Drobo is mine – What’s your backup strategy?

Benjamin Franklin once said ” I conceive that the great part of the miseries of mankind are brought upon them by false estimates they have made of the value of things.” In this episode I cover the topic of safe keeping your most valuable things photography wise: your photographs!

Do you have a backup strategy? What is it?

For years i have built myself a collection of external hard drives and rely on a multitude of softwares to duplicate and backup my data. About 1.5 month ago i ran out of space which forced me to reassess my backup strategy.

With time, the hard drives are growing in size and their price is going down. While this is a good thing, it only aligns with a global accumulation of data of any kind and nowadays our life or at least what is the most critical to its maintenance, resides on discs (whether it is the cloud or under our roof).

I was tired of buying always more drives, bigger ones and building combersome workflow to keep everything safe. There is a saying that is “data only exists in 3 differences places, on 2 different locations”. This means that it is not enough to rely on keeping your work on your favourite computer and maybe occasionally use 1 external hard drive or USB stick. I truly believe in this saying. Maybe because of my computer engineering background and my professional experience where i see missing data a nearly common thing. In the computer world, paranoia is a smart measure of self preservation. Do not trust anything, do not empower one technological stuff over another.

Going back to my assessment, I knew what i wanted:

  • a solution which would handle the duplication of data by itself and therefore self preserves.
  • a solution which would enable me to have access to all my data from any device in my house and office.

For the first requirement, it is not uncommon as we have several options among data storage units which offer data redundancy/drive mirroring (i.e. Redundant Array of Independent Disks). You can find units which enclose 2, 4, 5… drives and some version of the RAID system.

For the second requirement, there is a lot of choices, especially nowadays with all the media centres for your TV and home entertainment.

The combination of the two narrows the choices and my eyes first caught the rather cheap Western Digital Live Duo 4T option.

Western Digital Live Duo 4T
Western Digital Live Duo 4T

 I bought that for about £250 from a local store and once back home  I started setting things up and testing its limitation. It did not take me long to realise that was far from the ideal solution given the pre-enclosed “green” hard drives in the unit which have a rather slow writing and reading speed. I must add my house network is set up for gigabit speed with Cat6 cables and a gigabit switch. After a few days i brought the box back to the store and got refund.

Then I had been told about Synology and their enclosure which seem to offer everything i needed for a rather standard price (although nearly twice the cost of the WD Live duo, once the cost of drives added). My problem with Synology products was they seem to be targeting a rather technical audience and while I am after all a form computer engineer, I really do not see myself having fun in trying to restore my data in going through programs and tedious manoeuvres. They have a great product line though and should i needed a mail server and other network software then it would probably had appealed to me more.

Finally I decided to go for the Drobo solution which has been favoured by many photographers over the past few years. The price was not far from the Synology but where the true value lies, in my opinion, is the simplicity of its solution.

Drobo 5N
Drobo 5N

You can use any disc capacity, writing speed and brand you wish, even mix them up so if you want to start using 2TB drives for now and in a year time you wish to add a 4th drive then you can. I went for the Drobo 5N since it is the model which can be plugged to the network (Network Attached Storage). That particular model offer 5 disc slots and a special slot underneath the box for an msata drive (SSD) which enhance the performance when writing and reading small files).

The use could not be more simple. It is ball about the colour emitted by the box: yellow you need more drive, red you need to replace your drive.

Another great thing about the Drobo is its warranty which by standard is 2 years. Should you encounter any issue with the Drobo itself (not the drives), Data Robotics (the brand behind the Drobo) would exchange the box. You can even purchase an 1 year extension which besides extending the warranty it guarantees a replacement of the Drobo box the very next day you notify your Support center.

Many will argue the Drobo RAID system is proprietary but the reality of things is they all are by definition. In terms of performance that box is amazing. Not only it holds all my data but i actually use it as the main storage for my photographs. So when I import my photos from the SD card I actually use Lightroom and copy the photos directly onto the Drobo and later i work directly on those. It is as fast as my standard hard drive in my 2011 27″ iMac.

I cannot recommend this solution enough. It is pricey (£368 for the Drobo only) but given i do not need to buy all the drives at once and the Drobo was operational within 10 minutes after i powered it up I think it is brilliant safe.

Western Digital external drive
Western Digital external drive

The Drobo drive redundancy provides me with the 2 different places where i store my valuable data. I also keep using 2 external hard drives as my 3rd place which i keep in different location (office) and swap each time i travel to that second location.

Do I feel Safe? yes i do.

Backup to the cloud
Backup to the cloud

I the video i did not mention the Cloud storage as an option. The reason is that while it is a brilliant solution with rather compelling prices I have too much data to store and keep altering everyday and my broadband is not fibre optic yet so it would take too long to upload the incremental changes.

I hope you found this testimony informative and if you do not have any backup strategy yet, maybe i have inspired. What’s the point of capturing it if you do not secure it.

© 2020 Tom Migot Fine Art All rights reserved​

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