back to article Where to now for the data robot?

Data Robotics has the great mass of business data centre computing closed off but the small business market is wide open and waiting for Drobo-isation. We talked to Tom Buiocchi, Data Robotics CEO, and also to Paul Thackeray, the EMEA VP, to get a picture of the Drobo company just after it had announced its refreshed 8-bay …


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Consumer Use

As the population starts seeing the goodness of having on-demand access to *many* TV episodes and movies (by which I mean their entire DVD collection plus video bought online - in our case, 300 movies & 1000 TV episodes), they'll start filling up their existing drives.

Once you've migrated your 500+GB iTunes media library from one drive to another more than once, you start not wanting to do that again. At that point, an infinitely expandable option starts to look very, very attractive.

Combine that with the gibbering night sweats that come from realising how much effort it'll take to re-rip all your media, or pay to replace from online stores, and drive redundancy becomes a must have.

Device full, but you have spare bays? Slam in another drive. All done.

Device full, but no spare bays? Pull the smallest capacity drive & replace with a larger one. All done.

Drive died? Pull it & replace with working one. All done.

No downtime required, no complex rebuilding of arrays, any mix and match of SATA drives will do the trick.

It's about as close as you can get to a consumer suitable appliance for high volume, safe, data storage.


Drobo = Data Loss

Steer clear of Drobo. Consider this a warning.

This product has caused me and many other on the Internet no end of trouble and data loss. Just do a quick Google search or look at the Amazon reviews to see the horror stories.

Some key points:

- This product uses ENCRYPTED LOG FILES which cannot be accessed by the end user. You are completely dependent upon their support staff. Data Robotics claim that their log files contain "proprietary information"... name one other product that prevents end users from accessing log files

- The Drobo Dashboard is too simple to be helpful and in fact misrepresents the true status of drives. Only by spending hours and sending the encrypted log files to the support staff can you find out what your drives' statuses really are.

- When a drive needs replacement, it can take many days to rebuild and you may find at the end that the new drive is defective as well. The entire rebuild process leaves your data at risk.

- Corruption of data can occur and cannot be fixed by normal tools because of the proprietary "beyondraid" technology.

- There are two Firewire ports but Data Robotics claim that the second one is "only for Drobos". What non-standard magic is going on in this firewire chain?

- The DroboShare product is so slow that I would be surprised if anyone hasn't returned theirs.

With problems like this, I have serious doubts that they will be in business in a couple of years. Their products give the false impression of security but in fact deliver a ticking time bomb. Avoid at all costs.


I think you're low-balling...

The revenue is definitely going to swing toward the higher end of the revenue estimates, if not more. The low-end product (4-bay, USB or Firewire, no ethernet) has a street price typically around US$350-375, whilst for anything with a network port, one tends to see prices on the far side of $600. And that is for the bare box. Populating the thing with Drobo-certified mechanisms will cost another $200+ per drive when you buy them in bundles of (minimum) four or more 1TB drives, You'll add another $100 per drive for 2TB mechanisms, again in the shrinkwrapped block of 4 or 5 drives. Roughly, you'll spend $2000 for 8TB of NAS with Drobo-certified storage in a desktop housing. (Rackmount kit costs extra.)

If one assumes that even one sale in ten is to a suitably paranoid customer that actually wants some assurance that thing will work and a support contract to go with it, the average sale is going to be much closer to $800 than $600, even at the discounts that make up the channel profits. These things are NOT cheap, even if they work flawlessly, and may not even be cheaper in the long run than time spent on call-out work by a contractor that knows storage reasonably well.

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I have one .. works for me

I've had a 2nd generation 4 bay Drobo for nearly two years. That's with Firewire800 instead of USB-only, and a much improved controller which can actually give a decent data transfer speed (I just checked and got 23 MB/sec copying a movie from the Drobo to this PC over my home network, and 10 MB/sec to an old MacBook Air over WIFI).

The prices charged by the Australian and NZ agent have been quite obscene -- over NZ$1000 two years ago and still $750 now. I bought mine from Amazon for US$349 (NZ$500 at the time) on a trip to the USA.

