Why you should get a second Drobo

I believe my Drobo is due for replacement, just to compensate for normal wear and tear. Could you advise me on which unit to buy? I will keep my existing Drobo in play, in case the new one goes down. Reviews say it’s good to have a backup unit because of the proprietary RAID system.

I’m real glad you are ready to get into a new Drobo. Like any tech, these enclosures don’t last forever. The advice you read — to maintain two of them, one backing up the other — is definitely smart. (Indeed, this policy applies to any storage scheme!) The Drobo remains the best, most flexible option for small businesses.

You have likely noticed that the Drobos appear to have gone up in price. Excepting the awesomely portable Mini, the manufacturer has eliminated its lower-end units, made five drive bays the minimum, and put the much faster Thunderbolt and USB 3 in all the models.

You will read negative reviews on Amazon and elsewhere. Many criticisms are specious — “I want this to walk my dog and bake me an full-disk-encrypted pizza, and it doesn’t do that, waaaaaanh!” But some experiences sound legitimately nasty, albeit suffered by people who didn’t have backups, and who got upset that Drobo support didn’t provide a magic spell to save them from their own poor planning. Waaaaanh!

Still, the failures are real, and the Drobos seem more prone to them than other similar devices. So while I still prefer the expandability and simplicity of the Drobo, I would be remiss if I didn’t also draw your attention to the Pegasus Promise RAID.

All that said, if you agree with me that the Drobo is the best option for mass storage, this 5D is the one for most Mac owners.

And you’d get five (5) of these 1TB Seagate hard drives.

Submit a support request when you get the new unit, and we’ll get your storage all backed up and redundant!

CrashPlan might be filling up your hard drive

OK, this is no longer a coincidence: All CrashPlan users should please check the free space on your Macs’ hard drives.
On your desktop, click on “Macintosh HD,” then go to the File menu > Get Info…

If the Space Available looks low, say less than 10 GB, it might be that (pardon the expression) a CrashPlan log has grown unusually large. Open up Macintosh HD > Library > Logs > CrashPlan, and look for engine_output.log. See how big it is. I’ve now seen 30 GB, 80 GB, even 600 GB.

Throw engine_output.log in the trash, and empty your trash (right click on the trash can or Finder menu > Empty Trash…).

If the trash won’t empty, restart your Mac and try again.

Perhaps your hard drive is full for other reasons, in which case the excellent freeware Disk Inventory X can help: http://www.derlien.com/downloads/index.html

Cool storage product

It’s a SATA drive “toaster”.

Heard about these on MacBreak Weekly. It’s a dock for internal hard drives. Buy your SATA drives on the cheap, keep them in their original packaging, and when you need to use one, just pop it into this dock.

Keep them cataloged with an app like CDFinder. And store them on a shelf — remember, one copy at your home or office, and one copy offsite! — out of the way until you need ’em.

Most consumers are not going to need these, but let’s say you shoot a lot of video. This is a nice alternative to multiple Drobos, or more expensive external hard drives (of uncertain reliability).

I found a link at NewEgg and a different version of the same idea: here and here.


Erick just found this Blacx SE dock, which has a cover to protect the docked drive, and a powered USB 2.0 hub to boot.

Drobo failure

Man, I love my Drobo. I even wrote about it for our local alt-newsweekly. We’ve installed Drobos at several clients, and we’ve never had occasion to consider any other mass-storage device. Their support has been stellar … up to now.
Two weeks ago, the drive volume on my Drobo went belly-up. Couldn’t access it except for just long enough — THANK GOODNESS — to back up everything. I tried reformatting it but the damn thing won’t stay mounted.

The thing is, I wouldn’t mind as much if the Drobo engineers weren’t still, purportedly, looking at my diagnostic file, after a WEEK. I’m stuck. It was easy enough to retrieve my financial data, but my music and multimedia remain in limbo on a single external hard drive. I want to try another reformat, or maybe buy an additional SATA drive to increase storage (it wasn’t near full, and all of the disk lights were all-systems-go green), but I really just need to hear something from the engineers to set my mind at ease.

Space Question

I’ve been receiving messages that I don’t have enough space on my computer for this and that.  Most recently it had to do with optimized albums and syncing to my iPhone.  Last it was about my startup disk.

Yep, that’s a pretty definitive indication. A modern rocketship MacBook Pro will quickly turn into a land tortoise when it doesn’t have enough hard drive space to do the do. Common wisdom has been spread that the Mac needs about 10% of its hard drive to function properly.

Since HDs have gotten so big, the culprits are no longer system-level items — 2 or 3 gigabytes in the GarageBand Audio Loops and WorldBook Encyclopedia data are now kind of small potatoes — and thus we’re faced with delving into our user data and figuring out what we don’t need constant access to.

