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April 5, 2011

Are you ready for a hard drive failure?

Today’s posting is definitely not a pretty picture. Actually, it’s something quite ugly; hard drive failure or any other such “computer crash” that puts you at risk of losing your precious files.

One of the biggest challenges for the photographer is having enough storage space for the safe-keeping of his or her image files.

There are a couple of challenges to deal with.

First is the amount of disk space that will be required to store an ever-growing number of files. Unlike the days of film, with digital photography we all enjoy the luxury of essentially zero cost per image. If you are anything like me, that means you take way more exposures than you would have in the days of film when we all were painfully aware of the cost of each press of the shutter button.

So the second challenge is not only coping with our ever-expanding digital file “waistlines”, but secondly, ensuring we have good backup of those files should the worst happen.

When I first started out with digital photography, I started to accumulate multiple external USB drives for my backups. After a while this got to be quite a hassle with a growing array of drives of ever-greater size cluttering my desk and closet. Then at a class I went to given by the National Association of Photoshop Professionals, the instructor mentioned in passing that he kept his files on a DROBO. After the class I made a point of searching the web to find out more about this mysterious, robot-sounding thing.

Basically a DROBO is an enclosure into which you insert multiple hard drives in separate bays or slots within the enclosure. When connected to your computer, however, your DROBO appears as just another “volume” (disk drive) attached to your computer. In other words, it looks like you just connected one external hard drive. The DROBO software handles all your files for you and creates in real time a backup version of every file you save to it. All your files are distributed across all the disks in the DROBO so that there is a backup copy of every file somewhere on a different disk; never are both copies of the same file on the same disk. (You never see you files as duplicates, by the way; to you it just looks like you have one copy of each file as per normal).

This “redundancy” is all handled effortlessly by DROBO in the background, and ensures that if one of the hard drives in your DROBO fails, all your files are still safe because there is a second copy somewhere on the other drives. Should this happen, you are prompted by DROBO to remove and replace the bad drive with a new one.

I'm not kidding; this actually happened to me last week, when a not-so-old Western Digital 1TB drive went bad, which prompted me to write this post.

For the first time in my life I didn’t panic or worry about losing any of my precious files and wonder if I had a current backup; I simply replaced the hard drive with a new one and in the background DROBO took care of shuffling the files so that redundant copies of all the files were once again created spread over all the disks. This took several hours, by the way, but since it’s happening in the background, you just keeping working away, not troubled by all the work DROBO is merrily doing in the background.

The other great thing about a DROBO is that the storage capacity can be expanded as needed. As space gets used up, DROBO will prompt you to replace one of the drives with a larger one. I think my second generation DROBO can go up to something like 16 TB. Thankfully, I'm not there yet!

So if you’re a serious amateur photographer or a pro looking for a way to not only cope with the growing size of your collection, but also wanting to be able to sleep at night knowing that at all times you have a backup of your files, think about investing in a DROBO.

I use a second generation 4-bay DROBO. These models are cheaper and still available at DROBO and also at Amazon. If I were starting over though, and had the money, of course I would go for the latest versions which allow for USB 3 connections.Speed thrills!

I have not relationship with DROBO; I am simply a satisfied customer.

I am an Amazon affiliate, and any purchases at initiated using links on my website will result in my receiving compensation from Amazon.

Visit the DROBO website at or shop for DROBO and your other storage hardware at

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