What If Apple Made a Drobo Competitor

I’ve been hearing a lot about how wonderful Drobo is. It is the prefect tool for backing up a lot of data in a safe and redundant way. If you have multiple terabytes of data that you cannot afford to loose, you have no excuse, get a Drobo. So why do I not have one? Well the answer is simple — price. The entry price is just a bit too high for me. You can get a USB Drobo for only $349. Unfortunately that Drobo has no drives in in. To really use a Drobo you have to have stocked with 2 or 4 ESATA hard drives. You really need 4 to use the redundancy features for which Drobo is now famous. By then you are up over $1000. Add another couple hundred for FireWire 800 which I am sure is well worth it.

If you are not familiar with the Drobo you must know that the basic design is brilliant. You fill the box up with 4 hard drives. The box just takes care of everything and stores the data across the drives. Each drive has a green light to tell you its status. Should the drive start to fill up you can eject one of the drives and just insert a new larger one. The drive will automatically rearrange the data to take advantage of the new space.

So we’ve established that it is a brilliant product but a bit too rich for my blood. Aside from price, what could we do to improve this product? For my part the reason that I need such a big hard drive can be directly traced back to my iTunes and AppleTV library. I have tried several approaches but in the end everything requires that I have a Mac running iTunes. What you really need is a dedicated media server. Several companies have tried this. Due to the way FairPlay is designed the only company that is going to be able to serve of iTunes is of course Apple.

So now we have this box and it is serving up my iTunes library. Since we are serving up iTunes, I’d want it to serve up iPhoto too. Now you have all your pictures and other media in a nice safe package. Basic file sharing should be easy to add. And if you have file sharing then you can easily add support for Leopard’s Time Machine and let it serve a workgroup’s backup needs.

Aside from the price the other thing that worries me about Drobo is the file system. They are using a proprietary file system that resembles ZFS. I know that several companies have played with ZFS and perhaps it is not ready to be put into a box on the shelf at Best Buy. It would take Apple to make that a reality.

So what would the right price point be? Apple is already selling their Time Capsule for $300 for half a gigabyte and $500 for a full gigabyte. The folks at MyBook are selling a 2 terabyte drive with two drives that can be configure into a 1 terabyte mirror raid for $500. So it is clear that Drobo’s pricing is actually really good. You can get a 4 terabyte Drobo for about $1300. In order to make this a consumer product it would have to be positioned right where the Time Capsule is today.

So the bottom line would be if Apple took their current Time Capsule line and improved it with multiple drives in ZFS and added iLife serving all in a box for less than $500. Once you have that then everyone in the house can buy Mac Book Airs and not worry about diskspace.

5 Replies to “What If Apple Made a Drobo Competitor”

    1. We’re talking about a fantasy product. Naturally it would have some sort of web interface or slave relationship to an iTunes account just like you have today between iTunes and AppleTV.

  1. Description
    Firefly is an open-source, Linux-based iTunes media server that has been ported to DroboShare. It allows users to browse and stream music from Drobo and DroboShare to an iTunes client on a Mac or PC appearing as a “Shared” library. Firefly can be configured through the web interface provided.

    http://drobo.com/droboapps/downloads/index.php?id=11

  2. I still think Drobo + 4 HDDs is still too expensive for most people. As of Feb. 2009, it would cost about $600 for four 1.5TB HDDs and $350 for a Firewire800 Drobo, equaling out to just about $1000 with tax and shipping (maybe minus $100 if you could find some deals online). Although its too expensive for the average person it is worth its price, 6TB of data storage and redundant backup is important. I would like to see if they will come out with a Drobo USB3 when that is available, 3.2Gb/sec transfer and by then a 2TB HDD will probably cost $80 haha. But that’s far in the future. I need a solution now…and I was THIS close to getting a Drobo until I read on Amazon from a user that it takes 3-5 days for Drobo to build a drive. And during that time if it crashes or gets turned off you lose all your data from both the original drive and the mirror. That made me take a huge step back.

    As far as Apple/Mac, if they made a Drobo competitor it would most likely cost $500 just for the unit itself without any storage. Then Apple would probably try to sell you on recommended HDDs that they have in their store and jack up the price on that as well. Sure the Apple Drobo competitor unit will adhere to their current look. Beautiful, metal bodied unit with punched holes in the front and back for cooling (it’ll look like a mini MacPro desktop 😀 ). I use to be a Mac technician and I still use a MacPro 8core at work, but that doesn’t mean I’m blinded by their BS. Apple is expensive, over rated and bases their machines purely on looks. What they’ve done with their OS is nothing new, a lot of features were already available on other nix based OSs long before OSX came to existence. But I rant..back to topic. No I don’t think Apple can make a competitive unit to go against the Drobo. Sure they can make one, probably do a better job then the Drobo team…but it’ll cost you twice as much.

    I think…if we all still have jobs and the economy gets better, in 1.5 years the solution you’re looking for will be much more affordable and there will be more players on the market to drive cost down.

  3. I think…if we all still have jobs and the economy gets better, in 1.5 years the solution you’re looking for will be much more affordable and there will be more players on the market to drive cost down.

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