Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Drobo: Long-term review

I was thinking about my Drobo (version II) and the transfer speeds. Since April of this year, I've been using the Drobo as my external storage to my MacBook Pro 6.2. It sits on my desk at home, plugged into the MBP 95% of the time. I still only have 3 disks in the 4-disk bay and I've only managed to use 891GB of the 2.7TB space.

Screenshot of Drobo Dashboard as of today.

The reason I was thinking about its transfer speeds is that it's connected to my MBP via FireWire800 and since mid-May I've been saving full copies of all my edits on the Drobo. Each TIFF averages around 450-500MB in size and that comes out to be a long wait per save. How long? I just clocked a 490MB file at 60 seconds via Photoshop. Yeah,
that slow! The math doesn't really add up because that comes out to be just over 8MB/sec and 60 seconds is an unusually long save. A second save of the same file clocked in under 53 seconds. Faster but still brutally slow. A third save (with the Lexar disk reader disconnected from the back of the Drobo) clocked in at 49 seconds. Again, faster but still brutally slow. Just about 10MB/sec.

My "Works in Progress" folder houses all the full edits of Photoshopped files since May.

If I weren't saving full TIFF copies of all my edits (includes all layers), I suppose I wouldn't be concerned about the write speed. The read speeds don't bother me as much since I review my files a lot less often than I write new ones. I guess what I really want is for the Drobo to double as a scratch disk (the way I'm using it now) though really the Drobo was never meant to be a scratch disk.

The Drobo is an external storage solution. Good for archiving e.g. databasing my older shoots so that they don't clutter my small volume SSD. On FireWire800 there ought to be plenty of bandwidth for transfer but the Drobo architecture probably wasn't designed to maximize file transfer rates.

As I write this, I'm considering changing my own workflow to bypass the Drobo as a scratch disk for saving my more recent Photoshop files. Instead, I should create a folder on the boot disk to temporarily house 10-20 full edits for faster access. Really, I only pull the last 10-20 anyway, the ones from once upon a time (like back in May) I pretty much never look at unless I need something really specific. But again, that almost never happens.

As far as storage on my boot disk is concerned, I've generally got anywhere between 60-120GB free. On the low end after a series of shoots, I can see my storage drop down to about 40GB. Usually I'm hovering around 90-100GB which is more than enough to house a few full-sized edits. Even at 20 full edits, I'd only be using about 10GB of space anyway.

As far as functionality is concerned, and rating it in the way that it should be used, the Drobo has been nearly flawless. My complaints are minimal. Sometimes the Drobo "falls asleep" when not in use and the "waking" time spans several seconds. It seems that Drobo (the company) has not updated firmware for the basic Drobo (version 1 and version 2) in a very long time (over a year and half). There's a small issue where I can't update the firmware to the latest version, but it doesn't have anything I need anyway.

A cool thing about the Drobo is that I can daisy-chain my
Lexar FireWire800 card reader to my Drobo, although I fear that by daisy-chaining the devices, the card reader gets less bandwidth than it needs. For reliability, I've had 3 disks in the Drobo since day 1 and all 3 are still running strong. I suppose this is more of a testament to the 1.5TB (WD Caviar Green)disks in the Drobo than the Drobo itself. For what it's worth though, the unit as a whole has functioned rather flawlessly.

This entire setup will probably last me until mid-next year when I review the infrastructure of the digital lightroom. Hopefully by then 8GB SO-DIMM (1 stick) will be available so I can upgrade the MBP to 16GB of RAM. Perhaps I'll consider either an OWC drive to replace the current SSD or add a second SSD in lieu of the optical drive that I hardly use.

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