IT departments around the world are feeling the effects of a weakened economy. Dedicated, experienced IT staffs have given way to reduced workforces and lone admins working branch offices. These overworked professionals are nevertheless still tasked with the responsibility of keeping an environment healthy and running—and properly protected. It’s easy, in such circumstances, to rely on quick backup methods such as USB hard drives or CD/DVDs, but you’re doing your business a disservice if you aren’t automating the process and using some kind of data redundancy. You need a device that’s easy to configure and perhaps even fun to use, and that will provide comprehensive data backup for your environment. Enter Data Robotics’ DroboPro.

The DroboPro is a disk-management system that utilizes a proprietary data-protection methodology called BeyondRAID, which provides the foundation for a unique storage experience that lets you dynamically add hard drives on the fly to instantly increase your storage capacity. Into its eight bays, you can plug disks from any manufacturer and any capacity to gain data protection that boasts self management and automatic healing. It's that easy.

Diving into the DroboPro box, I was impressed by the attention Data Robotics has paid to the design of not only its product but also the packaging itself. I withdrew the black-wrapped DroboPro monolith from its box and could actually hear the booming crescendo of Strauss's Thus Spoke Zarathustra as I unveiled the sleek appliance. The unit itself is a glossy, black beauty—a squat, powerful block of processing power—and it comes accompanied by a handsomely packaged Drobo Dashboard CD-ROM and user guide, a power cable, and three connectivity cables (USB 2.0, FireWire 800, and Ethernet).

Behind its sleek magnetic faceplate, the DroboPro offers eight 3.5" hard drive bays. You simply plug in any number of internal-type SATA hard drives (older IDE or ATA drives won't work), making sure the connections line up correctly, and perform the quick Drobo Dashboard software installation. The DroboPro then begins its immediate work of accepting and protecting your data. Plug in at least a couple drives, and you have redundant data protection. There's even optional protection for double drive failure, but of course that requires significant disk space.

Summary
Data Robotics' DroboPro
PROS: Spectacularly easy to use; self-managing; auto-healing; double-disk-drive-failure protection; just plain cool
CONS: Not terribly fast; single-server limitation
RATING: 4.5 diamonds
PRICE: $1,499 ($2,125 as tested, bundled with five Western Digital hard drives)
RECOMMENDATION: DroboPro is a perfectly positioned, easy-to-configure-and-deploy storage gadget for the SMB environment—but not if you need networked storage.
CONTACT: Data Robotics • 866-997-6268 • www.drobo.com

The Drobo Dashboard is exceedingly simplistic—perfect for the IT admin in the SMB or branch office who's got 17 things to do at any given moment. The DroboPro also uses a unique set of "traffic-light"-colored indicator lights, letting its user know at a glance what the unit is doing—green for healthy, yellow for caution (you’d better add a disk soon because DroboPro is running out of disk space), and red for failure (add or replace a disk now because you’re not protected). After plugging a few 1TB and 750GB Western Digital hard drives into the system, I loaded a bunch of data onto the unit, watching its lights flash succinctly and watching the Drobo Dashboard communicate its status effectively via a vivid pie graph and an illustration of the drive bays. After a few minutes, all data was protected and redundant across the drives.

I opened a couple of data files and a media file, letting a video play during my testing, and simulated a hard-drive failure by removing one of three drives. I watched as the DroboPro processed the new situation—all the while showing no interruption in the data or media files. The unit had experienced a drive failure and had calmly informed me that Drobo cannot currently protect your data against hard drive failure. After plugging a new drive in, DroboPro took about three minutes to quietly duplicate the first disk's data and display its newly healthy status—still no interruption to the running programs.

Note that the DroboPro isn't designed for shared storage; it's a single-server solution more ideal for the SMB scenario than the multi-server enterprise. If you're familiar with Data Robotics' original Drobo, you might be disappointed to find that DroboShare isn't available on the DroboPro. If you need networked storage, I urge you to look to the company's more recent offering, DroboElite.

Despite that shortcoming, DroboPro is extraordinarily easy to use and set up. It's not exactly a lightning-fast solution, but performance is very good considering the scalability and simple self-management DroboPro offers. It might just be the perfect solution for today's resource-strained small office—automated, easy-to-use, plug-and-play backup functionality in the form of a cool gadget.