So what's so cool about this robot? What even makes it a robot. Well, Drobo, made by Data Robotics, Inc, is the first "storage robot," using the term robot in the Artificial Intelligence sense (AI is sometimes known as "robotics"). It connects to your computer via USB and is viewed by the OS as a single drive. As you can see from the picture, it has multiple drives hooked up (and nifty green lights to boot!), but Drobo's AI sets them up as a large, redundant drive.
Those of you with more tech savvy are probably saying...Wait...isn't that just a RAID system? The short answer is, yes, it functions much like a RAID, which is when multiple drives are set up to work as a single unit. The benefit of this system is that if a drive fails, the other drives assume the role that the failed drive was doing. It's a great way to back-up a system.
So, why re-invent the wheel. Well, mostly because the "wheel" (RAID) comes in lots of pieces, requires some know-how to assemble, and can be tricky when installing new hardware. Drobo, the "new wheel," is very "plug and play" and does all re-allocation automatically. In fact, the impressive demo video shows the user playing a high definition video (already stored on Drobo) while failing and installing multiple drives and the video doesn't even skip. That certainly impressed me. I like to do other things while engaging in long automated processes, so being able to watch a movie or TV show while installing a new drive is really attractive.
Now, Drobo is pretty pricey. It is $499 initially, plus you have to buy drives to fill its bays. It accepts almost any SATA-type drive, though, so compatability isn't an issue. Also, like any redundant back-up, putting in x gigabytes of drive space will give you less than x gigabytes of storage space. This is because much of the space is used by the unit to make extra copies of each file. I ran a simulation in the "Drobolator" found on their site, and putting four 100GB drives in the system will only give you 277.1GB of storage space. The rest of it is "used for protection."
Why am I excited about this beyond my normal geekness for cool gadgets? Well, I see products like Drobo and Apple's Time Machine as a step toward redundant back-up for the layman. Drobo is expensive right now but the price of the unit, drives, and technology will come down eventually and soon anyone will be able to securely back-up their data to a system that can be updated with new hardware as often as necessary. Disk drive failures can cost companies thousands and individuals can lose their entire digital life in an instant. Consider this kind of tech the next generation's fire safe.
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