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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Cheap backup box vs. Drobo

Recently I needed to add another backup destination to my pool. On the search for how to build a cheap Linux box, I found these components and have put one together:

- MSI Wind PC, comes with Intel Atom cpu, for $140 from newegg
- 2gig memory for $27 from newegg
- 1T drive for $120 from newegg

For a total of $287. For comparison, the cheapest standalone, network addressable drobo is $430 (for the drobo, which is a USB device), and $190 for the droboshare (a network device that the drobo plugs in to). That comes to $620. Clearly when it comes to the drobo, you're paying a hefty premium.

Why use a drobo? I have borrowed one that I am experimenting with to understand the tradeoffs. It has hung i/o on my Linux box twice(!), so I am now trying it with a droboshare. It specializes in ease of use and handling hard drive failure gracefully, at the tradeoff of higher cost, less flexibility, and less transparency (it is a magic box and your files are stored in an opaque format, for example).

An advantage of the Linux box over the drobo is flexibility. I can install the necessary software on it to use it remotely in a secure way, for example. Drobo has added "droboapps" but the capability is limited, requires building tools with a special toolchain, and there are hardware limitations, like not a lot of memory to play with. With my Linux box, I have 2gig for $27.

Another advantage of the Linux box is use of a standard file system for storing files (ext3 for example). If I run into trouble with a corrupt disk, it is comforting to know it is in a public format. With drobo, the file system is opaque.

From my point of view, the Linux box with a single drive is also simpler than a drobo. The drobo is emulating a hard drive, with private firmware and 2+ drives. It's a neat idea, but it is more complex, and there are more things to go wrong that are less easy to troubleshoot. A linux box with a single drive is a very standard set up.

The biggest selling point of a drobo (for backup) in my opinion, is the ease of use. No hats with propellers on them required. However if you're evaluating ease of use that highly and you're on a Mac, Time Machine is even easier.


Blogger Jim said...

You're leaving out the biggest factor: effort-free upgrades. If you run out of space on a DROBO you can just pop in a bigger drive. If all four slots are filled pull out the smallest drive (which will be indicated by a blinking red light) and put in a bigger drive.

To the best of my knowledge (correct me if I'm wrong) the only way to upgrade a standard RAID array is to copy all the data to a new array or drive of equal or greater size, add a new drive to the enclosure, reformat, copy all your data back over.

5:51 PM  

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