It seems to me that marketing has had its way again. Drobo is a fashionable piece of tech equipment (if there IS such a thing), it looks very nice, and it has some fancy LEDs. But, isn’t the ReadyNAS from Netgear a very credible alternative? I’ve had a ReadyNAS NV now for three years, and I have no complaints, with 2.8TB online with four hard drives. (I started with four 300GB drives, then 500GB, having just upgraded to 1TB drives).
For me, the Drobo has some distinct disadvantages.
Out of the box, you have to connect to USB. This means that it works with the computer it’s attached to, and if you want to share files, the computer must be left on. You can get a network interface, but that connects via USB, again limiting the bandwidth.
Drobo’s advantages are basically that you can throw any size drive into it, and it dynamically manages the disk space. ReadyNAS can hot-swap drives, but the resultant RAID is a multiple of the smallest drive fitted, the drive space expands once the last drive is added.
ReadyNAS however, has some spectacular features over Drobo :
Being network based, you don’t need a host computer. It also has backup scheduling, seeking out connected computers at particular times, and backing up data as required. So, it can look after your backups for you just by leaving computers on overnight for example.
It sends you emails when something happens, power failure (as long as it’s on a UPS – which it controls and supports of course). It will also email you with the status of your backups, and a warning as the drive space fills up, or a hard drive fails.
Then, there’s FTP access, allowing you to access files from anywhere, as well as AFP, SMB etc. Media server facilities too.
You can plug in USB drives into the back, they are shared across the network, plug one into the front, and press the button, it will copy onto the RAID.
Then, there’s user access, so you can give different users access to different areas of the file system.
So, I think Drobo is riding on a wave of popularity, and the ReadyNAS is a little overlooked. As for price, it’s not a lot more expensive, especially if you take into account the networking option.