Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Drobo + Droboshare

This is my new Drobo sitting on my poor mans computer rack in my office. I've had it about two weeks now.

This is the older USB 2.0 only model. When the new model with Firewire was introduced this model had a price cut. I was all ready to buy it off the Drobo site with a promo code when I realized that once that added shipping on I could still get it cheaper from Amazon. I also purchased the Droboshare attachment to turn it into a NAS (Network Attached Storage) device. I ordered two 750 Gig drives from Newegg to complete the set. Newegg has consistently had the lowest prices for drives. I've since added a 640 Gig drive to give me a bit of boost in redundancy. I've also added a Dlink Gigabit Network switch to try and improve transfer rates. The one computer I have with a Gigabit card in it only saw modest speed increases.

All my experiences have been with the Drobo in conjunction with a Droboshare so keep that in mind. Expansion of the device is really the hallmark of it's simplicity you just add an additional SATA drive and you increase your redundancy protection and over all disk space. With two 750 Gig drives and one 640 Gig drive I have access to 1.26 Terabytes of redundant data storage connected to my home network. Any one drive can fail and I will have no data loss. This is a comfort since if I have a single drive failure in my Linux server the whole data volume is gone.

One important item with the SATA drives you place in it. Make sure the are set to work at high transfer rates. You might have to fiddle with jumpers to turn this on. SATA drives come in 1.5 and 3.0 Gigabyte transfer rates. Some of the 3.0 Gigabyte SATA II drives are configured to run at 1.5. So make sure you are getting your moneys worth and get the jumpers right. Honestly I did not see a difference in transfer rates but I feel better now.

My purpose for this device was to provide redundant storage from my digital pictures. A 10 Megapixel camera can eat up storage fast. And a place to protect all my music library. I have started using the Drobo as the primary storage device for the pictures but just a backup up for the music. I want to keep the music on the Linux server for now as the primary source.

Transferring vast amounts of data over the network takes time. My transfer rates are much slower than I would have expected I'm not sure if this is because they are coming off a volume group in Linux of if I have an issue with my network. The data is moving at 10 Megabit speeds even though I'm on a 100 Megabit line for the Linux server. The iMac is transferring at acceptable speeds but it is on Gigabit and should be faster. Maybe the USB 2.0 connection to the droboshare is issue.

Pros: Setup is easy, expansion if totally easy. Footprint is small and you don't have to worry about configuring a RAID array on your computer. Your data is protected from hard drive failures. You get a lot of usable storage considering it is also providing redundancy. The set up was fairly easy but some of that will make it into the cons. The tool to manage the device is pretty straight forward and effective. To your computers it shows up as a standard SMB (Windows) file share pretty easy to access. I have a mixed environment to so my Mac's, Linux Boxes, and Windows machines can all see it, use it, and share files. Double plus good.

Cons: You still have to understand about drive formatting to get it up and going but you can get a geeky guy or girl to help if needed. You should just plug it into the network and the client tool supplied with the Droboshare is supposed to find it. I had to plug and unplug and reset and fiddle a while before it finally came up. I have the same problem if I place it in standby mode it really does not want to come back to life. I've had one power outage where it can back fine I had an accidentally unplug where I thought I would have to send it back but it finally woke up and the client was able to see it. That has been the biggest issue I've had with it. Also the Drobo client install keeps wanting to make it load on startup I don't want it to and have to convince it of that every update. Oh yeah it really is an expensive solution.

Needs to have: The Droboshare really really needs to support some type of rsync capability. It based on Linux and they just released an SDK someone really really needs to compile rsync for it. This would make transferring files to it so much easier. My 100+ Gig music library takes over 26 hours to transfer. This is due to the slow transfer speeds off the Linux server but rsync would really fix that.

Nutshell: If you have digital bits of data that you want to share and protect this is the device to buy. It excels at simplicity (when compared to other solutions). Allows you to maintain control of your media. If you are buying music, movies are taking hard to replace photos go buy one today. With today's hard drives it is not if you will have a failure it is when. Remember though it is just an onsite backup if your house burns so does your data, to be truly secure you will also need some sort of off site backup. Like Jungle Disk or Mozy.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Computers are hard

I've been working with computers since the Apple IIe. I've owned more than I will take the time to count up. My circle of friends all have some bit of computer literacy and yet day after day I'm amazed at just how hard it is for people to use computers.

In the days before the Internet people could get a computer take it home put their check book in an application keep track of lists and print out letters. The computers all did that pretty well. There were problems getting the printers hooked up sometimes and you would have to buy an application or two for the balancing of your check book and the keeping of that list or two. Computers were expensive and not that many people had them. Software was expensive too.

Today a computer is a much more versatile tool. It is a digital dark room, a high tech video phone, a music studio, an entertainment center. They cost a fraction of the old one's their power is astronomic compared to what we had in the 80's or the 90's and we are connected to the world.

And there in lies a large part of the problem. We have to get them connected to the world. This entails cable modems, dsl modems, home routers, home switches, wireless access points, wireless cards, network cards, firewalls. Then all this has to be configured to work together and allow communication in certain directions and block communications in other directions. This has happened to me over and over someone says hey this does not work. Heck I've said hey this does not work. And realized hey that can't talk to that, I wonder why? Duh somehow a firewall got turned on. This happens over and over again. And I understand networking. To most people it is something akin to brain surgery or maybe rocket science.

Here is another common occurrence. A hard drive eats a file (consider this hard drives now rely on error correction to read files back) maybe it is a little file may seem unimportant, but too Windows it is one of those critical files required to get going. And there you have an expensive door stop that goes into a blues screen that isn't even animated or it reboots over and over again. If it is under warranty the maker might give you a new drive. But you will have to surrender your old drive and you will probably be told there is no way to get those 10,000 family photos off of there.

How do you keep that stuff safe then. Well there is external hard drive's I've had a friend that has had three of them fail and I think I have had one fail and another is acting strange. There is the Drobo. Wonderful bit of tech I will be writing about later. It is easier than some things to use and offers data redundancy. Here it is in a nut shell if you have digital items that are important get a Drobo and figure out how to store those important digital bits over on it. But then if your house burns down it is not going to be much help.

What about apple one might ask. Well Apple makes a very nice, powerful computer it has a lot of great features and they have done some very smart things. But honestly it is really not that much easier to use than a Windows machine. Sure there are some things that it does to help you out but it is still a mystery to a lot of people. But a geek moment here Unix is cool and OS X is based on Unix. So therefor it is cool.

So how did we get here and where do we go. Computers have a lineage that goes back to when they were used by very geeky people that understood the inner workings of them and they based there development on that understanding. Knowing the end users had the same understanding. Today it is hard for people that have an in depth understanding of how computers work to design things in such a way as to make sense to those people that don't live bits, bytes, or and xor's . Sure we have trained people to use them a certain way and like Pavlov's Dog people have come to expect a certain result from a certain action. If that doesn't work then turn it off and on again.

However computers are still very hard to use, set up and get connected. These things are all done in a way that is not very geared for common people. The terminology while correct means nothing to people outside of the discipline.

Maybe some day we will have devices that can self configure and can be worked with in a more natural way where the interface will make sense with out training. My hope is it won't be through voice commands though. If you think your office is annoying now with just the clicky click of keyboards wait till everyone is trying to talk their computer into doing what they want. Yeah, especially that guy that sits two aisles over is hard of hearing and rattles the windows when he talks on the phone. Yeah that is going to be fun............