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Wow, that title‚Äôs a mouth¬≠ful ‚ÄĒ Net¬≠work Stor¬≠age Array ‚ÄĒ but don‚Äôt let that tech¬≠nic¬≠al-jar¬≠gony sound¬≠ing term scare you, this Drobo FS device is really as easy to use as your Fridge. And for me, that‚Äôs a Holy Grail ‚ÄĒ some¬≠thing that you use and basic¬≠ally for¬≠get the complexity.

Whut?
But let me back up a moment and describe what a Net¬≠work Stor¬≠age Array (or NAS ‚ÄĒ Net¬≠work Attached Stor¬≠age) device is.

Basic­ally, it’s a box with a bunch of hard drives in it, and some net­work intel­li­gence. You con­nect your NAS to your home or office net­work, and it appears to your com­puters as if it’s anoth­er com­puter on your net­work that’s shar­ing some drives.

You copy stuff to your NAS and share files with any oth­er com­puter on your network.

Pretty simple, yet dif¬≠fi¬≠cult to do well

And this is where things get a little squir¬≠rely. Some people have a house¬≠hold with mixed com¬≠puters shar¬≠ing the same net¬≠work. In my case, I‚Äôve got Win¬≠dows (2 vari¬≠et¬≠ies), OSX and Linux machines. And some net¬≠work stor¬≠age devices don‚Äôt play well with dif¬≠fer¬≠ent machines on the same net¬≠work. Sure, the box may say Win/Mac, but invari¬≠ably issues arise. Not so with the Drobo FS.

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It‚Äôs a sleek, black, Fridge 
The Drobo FS unit I tested for this review was a 5 bay unit. In it, I installed 3 dif­fer­ent sized drives to use for my net­work stor­age, not some­thing you nor­mally do in most NAS devices.

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And also unlike most oth­er NAS devices, Drobo does­n’t use stand­ard RAID tech­no­logy to man­age your data. Instead, they use a pro­pri­et­ary com­bin­a­tion of hard­ware and soft­ware tools called Bey­on­dRAID.

At the risk of over­sim­pli­fy­ing, all the drives you mount in the Drobo FS are merged and are avail­able as one big pool of data stor­age. Each phys­ic­al drive loses its unique iden­tity as far as any­one on your net­work is concerned.

Bey­on­dRAID works behind the scenes, man­aging the file stor­age and main­ten­ance. To start to use this stor­age space, all you do is log into the Drobo Dash­board to cre­ate vir­tu­al drives vis­ible to your network.

Smart, safe, and accessible 
One of the reas¬≠ons you use a net¬≠work stor¬≠age device is to have a safe and reli¬≠ably man¬≠aged loc¬≠a¬≠tion to store import¬≠ant data.

The Drobo FS device keeps the data safe by a little tech­nic­al wiz­ardry. Remem­ber what I said pre­vi­ously about all the drive space being pooled? Well you don’t get all of it to use for your storage.

A Drobo FS device using Bey¬≠on¬≠dRAID needs a cer¬≠tain amount of that drive space for ‚Äėover¬≠head‚Äô. This over¬≠head is what keeps your data safe from phys¬≠ic¬≠al hard drive failures.

One drive goes bad, and the Drobo FS lets you know about it, but your data is safe. Simply swap out the bad drive for a good new drive, and after the unit integ­rates the drive to the pool, you’ve got all your addi­tion­al drive space back, without an inter­rup­tion in work due to a down drive or server.

There‚Äôs even a Dual Drive mode that will let you recov¬≠er from two drives fail¬≠ing at the same time.

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In my case, the drives I‚Äôd moun¬≠ted totalled about 4.5 TB, which actu¬≠ally means that with the Bey¬≠on¬≠dRAID data secur¬≠ity sys¬≠tem I‚Äôve got about 2.24 TB avail¬≠able for data. Depend¬≠ing on your drive con¬≠fig¬≠ur¬≠a¬≠tion, the per¬≠cent¬≠age avail¬≠able for data can vary. Drobo has a cool Capa¬≠city Cal¬≠cu¬≠lat¬≠or on their site to help you see how the device would work for your data stor¬≠age needs.

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I’m stor­ing all my pho­tos and per­son­al videos on the Drobo FS, as well as my music and video col­lec­tion. By hav­ing that data avail­able on my net­work, I can view the pho­tos or movies from any of my com­puters, or oth­er net­work-aware devices such my Blu-Ray play­er or media centre. And that irre­place­able data is much bet­ter pro­tec­ted than if it was just on a single drive on your computer.

Friendly tech¬≠nic¬≠al assistance 
In the course of pre¬≠par¬≠ing this review, I did run into one issue with the Drobo FS. One day the device did¬≠n‚Äôt want to talk to the Drobo Dash¬≠board applic¬≠a¬≠tion, either on my PC or OSX machines. I could still con¬≠nect to the drives hos¬≠ted by the Drobo FS, but the Dash¬≠board soft¬≠ware was dead in the water.

The solu¬≠tion it seemed, was a simple power down / power up of the Drobo FS, but before I got to that solu¬≠tion, I con¬≠tac¬≠ted their Tech¬≠nic¬≠al Sup¬≠port depart¬≠ment via email and was promptly and con¬≠fid¬≠ently led through a set of steps to troubleshoot the issue.  Once we got to the power down / up step, everything was back to nor¬≠mal, and it‚Äôs been nor¬≠mal in the weeks since.

It‚Äôs a Time Machine 
More tech issues; just as I was wrap¬≠ping up this review, my wife‚Äôs new Mac¬≠book Pro decided to get a little wonky ‚ÄĒ audio cut out com¬≠pletely and there was an issue with the Boot Camp drive decid¬≠ing it really wanted to be the only OS on the Mac. So it went back and she received a new replace¬≠ment. Cool.

But what was really cool was the Time Machine backup we‚Äôd done to the Drobo FS, pre¬≠vi¬≠ous to tak¬≠ing the Mac in.

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To use Time Machine on net¬≠work drives, you have to set up a spe¬≠cial vir¬≠tu¬≠al drive. On the Drobo FS, it was a simple as cre¬≠at¬≠ing a new vir¬≠tu¬≠al drive and check¬≠ing a box to set that share to be usable by Time Machine over the net¬≠work. Once that‚Äôs set up, Time Machine set¬≠tings on the Mac will auto¬≠mat¬≠ic¬≠ally make intel¬≠li¬≠gent backups of your Mac accord¬≠ing to whatever sched¬≠ule you set.

And it was this backup that saved us hours of rein¬≠stalling soft¬≠ware from disc, Steam or the app store.

So?
It worked as expec­ted. That may sound merely adaquate, but I’ve found that work­ing with new tech has often had a few sur­prises in store through the setup and install process.

In this case, my exper­i­ence with the unit and Drobo tech sup­port was top-notch. The prin­ted doc­u­ment­a­tion, the setup pro­cess and the daily oper­a­tion were all as I expected.

And if you‚Äôre a bit more tech¬≠nic¬≠ally advanced, the Drobo FS has the abil¬≠ity to run Dro¬≠boApps ‚ÄĒ small use¬≠ful util¬≠it¬≠ies such as an Apache web serv¬≠er, tor¬≠rent cli¬≠ent or Media Centre applic¬≠a¬≠tion. Full details on Dro¬≠boApps here.

My take? The Drobo FS is a data stor¬≠age appli¬≠ance, deceptivly simple from the out¬≠side, reli¬≠able and sol¬≠id on the inside‚Ķ and it rocks!

 
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