The Drobo is a wish list item for many photographers, but do you really need one? Read my article over at PetaPixel and decide for yourself.
Sometimes you’ll see a great deal on a external hard drive, but pass on it because it’s labeled “for PC” and you are on a Mac.
These drives will work on Macs too, you just have to re-format them.
What they mean when they say “for PC” is that it’s been pre-formatted from the factory to work with a PC with no additional configuration. Since most users aren’t IT people, that’s makes life easy for them. But all us Mac users have to do is use the Disk Utilities application to reformat that drive to Mac format and it will work exactly the same as a drive sold as “for Mac and PC.”
If you are not familiar with the Disk Utilities application, take some time and get to know it. It’s one of the basic tools you need to master to manage your storage. It’s a “dangerous” tool because you can completely erase disks, but no more dangerous than how you format memory cards in your camera. Just like formatting your memory cards, it’s a basic skill you need to master. So practice with it next time you have a new drive with no data on it, and always take your time to think things through.
A drobo is like a regular external hard drive in that it can be split up into smaller volumes or partitions. Just because you have 20TB of storage doesn’t mean you actually want a 20TB volume.
I recommend your volume size be based on the size external drive you are using for backup, so that each volume can be easily backed up to a single external drive.
For example, if you are using 8TB drives for backup, you might want to make 6TB volumes on your drobo. You want the backup to be bigger than the “master” volume on the drobo because backup software can allow you to keep snapshots of old data that allows you to go back in time if you accidentally delete , erase, or overwrite a file, or if it becomes corrupted. The more extra storage on your backup drive, the further “back in time” you can go (no DeLorean or flux capacitor needed.)
This means you’ll likely have multiple volumes/partitions on your drobo, and you should consider how you use them.
I recommend separating “hot” or frequently changed data from “cold” or seldom accessed data. Hot data is things you are regularly using, like your lightroom catalog, your latest photo shoots, etc. Cold might be where you sort older shoots that you are not accessing, as well as files that don’t need frequent modification. For example “2019 Raw Captures” might get it’s own volume.
Really cold data could be moved to an external drive to free up space on the drobo.
There are lots of ways to play this, but I’ll leave those details up to you.
If you are using a drobo, I highly recommend keeping your backup on regular non-RAID external drives that can be accessed on any computer.
A friend recently had his 6 year old drobo die, and it’s been a little harder than I though to get the drive pack working again. It turns out you can’t just take the drives from one drobo and put them in another drobo and have them work. They need to be compatible units, and use the same firmware. Sometimes that just isn’t possible, so if your actual drobo dies, you could loose access to your data forever.
Fortunately for my friend, the drobo was used for backup, which eased the pain, but it still left his safety margin a lot thinner.
The drobo is a great unit, but you do have to plan ahead for how you you will fix things when they fail. Figuring it out after things fail can be a lot more painful in time, money, and frustration.
As I said above, I recommend using regular external drives for backup. A mac or PC formatted drive is a well understood and supported method of storage, and should work on almost any compatible computer. That comparability makes disaster recovery a lot easier, and removes the need for an exact model/exact firmware drobo to access the data in the even of a major failure.
This is meant to be a KISS recommendation. 99% of photographers are not IT experts and need simple, safe, easy to use, and reliable storage. If you are an IT expert, then don’t nit pick this and feel free to use any solution you want.
And one last thought, 6 years life for my friends drobo is pretty good. electronics don’t last forever and I think he got his money’s worth.
Hard drives don’t last forever. Eventually the precision parts that let them rotate at thousands of RPM per minute with read heads that float just microns off the disk surface wear out and fail. SSD drives fail too, just in different ways. Modern technology has made them so reliable that we can be lulled into thinking they won’t give us problems, but that is a false security.
The truth is, an HHD or SSD drive can fail at any time. The best data we have, from online backup provider BackBlaze, proves it. Having a new drive is no insurance. It can fail just as easily at 100 hours as it can at 20,000 hours.
Here’s the part where I remind you that luck is not a strategy to keep your data safe, multiple backup copies is, before I return to the main subject.
So really you shouldn’t ever feel safe about a drive, and should have a disaster plan in place to fix things when, not if, they fail. Because given enough time, it is a when.
Drives record how long they have been powered up in internal logging called SMART data. Some drive cases allow us to read this data and see how many hours drives have been turned on. And while drives can die at any time, they become more likely to die as they log more hours.
Knowing a drives age in hours can be useful. I feel pretty comfortable using a HDD for 20,000-25,000 thousand hours based on my experience maintaining the servers for my printing companies, and my use of hundreds of drives.
25,000 hours/24=1041 days or 2.85 years of continuous use.
But chances are you only need access to your data for a few hours each day, so you can make your dives last a lot longer by powering them down or having them spin down when not in use. Some drive cases like drobo and synology let you specify when drives should “sleep.” Others need to the USB or power to be unplugged or switched off.
At 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year, you’ll log about 2,000 hours a year on your drives, and it will take you over ten years to get to 25,000 hours, by which time we should have some Star Trek like crystal storage technology, or at the least, much much cheaper cost per TB, and you’ll have probably replaced your current drives with much larger version for convenience. Less hours spinning means less chance they will fail.
But assuming you are really using your drives a lot, once drives approach 30,000 hours, I like to rotate them out of my master level storage and downgrade them to backup, where they will see fewer hours of use per year. While I’ve had drives work for over 50,000 hours, I wouldn’t want a drive that old to be used for anything but backup for a host of reasons.
