SURF THIS: Let's just back up ... with a Drobo

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Jim Cota
Steve Jobs, Apple co-founder and digital prophet, years ago predicted that the personal computer would become the “hub of our digital lives.”

He was right, of course, as digital still cameras have proliferated like weeds and even young kids are shooting, downloading, and editing video on their home computers. So we go about our days, recording video and taking pictures, loading them in ever-increasing number and volume onto our computers and rarely taking a moment to think about the long-term effects of this practice.

But pause for just a moment to consider it, and a couple of facts will become immediately clear.

First, there is an ever-increasing need for additional storage space for all of our digital content. On our home computer, for example, we have more than 20,000 photos that have been taken over the last several years. Since the price of storage seems to go down by the week, this is a relatively easy problem to overcome: Simply add additional storage space through something like a new internal or external hard drive, or perhaps network attached storage.

While relatively easy, it gets complicated when you try to migrate from one internal hard drive to another—or you need to configure the storage to function correctly. As a result, it can remain above the heads of most "normal" computer users.

The second point is just as certain but one that most people are relatively unaware of, which makes it more insidious.

Hard drives are mechanical marvels that are in nearly constant use; they spin in the neighborhood of 7,000 rpm (and more) and are the main storage container for all of these things that are so important to us.

But they are notoriously fragile.

In fact, hard drives fail. Almost all of them, at one point or another.

It’s not quite catastrophic; it’s not like losing a child or having your house burn down, but it’s extremely painful to lose all of your photos, all of your videos, your documents—everything. The pain is exaggerated because you can’t escape the notion that you could have prevented it from happening in the first place.

That was the look on my brother-in-law’s face when he told me about his experience. He was having trouble with the computer so he took it in to get fixed. Turned out the hard drive had failed. They replaced it and he headed home. It wasn’t until later when his wife asked, “What about all of the kids photos that were on the old computer?” that the enormity of it sunk in.

So you know you need to have back-ups of your stuff. But back-ups are a little clunky to set up and keep up with—and restoring your data from them can be complex. There are exceptions to this, but most people I know (including me) perceive the issue to be too complicated, so they ignore it. With my brother-in-law’s experience fresh in my mind, though, I finally decided I couldn’t avoid it any longer. So I bought a Drobo (



How can I best explain what a Drobo is? It’s like a miracle without divinity. It’s a simple solution to a complicated problem. It will keep your spouse happy. Your children will thrive. All will be right with the world.

Well, that might be overstating it. It’s a data robot in a little black box that could save all of your stuff (and your day, as well).

Essentially, it’s a small cluster of hard drives that you can use as your primary storage device. You hook it up to your computer with an included cable and use it just like the hard drive inside the computer. You can put up to four hard drives in the case (no tools required, by the way, just slide them into the bay) and the Drobo will use the storage space to save your data redundantly across the drives. This means one of the drives can fail (and it ultimately will) without losing anything. You simply slide a new drive in its place, Drobo rebuilds the data, and you continue without error, loss, or issues of any sort.

Unlike the hard drive in your computer, the redundant nature of the data storage is the key. Instead of one point of failure, the Drobo automatically saves all of your data in a way that protects it. This type of storage (called RAID) has been around for a while, but the true genius of Drobo is its dead-simple set up. You truly just plug it in and go; there’s no complicated configuration, very little set up, and it monitors itself to tell you when to add additional storage or if a drive is experiencing any issues.

If it can, it even automatically repairs any damage it finds. If not, it will let you know ahead of time so you can take action. Even if the drive fails, your data is still protected.

I probably can’t urge you enough to look into a Drobo to help protect the files that are most important to you. Do it soon, before disaster strikes, and I promise you’ll be thanking me later.


Cota is creative director of Rare Bird Inc., a full-service advertising agency specializing in the use of new technologies. His column appears monthly. He can be reached at jim@rarebirdinc.com.



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