Drobo

Drobo and Dropbox

A few months ago, I made some significant changes in my "desktop" setup at home. The old setup was a Dell desktop with an internal 2x1.5T RAID 1 array for storage running Linux that acted as both my primary computer and a fileserver for my MacBook Pro laptop that synchronized with my phone, my Apple TV, and handled video editing and photography related things. This worked out fine and I was using Chandler see this story) for keeping track of things, and it's bloat and general slowness had me searching for something new.

I tried out Things on my Mac, and quickly got hooked. It's great for just about everything (though it's not quite as nice for having something like a collection of notes that are not tasks) and it's only major limitation is that it doesn't synchronize between computers, and only runs on mac. Given that the vast majority of my day is spent in front of a mail client, an instant messenger client, a web browser, a handful of ssh terminals, a MP3 player, and my task tracker, it doesn't really matter what operating system I use. Additionally, all my video and photography is all on a Mac, so I decided it was time to make the switch on my desktop. Here's how things work now.

The first thing to arrive was a shiny new (and cheap!) Mac Mini. I used the migration assistant to move over my profile from my MacBook and was up and running pretty seamlessly. Initially, I was only able to use one of my two 24" monitors because the Mac Mini only comes with the MiniDVI->DVI adapter, but a week later a MiniDisplayPort->DVI adapter showed up and I was back up with both 24" monitors. It took a little while to get in the rhythm of using a Mac full time (and fixing the stupid home/end default keybindings), but after the first week or so things have been very stable and "It Just Works". As a nice added benefit, Mac OS X 10.6 gets along very well with my VPNs for work as well as the Microsoft Exchange server.

As for storage, I wanted to not have to rely on a specific computer's OS to keep my files sane, and after a bit of research and a sweet mail-in rebate, I got a hold of a Drobo. I've dealt with fault-tolerant storage quite a bit (bootable software RAID, Dell PERC6 controllers, LVM, Apple RAID, etc) but this box is almost worthy of being called "magic". It's very easy to use, and like the Mac, it "Just Works". I started out with 2 750G drives and copied over all of my data from my Dell, then pulled one of the 1.5T drives from the DELL and currently those are the 3 drives in the Drobo which gives me 1.33T of space. Once that's full, I'll put in the other 1.5T drive and magically I'll have 2.7T of space, and no data will be lost if any 1 hard drive dies. It's a little noisier than I'd like, but is quieter than my Dell desktop was so it's a step in the right direction. Whenever I want to get a new computer, I can just move the Drobo over to it and all my data will be there.

These two things combined let me turn off my Dell for good, and iTunes on this computer now runs my phone and the TV, and with iTunes Home Sharing I can pull things that I want on my Laptop very easily when it's time to go on a trip somewhere. Lastly, I also wanted my Things database on both computers (as well as some other things like my Garmin BaseCamp database, Google Earth custom places database, etc), so I checked out Dropbox which can also be described as magical. Following this basic idea I synced all these up and it just works. Most of the time I use this software on my desktop, but when traveling, all I have to do is turn on my laptop and everything magically shows up. I've also added a KeePassX database to this, as well as my "active projects" folder so that I can easily work on things from either computer.

Take away lessons from this:

  • RAID (and the Drobo) is _NOT_ backup. I still backup things to an external drive on a schedule, keep backups offsite, and use Apple's Time Machine for OS backups. Don't count on RAID for anything more than drive failures!
  • The Drobo is magical and wonderful, but still not whisper quiet. If you have storage needs and they change over time, get one.
  • Dropbox is magical and wonderful. If you use more than one computer, you should be using Dropbox.
  • Things, while Mac only, is worth using a Mac for and worth paying for. Once it supports collaboration and native synchronization, it may actually take over the world.
  • The Mac Mini is a valid drop-in replacement for a Linux based desktop. It takes up less space, uses less power, and is a lot quieter. With OS X you can SSH, IMAP, and HTTP just like any other OS.