There is a lovely, free utility called Disk Inventory X that I have long used to discover what’s taking up room on a drive. We can use Disk Inventory X to find the 300-pound gorillas, usually our music and movies, and pull them off to an external hard drive. Or, in fact, to TWO external hard drives, because we have to remember that a digital file doesn’t exist unless it exists in two places.

One can burn CDs or DVDs, but I find these cumbersome, time-intensive, untrustworthy, and hard to store. A second external hard drive is the way to go.

The built-in way to see what’s consuming space is to open up your home folder, go to View menu > as List, and then View > Show View Options.

In the View Options window, turn on Calculate all sizes. You will start to see sizes of your folders appear. In that window, you can click the top of the Size column (click on the word “Size”) to sort the list biggest to smallest:

From there, you can start clicking the triangles next to the biggest folders to expand the contents of the folders, which will in turn be sorted by size. That will help you figure out what you might start to archive and delete.

Notes: Don’t delete your iPhoto Library! It’s too precious. I usually start with iTunes Movies and TV Shows, which are most easily Trashed from within iTunes.

End User: Nirvana for Gigabytes

Published in San Antonio Current, July 19, 2007

Data, welcome to Nirvana: a small black box with lights, called Drobo, the “data robot.” One pull quote called it “the iPod of mass storage.”

I’ve been waiting a decade for this.

The Drobo (drobo.com) is the first device that can take multiple hard drives — of unequal size, by any manufacturer — and unify them into one giant walk-in closet for your digital stuff. If any one drive fails, you just pop in a new one. If you run out of space, you buy bigger drives and swap them in. All the while, the Drobo stays on, and you don’t lose access to your files for even a second.

If you’ve heard of RAID, Drobo takes RAID out to the shed and beats it with a belt.

For four years, I’ve made almost every one of my clients buy an external hard drive to sit on their desk, automatically backing up their stuff. Each time, I’ve said, “When that drive fills up, we’ll get you a new, bigger one and you can stash the first one in a closet.” It may seem wasteful, but as I discussed in my last column, very few computer users can afford to lose what’s on their hard drives.

I want to mention here that, if you do suffer a hard drive failure, services exist that can typically recover your data. Drive Savers of California has one of the best reputation (and employs a crisis-intervention counsellor). Their work can run between $1,000 and $3,000, but there are more affordable and locally based agencies. Also, the $89 software SpinRite, by Steve Gibson at grc.com, reportedly does the best job at recovering data outside of a clean room.

Back to good vibrations: Mass storage used to be unnecessary for non-geeks. Now any new computer can help anyone become a musician or filmmaker, work that takes lots of space to produce.

On the other end, internet-based consumers have put billions of dollars into pure 0s and 1s, assets that exist nowhere but hard drives. In January, the iTunes Store sold its two billionth song, and it offers more than 500 movies, and whole seasons of many TV shows. Amazon recently announced its own forays into digital downloads of music and video. Sales of physical albums continue to drop, while downloadable purchases claim bigger market share every day.

Then there are the terabytes of free (or free-if-you-know-where-to-look) files being downloaded every day. (Between us, did you know you could have your computer automagically grab new episodes of your favorte TV shows, sans commercials, without any subscription? Whatever you do, don’t visit tvrss.net, and don’t download, for example, Miro-né-Democracy Player, which also has wonderfully legitimate uses.)

So, the Drobo lets you stash that multimedia audio-visual glut in an expandable, protected space. Now that the first 1Tb (terabyte) internal hard drives have hit the market, the Drobo can combine four of those puppies for a total of 2.7Tb redundant storage. (Redundancy in computerdom, as opposed to, say, a philosophy major, is a boon.)

I can’t report that this magnificence comes cheap. The Drobo is $500 for the enclosure alone. But gigabytes have become very cheap, indeed; a year ago I advised people to be happy getting $1/gigabyte. Today, I paid $100 for a 500Gb drive. Three of those will put 930Gb in my Drobo. That, my friends, is 2,000 movies or 300,000 songs, whichever comes first. By the time I fill that (and I will), drives will be more capacious and markedly cheaper.

The Drobo currently only connects over a slightly slower USB 2.0. Many forum-posters have griped about this limitation, but it makes sense in the way the iPod makes sense: Keep it simple, and fewer things will screw up.

I bought my Drobo in August, and it is everything I expected. I feel a lot more secure knowing my data is (almost completely) safe from drive failure.

And… iPhone… Ooooh, you knew I was gonna sneak it in somewhere!

Jonathan Marcus publishes online at themacwhisperer.blogspot.com.