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Backup with D-R-O-B-O

drobo_on_deskHere at ProfHacker, we do our best—as often as possible—to encourage our readers to regularly and systematically back up their files. All the joys of the digital world can quickly turn to horrors when a hard drive fails and takes with it a photo album, a set of course plans, or an article in progress.

I know this horror first hand. A few years ago, the hard drive in my Macbook failed—dramatically and suddenly. That hard drive took with it to the grave all the class plans I’d made for a new course and—most heartbreaking of all—the first chapter-and-a-half of the dissertation I’d just begun to write. At the time, we owned an external hard drive to use for backup, but I only connected my laptop to it occasionally, and Dropbox didn’t yet exist to automate such tasks. What’s more, our external harddrive started to fail as I attempted to recover the files I had backed up there.

After this experience, I resolved to better protect my data. As a first step, I replaced my external hard drive with a Drobo. What is a Drobo? This video will explain the Drobo more succinctly than I can:

Drobos provide two distinct advantages over standard external hard drives:

  1. They’re easy to expand. When you run out of space on your Drobo, you simply add a new internal hard drive to an empty drive bay, or replace the smallest drive with a larger one.
  2. They’re (relatively) immune from failure. Drobo automatically saves everything you add to it on more than one of its internal hard drives. Unlike in life, redundancy is a good thing for your data. So, when—when, not if—one drive fails, you simply pull it out and replace it with a new one. Drobo then autormatically restores the lost data from the redundant versions saved on its other internal drives. In other words, you can be sure (as one can be) that a sudden hard drive failure won’t destroy what you’ve backed up to your Drobo.

Of course, Drobo won’t protect your files if your house burns down. As we’ve said many times at ProfHacker, you should have a diverse backup plan that includes both local and remote storage. And there is another, potentially prohibitive drawback to the Drobo: price. Drobos are expensive–though the price depends greatly on which model you buy, they begin at $350 on Amazon. On top of that price, you also have to buy internal hard drives to populate the Drobo’s drive bays (though if you have a bunch of old desktop hard drives laying around, you can avoid this upfront cost).

For me, the investment was worth it. Drobo is incredibly easy to use: you just plug it in and let it work. I use SuperDuper to automatically backup my important files to the Drobo every night, but the Drobo can work just as well with Apple’s Time Machine and backup software on Windows or Linux. Even more important to me, however, is the security of the Drobo—I no longer worry that one epic hard drive failure will ruin a project (or, worse, destroy years of family photographs). Backing up to an external hard drive is good; backing up to two hard drives is better. Backing up to a data robot that handles that redundancy for you is better still.

Do you have a favorite piece of hardware for backup? How about a favorite piece of backup software? Tell us about it in the comments.

[Creative Commons licensed photo by Flickr user dnak.]

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