Recently, Scott Kelby posted his angst against with the Drobo Storage Device, concluding that he’s “Done with Drobo”. His post generated a pretty lively group of comments, including some that disagreed with his statements.

Scott is a great guy, he’s done much for both the design and photographic community. His books are excellent tools, well written and full of beautiful photography and illustrations; I own three.

[EDIT and disclaimer: Its been a while since I’ve bought a Kelby book. Scott and Ben sends me one book a year as part of my work with the Worldwide Photowalk. However, I do recommend them when asked about reading material.]

Unlike some public personalities, he is a really nice guy when you meet him outside his branded persona. And let’s be honest, any person that loves P.F. Changs as much as I do HAS to be a great guy, right? I mean, they were among the first to take the Gluten Free menu to a whole new level.

But I digress.

The Fan’s Respond

Scott’s “I’m Done With Drobo” post resulted in a long thread of replies, which is the best possible result. Its a wealth of excellent alternatives to Drobo for anyone considering a backup system purchase.

However, among the Kelby-fans, there are some who disagree with the premise of the post. I was one of them, and that generated “didn’t you read the article?” replies.

I like my Drobo, but …

First, I’m a Drobo owner, but not a fanboy. There are key areas of Drobo ownership that hasn’t met my expectations. For one thing, the fans are loud. Its hard to hear my wife vacuum (ok, maybe not that loud). This wasn’t apparent in videos posted on Drobo’s web site like they are when I make training videos for work. Also, the startup time double’s my boot time.

Lastly, when swapping drives, it takes nearly a full day for the device to become stable. That’s a full day of work that’s not being backed up (yikes). Good thing is, that’s only been about 4 times a year over the past 3 years.

So far I haven’t had a bricking, but I figure it’s right around the corner (more on that in a minute).

Some Folks Disagree with Kelby

Drobo ownership isn’t why myself and several others disagreed with Scott Kelby’s article. In fact, every one of those who disagreed didn’t take issue with Kelby’s beef with Drobo, rather his assertions about his photographs being “held hostage”.

One of the primary concerns about a Drobo (or similar) device is the proprietary nature of the software. That’s a valid concern. Its important to know that in the event of a failure, you still have access to your data. Since you can’t take your drives out of a Drobo and put them into some other device, this can be an issue. For this reason, some will opt for RAID configurations that are standardized and well-understood.

In fact, that was my 2nd reason for not wanting to buy a Drobo (the first being, they didn’t originally have FW800). When discussing the purchasing options with a Drobo Representative, that was a very specific question I asked.

Backups are Supremely Critical

Honestly, I was not worried that the machine would die; all things that consume electricity have a finite lifespan. But what if it died and the company had gone out of business, how do I get my data back?

The person on the phone was pleasant even though I just suggested the new company she worked for could possibly be doomed. But her reply was stunningly obvious: “Drobo wouldn’t be the only place you store the data.”

… oh. Ever ask a question and then feel really embarrassed when you hear the answer?

Some would say, if it doesn’t exist in 3 places, it doesn’t exist at all. Probably sound advice.

Be Honest about Why You Dislike Drobo Devices

If Scott feels the product no longer fits with his backup strategy, then its important he migrate to something different. If he wants to share the reasoning with his followers, his review of the product may be helpful to others considering a purchase.

However, there were some omissions and areas of the article that could lead people to the wrong conclusions. Its not clear if these omissions were intentional, or would have been corrected if he hadn’t accidentally prematurely posted.

His readers have a high expectation of transparency and honesty, regardless of what product he is reviewing. This posting didn’t reflect Scott’s typical, well-prepared blog post.

The Required Clarifications

So to provide context to my original comment on his blog, here’s my beef with Kelby’s post:

  • He’s been using Drobo for about four years. Four years is probably a bit premature, but all electronic devices fail over time.
  • He own(s/ed) multiple Drobo’s. If each died after 4 years of continuous daily use, it significantly changes the impression left by the article. The article could be interpreted to say he’s had to replace the same Drobo 4 times. Clarification is needed.
  • He insists his award-winning photography collection is being held hostage by Drobo. In fact, he suggests the evil Tech Support people want to extort $100. This is probably the most inflammatory (and unnecessary) portion of his post. The Drobo device should not (and I sincerely hope, is not) the only location he is storing his collection.
  • If Brad is only stored the collection on a single Drobo device, Brad needs to be fired.
  • Drobo’s software is a closed, proprietary system. This may be a perfectly reasonable concern for someone making purchasing decisions. However a company that protects their long-term business health by locking their software in Intellectual Property does not make them evil.
  • Photographers complain that Chinese companies are knocking-off hardware and running American companies out of business — and then complain that companies don’t publish their software’s code. Can’t have it both ways.

Hearing and reading the experiences of actual product users is very helpful when making purchasing decisions. And when well-known, well-trusted individuals endorse (or not) specific products, there is an expectation of transparency and honesty.

The lack of specifics on the previously failed Drobos and the assertion that his images are “held hostage” by the Extortionist Drobo Tech Staff can lead trusting followers to conclusions that are quite likely not true.

*MY* (Honest) Conclusion

My Drobo is pushing 4 years old. When it fails (not if), the time to replace it (possibly with something different) and re-copy everything from my backups would be very disruptive. But I have my backups and in some cases, my original source media.

Backups ensure I will not be held hostage by a bricked, proprietary Drobo system, and neither is Scott Kelby.