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Management and monitoring is made easier with the bundled Dashboard utility which provides a pie chart showing used and available space along with a bar chart below. Moving to the advanced option presents a graphic of the appliance showing the drives installed along with a tool tab for formatting and renaming the volume, flashing the status LEDs, and putting the unit in standby mode. All firmware and software updates are handled by the Dashboard and can be run automatically.
We started testing with a pair of 80GB Western Digital SATA drives and half was taken immediately for redundancy. Adding a third 80GB drive gave us just under 150GB of useable space. We then installed a 160GB drive and this gave us 220GB to play with. Popping the upper 80GB drive out to simulate a failure started the LEDs flashing whilst the Dashboard advised that data protection was now in action and that another drive failure would be fatal. We replaced the drive with a 250GB model and after ten minutes we had a fault tolerant 300GB available.
The DroboShare unit sits underneath the appliance and can accept a pair of Drobos connected to its two USB ports. It provides a single Gigabit port to the network and once it's online the Dashboard adds a couple more tabs to the tool menu that enable you to change workgroup membership and password protect all volumes.
Performance isn't anything to write home about and for a DAS appliance is lacklustre. Running a range of file copies over a local connection delivered read and write speeds of 17.2MB/sec and 15.2MB/sec, respectively - around the same as most low cost NAS appliances. The Gigabit port is largely wasted as running the same copies via the DroboShare didn't see any improvements at all.
The Drobo puts a new spin on storage and will appeal to a particular type of user. For us, we like our Netgear ReadyNAS NV+ too much to change. We want our iTunes server, FTP and HTTP servers, the other media streaming services, storage quotas and strict controls to network shares. However, that said, the Drobo does look a good choice for users that want fault tolerant storage, aren't bothered about bells and whistles and don't want to get their hands dirty with RAID.