As far as I can see it does the job and does it well. As an earlier commenter suggested, I have all my CDs and DVDs on it (in both lossless and lower bitrate versions), and also backups for my various PCs.

Everything that is on the Drobo that is not just a backup of another machine, I also have on a stand-alone (non-redundant) external drive. Maybe the Drobo can get corrupted somehow, but for sure someone could steal it.

If they could drop their prices a bit (and I don't see why they can't), I'd recommend them to a LOT of home users I know. But at the moment it's far cheaper to just buy a couple of those 2 TB WD external drives that go for about $100 each.


I'm tempted but...

the price! and i'm an inveterate apple user saying that... (In fact it's the inability to put lots of hard drives inside a mac that's one of the reasons for wanting it, as opposed to more standalone external drives each with their own leads and power bricks...)

And that price doesn't even include the hard drives. I *like* that it doesn't include the hard drives, I *have* internal hard drives in a storage drawer that were rotated out of my linux server when I upgraded the ones in there, but they're still good, and 500GB each... I've been *looking* for an efficient and sensible way to put them back into use. The Drobo S (for instance) would be perfect, but at that price I might as well either just buy the same capacity in more new external hard drives, or make a build-your-own NAS out of cheap PC parts and an Ubuntu disc.


Drobo S

The Drobo S is a crazy price! Almost double the price of the original Drobo for what? eSata, 1 more bay, and the option to enable double-failure protection (which then uses up that extra bay...).

It makes the US$349 pricing on the original look very reasonable.

As for rolling your own using a PC chassis with lots of drive bays ... that's fine except when you run out of capacity. With standard RAID software you'll either have to add a new RAID array (yes, even if you use ZFS you can't just add to an existing RAID set), or you'll have to replace all the existing drives at once which is also going to require a 2nd RAID array at least temporarily while you copy the data.

It's the ability to expand the storage literally by pulling out one drive and pushing a new one in that makes the Drobo attractive. I've currently got 3 x 1.5 TB drives in mine and it's about 70% full. By the time I need more space I'm hoping that 3 TB drives will be the cheapest per byte (the 2's are at the moment).


er, yes you can...

yes you can grow raid arrays in a PC. In Linux you can anyway, using mdadm. I've done so, so I know it works. :-) My old 500GB/disk raid5 array was grown from 4 to 7 drives one at a time until i decided to replace it with larger drives (hence ending up with more 500GB drives than I have bays to put them in). Now, when I upgraded to larger drives I could have swapped them in the larger drives one at a time and re-shaped accordingly on the fly. (I didn't as I had enough external drive space to back up the array's contents and restore it to the new array, which was quicker and simpler.)

It is a very manual, hands-on (and thus failure-prone) process, especially if the drive bays aren't hot-swappable, but it *is* possible.

I wanted the drobo or something like it (there seems to be little like it) because i was *bored* of doing it the manual way, frankly. But I'm not so bored of it as to spend that much.

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Agree with RachelG

I recently built a fileserver with a RAID-5 array which presents a single 14TB (*real* TB, not the marketing ones) to the operating OS (linux) which then makes SMB and NFS shares available to the home network. Why? Because I got tired of looking for a DVD when I wanted to watch a movie and I am now ripping my DVD collection to the fileserver, without re-compressing the files.

If it wasn't for the price (the Drobo cost as much as my PC did, and can't be used for other things like MythTV) I would have gone with one of their products and saved myself a lot of headache. Probably would have gotten two and rsync'd the data across them (yes, paranoia abounds when it comes to my data).


Understated revenue

I have been told that the 2008 numbers I guessed at were about 1/2 of what Data Robotics achieved in that calendar year. That's because Jillian Mansolf did an amazing job in the first full year of shipments. Also Data Robotics shipped for two and a bit quarters in 2007, from June onwards, so there was about half a year's revenue in that year too,

Adjusting my numbers (assuming a $500 ASP) along these lines and guesstimating we get:-

2007 - $5m

2008 - $10m

2009 - $25m

2010 - $47.5m

TOTAL - $87.5m

Halve the numbers for a $250 ASP.

That's probably a more realistic picture.


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