Storage at Home – Drobo vs Whitebox

Posted by on Feb 17, 2011 in Storage | No Comments

“Mr. Backup,” W. Curtis Preston, has changed his mind about Drobo.  Preston recently made some waves on the internets when his unit failed and he found Data Robotics’ customer service lacking, so he unloaded with both barrels.

I’ve followed news about Drobo with some interest, as I’ve been pining for a decent home NAS solution for some time now.  I’ve pretty much overwhelmed my MacBook Pro’s hard drive with just iTunes, iPhoto, and Flip videos.  Throw in the fact that I need to share these files with my wife, who is a web and graphic designer, and it gets rather difficult to manage.  It also makes it difficult for us to work on new things (testing operating systems and enterprise software in VMware Fusion for me, Creative Suite projects for her).  And this is just two people’s data!  At least with OS X, we have a dead simple backup solution in Time Machine.

So the Drobo has some appeal.  It’s expandable, redundant, does thin provisioning, and certain models have Ethernet connectivity.  I like the fact that it actually understands certain filesystems (ext3, NTFS, and HFS+), and can do neat things like freeing up space when deleting files.  I can see getting a lot of use out of one of their little boxes.

Unfortunately, when I go to NewEgg and take a look at the pricing ($629 for the Drobo FS as of 2/17/11), I don’t feel that I can justify the cost, especially when compared to going the whitebox route.  For about the same price, I’ve found that I should be able to build a system with similar storage, and run Linux and VirtualBox or (even better) ESXi, like Chad Sakac of EMC recently blogged. Then I should be able to run VMs both to serve our data needs (eg, FreeNAS), staging areas for my wife to build Drupal and Joomla sites, and also act as a test lab for me.

What do you think?  Drobo or whitebox it?