All this applies to HDD drives, traditional hard drives with spinning disks. SSD, or flash drives have their own issues, not the least of which is loosing data if not powered on regularly. As of yet, there are few ways to safely put your data on a shelf for a long time and just forget about it. Your data needs to be kept alive on fresh drives and properly backed up, and only you can do that.
So how long do hard drives last? Until they don’t! Which will be the worst possible time they could fail based on Murphy’s law.
Current hard drive costs at a glance with links to purchase from Amazon. I recommend Seagate hard drives because they continue to test as some of the longest lasting drives.
Highlight for November is that 10TB external drives are a big savings over 10TB Internal drives. Also, on a cost per TB basis, 10TB drives are getting close enough to the sweet spot of pricing to make them attractive. But I generally don’t recommend buying more than a year’s capacity at a time, because 10TB drives could be $100 by next November, and will erase any “savings” from buying more than you need now. Also remember that a properly backed up “storage set” requires three drives, so buying more than you reasonably need (over provisioning) can suck up a lot of money.
Sometimes external drives are less expensive than internal drives. Advanced users may want to explore “shucking” external drives to save money as the external drives are often, but not always, SATA drives that can be used as an internal drive.
2TB $49.99 ($25 per TB)
4TB $89.99 ($22.50 per TB)
6TB $131.99 ($22 per TB)
8TB $149.99 ($18.75 per TB)
10TB $249.99 ($25 per TB)
12TB $312.99 ($26 per TB)
14TB $439.99 ($31.40 per TB)
16TB $476.99 ($29.80 per TB)
I’m an Amazon affiliate so I receive a small commission from each sale.
Digital photograph has a big problem with long lasting storage. Hard drives and SSDs fail and degrade with time, with a 3-5 year service life in most cases before the drive fails or the data degrades, a fact I think most photographers are oblivious to, because for the most part, digital photography works well…until it doesn’t.
If you think you take storage seriously, you might want to compare your efforts to those of Warner Bros. They’ve partnered with Microsoft on Project Silica to create a truly archival form of digital storage. Engadget just did a great writeup on it:
Project Silicon encodes digital data onto stable quartz glass that is resistant to many forms of damage and degradation. The article provides a fascinating look into the challenges with preserving both film and digital data. I hope we still photographers can someday reap the rewards of this technology.
Interestingly glass has a long history in photography as it provides a dimensionally stable base for film emulsion. Ansel Adam’s famous Monolith, the Face of Half Dome was made on a glass plate. Glass plates were widely used by astronomers for most of the 20th century because they allowed precise measurements of star positions. There is a certain poetic beauty that photography is about to come full circle when we again store our photos on glass.
UPDATED 2019-10/31 with link to Google Sheet
At what point is buying a Drobo worth it compared to using single external drives? And what size drives should you buy for the best value? To help a friend with this question and satisfy my curiosity, I created this spreadsheet that you can access on Google Sheet.
Using 8TB drives gives the best value per TB. If you need more than ~21TB (dual drive redundancy), it’s cheaper to buy a second Drobo than it is to use 10TB, 12TB, or 14TB drives. And “upgrading” the drives in an existing DROBO usually isn’t worth it, unless all your drives are so old that they just need replacing anyway.
PRO TIP: Drobo is NOT a backup. It merely makes your master data more resilient to drive failures. A backup is a separate copy on a separate device, and you need two backups. Keep one backup off site to protect agains fire, flood, theft, tornados, hurricanes.
If you are going to buy a Drobo, use my Amazon Affiliate links and I’ll get a small commission:
Tamron has announced three new lightweight primes in 20mm, 24mm, and 35mm with a weight of about 220g per lens and an unbelievable price of about $350 per lens. As a landscape photographer, I’ve been hoping someone would offer a truly lightweight lens with excellent MTF scores, and it looks like Tamron was first to the punch.
Why and I making a big deal about weight? When you are on long hikes, particularly in rugged terrain or at high altitude, carrying less weight makes the experience far more enjoyable, and leaves you in a better mindset to photograph. I’ve packed for days in the Sierra with 70-80 pound packs and my 4×5 film view camera, and at the end of most days, I was totally thrashed, even in my mid 20s. When hiking, weight sucks, and is an impediment to making great work.
Weight was a big reason I decided to go Sony, because they offered the best range of lightweight high resolution bodies with a good range of lightweight Zeiss lenses.
The last few years have given us a number of superb f/1.4 primes, but at a cost of weight. My Sigma 35mm f/1.4 is a brick. It feels as heavy as my old Nikon 180mm f/2.8, but is even less well balanced. And while I love being able to play with shallow depth of field, for my primary landscape work I’m almost always stopped down to f/11. I don’t need f/1.4 performance on a hike, and I don’t want to pay the weight penalty.
By making these lenses at f/2.8, Tamron is able to make a much lighter design, as well as offering a lower price. And from the MTF charts, they appear to be top performers…as good or even better than other primes in these focal lengths.
These lenses just made it to the top of my wish list. I can’t wait to try one out! Kudos Tamron for seeing an unfilled niche and filling it.
More info on the Tamron website and in their press release:
Is 24 megapixel still a good standard, or it it time to start looking for an upgrade? Read my take on the current state of the art on PetaPixel.com