! We were told to pull a drive, randomly... just pop one out of the unit. VoilĂ ! The unit flashes lights at you to tell you that there's a problem (okay, it's a bit more specific than that but they explain it pretty well on their own site). Then it begins to manage the problem by redistributing your files over the remaining drives. No loss of data. Wonderful!

If you have their software installed, which I find useful and reassuring even though you can use the Drobo without it, you will be given even more feedback about the status of the device and your remaining drives. As beta testers we were a pretty merciless group. We tried, and succeeded, breaking it many ways and engineering at Data Robotics was a great group to work with. They were responsive and willing to communicate. Some of us were a little thick regarding some of the technology and they patiently worked through it with us to understand the advantages — and some limitations — of the unit.

Way back when, I tested the first bit of software for them. It was Windows only at the time. Then the call came asking if I was still interested in beta testing as they were about to enter the hardware phase. “Sure”, says I, thinking all the while “Man, I really wish I could do this on my Mac(s) instead of the Windows box“. Lo-and-behold, the beta unit arrive with a CD to install their software and the few pages of instructions that came with it included, yes, Macintosh installation notes! Yay! WooHoo!

I promptly chucked the Windows machine back to it's dusty corner, back to idle status and loaded the software and the unit on my Mac. I've never looked back. I'm currently awaiting my commercially available version of the unit (unfortunately, I have to give up the beta unit to do this as it was too rich for my budget to keep both). I'm hoping my boys (that would by my husband and my 5 year old son) will forgive me for buying my own Mother's Day present in a few days — an Apple Airport Extreme — so I can plug the Drobo into our network and get all those kids shows (Scooby, Avatar, Jimmy Neutron) OFF my main drive at home. (-;

Take a look at and see if you find the backstory on this product as compelling as we beta testers did. With the price drop and an additional discount you may find yourself less likely to be in a “lost my data” scenario in the near future.

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