Open source the Drobo data format

The Drobo is an amazing device – it allows you to pop in a handful of old hard disks, and it effectively pools them so that they show up as a single drive to your OS. It even distributes data redundantly across them to give you peace of mind with old disks. And it’s hot-swappable.
When our lab was seeking an archival solution, this sounded perfect. But unfortunately, the Data Robotics people are trying to solve a hard problem, and there are a good number of unhappy people on the internet complaining about losing swathes of data. The really unfortunate part of this is that all the data on the hard disks that you add to the Drobo unit are stored in some kind of proprietary format that presumably facilitates the distributive algorithm at the center of Drobo’s cleverness. As a result, the only way to read the data on those Drobo’d disks is with a Drobo. So if things get hosed, then there’s no recourse but to send it off to them.
So here’s my proposal. Open source the Drobo data format. Keep the hardware and the distributive algorithm proprietary. But make it very easy for other people to build apps that talk to Drobo boxes.
  • Maybe a cottage industry of hardware repair shops and that specialize in Drobo maintenance and repair will spring up. All to the good. Data Robotics’ expertise and value lies in building products, not providing services. These repair shops customers with reassuring alternatives, become evangelists for the product, and might even add value by building good third-party add-ons.
  • Likewise, encourage a developer ecosystem. Someone might even come up with their own distributive algorithm that’s better than Data Robotics’.
  • Paradoxically but importantly, by reducing the barrier to exit by making it easier for people to get their data off the Drobo, you actually reduce the barrier to entry.
The value of the Drobo is in the hardware, and maybe in the distributive algorithm, but not in the data format.

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