Image Management Workflow for the Mobile Photographer (Podcast 466)

Image Management Workflow for the Mobile Photographer (Podcast 466)

Over the years I’ve developed and evolved a pretty sound file management workflow for working with Lightroom on multiple computers, both in the office and when I’m traveling. I’ve talked about various aspects of this in previous episodes, but I thought I’d report on my current image management workflow for the mobile photographer.

I’m going to explain how I currently manage my Lightroom catalog, settings and presets, and my photographs and video archives, including how I now move from one computer to another quite seamlessly, but first a little background.

Until now, I’ve kept my Lightroom catalog on the internal hard drive of my desktop and laptop computers, and synched between the two before I made any major changes to the library. This works and if you have a fast enough network, it’s not too much of a pain to sync your catalogs, but because the previews that Lightroom creates can often become quite a hefty chunk of data, I used to leave them out of the synchronisation, which means that I’d have to rebuild previews on the other computer before I could quickly view images. If I synchronised the image previews as well, it took quite a bit longer, and that can really slow you down when you need to move computers, which I sometimes do multiple times each day.


My entire digital workflow revolves around Lightroom, so rather than synching the Lightroom catalog and my most recent work from computer to computer, I figured that it would be easier to just put it all on an external hard drive, and move that around. I’ve been doing this a while now, and never been happier with my workflow, which is why I decided to share this today. Let’s first look at what you need to put on that external hard drive to make this all work smoothly.

Lightroom Settings folder contents

Lightroom Settings folder contents

Firstly, I recommend that you set up Lightroom so that it saves all its presets with the catalog. This means when you move the Lightroom catalog all of your settings will go with it. If you don’t do this, you’ll still have to synch the settings around separately, which we want to avoid.

To make this change go to Lightroom’s Preferences, then under the Presets tab, turn on the “Store presets with this catalog” checkbox. You’ll now see a “Lightroom Settings” folder in the same location as your Lightroom catalog (right).

If you don’t know where your Lightroom catalog is, go to the Catalog Settings and you’ll see the path to your catalog under the General tab’s Information section. There is a “Show” button there. Click that, and check that your Lightroom settings are now with your catalog. This is also of course where you’ll need to go to copy your catalog to your external hard drive. (Just copy the entire Lightroom directory, including your Lightroom Catalog.lrcat file and your Lightroom Catalog Previews.lrdata file/folder to your external hard drive when you’re ready.)

One Lightroom Catalog

Note that apart from a catalog with one image in that I use in an automated process to keep my printer from running unnecessary head cleaning processes, I have all of my images in a single Lightroom catalog. I currently have almost 300,000 images including some videos in my catalog, and it runs fine, so I like to keep them all in a single catalog.

This makes it easy to search across my entire library for images and build collections from absolutely anything I’ve shot. If you use multiple catalogs, you’ll need to decide which ones to use with this workflow, or just ensure that you move all of them to your external hard drive.

Drobo Mini

Drobo Mini

Drobo Mini

To ensure that Lightroom works as fast as it can with this portable workflow, I recently bought a Drobo Mini with 4 x 1TB 7200 rpm hard drives, and a Crucial 250GB mSATA Internal SSD which I put into the bottom of the Drobo Mini as an accelerator disk. This speeds up Drobos so much that as long as you are using Thunderbolt to connect them to your computer, you really just don’t have to worry about the hard drive speed. It’s not as fast as an internal SSD drive, but it’s fast enough to run Lightroom stress-free directly from the external hard drive.

You can also run Lightroom from slower portable hard drives, but I suggest that you use at least USB3.0 connected drives, such as the WD My Passport Ultra drives that I use in my ultra-light portable workflow when I simply cannot carry the weight of the Drobo Mini in addition to my MacBook Pro. This may be necessary especially when traveling overseas, as the one downside of the Drobo Mini is that it isn’t very, well, mini. It’s quite a hefty piece of kit to carry around in addition to a laptop.

[UPDATE Aug 1, 2015: Note that I’ve pretty much stopped using the Drobo Mini. Having to plug it into the power every time I wanted to use it became quite tiresome after a while. It’s also just too big for any kind of air travel. I have now started to use Western Digital My Passport Pro 4TB drives. These are Thunderbolt only, so won’t work on Windows at this point, but they are powered by the laptop, and they are slightly faster than the Drobo Mini, so I’m now using this as my main catalog hard drive, and they are small enough for air travel as well. I have two, with the second a straight backup of the first.]

Recent Work and Final Selects on External Drive

Lightroom Catalog Contents

Lightroom Catalog Contents (click to view details)

In addition to my Lightroom catalog and settings, I also keep my main archive of all of my best work to date, which I call my “Finals” or “Final Selects”, on my Drobo Mini, as well as all of the photographs and video that I’ve take during the current year. So basically most of what I need to access regularly is in one place and always available when I travel.

Main Archive on Drobo 5D

My main archive of all images and video that I’ve ever shot and not deleted is almost 7TB of data, so it’s not practical to keep all of this on my portable hard drive, and because I have every image that I thought was good enough to sell or show people in my Finals folder, it’s not even necessary.

I can still get to my raw images and any TIFF or PSD files that I might have also created from them, right there on my portable drive, so what I call my “Photo Originals” folder lives on my Drobo 5D attached to a desktop computer in my office studio. This is literally everything from every shoot I’ve done that didn’t get deleted.

Decide and Stick with Your Strategy

One thing that will cause you to get frustrated with a strategy like this, when you’re synchronising folders around and have photos in multiple places, is if you lose track of which copy is your main copy. As we can see in this screenshot (right) I have my Finals folder on both my Drobo Mini and my Drobo #1 drive (a Drobo 5D). The main reason I do this is so that it gets backed up into the cloud via Backblaze, and we’ll talk about that shortly, but it’s important to try to keep this as a backup copy, and not a working folder of images.

I do sometimes just need to reference images or grab something quickly over the network, and because my iMac stays on all the time, from anywhere in my house I can connect to the Drobo and access my Final Selects. This is also why I keep this linked to Lightroom, but I don’t do any editing or create collections from the Drobo #1 drive, because it not only causes you to lose track of changes and break your Lightroom collections while you’re traveling, but you also have to sync your changes back to your main copy. This is doable quite easily, but I find it much better to not get into that, and my portable hard drive solution that we’re looking at today helps us to avoid this too.

Diagram #1 – Base Computer

OK, so I know that this will be heavy going without some form of graphical representation of what I’m talking about, so I’ve created a few diagrams for us to reference today as I explain this further. Let’s look first at my main computer. We all use at least one computer to work on our images, so this should be useful even if you don’t use a laptop in addition to your “base computer”.

Diagram #1 iMac with Drobo Mini

Diagram #1 iMac with Drobo Mini

Take a look at the first diagram (above) and see on the left that my workflow starts with transferring images from the camera to my portable hard drive, which is connected to my iMac. This could just as easily be a Windows machine. It’s not important what system you use. What’s important to note here is that my images go into a folder for my current year on my external hard drive, along with the Lightroom catalog and my settings and presets.

Diagram #2 – Local and Cloud Backup

As I mentioned, I keep my main photo and video archive, my “Photo Originals” folder on a Drobo 5D, which is always attached to my base computer. As soon as I’ve finished transferring images from my camera and have them renamed, and if time allows gone through and done my first quick edit of my images, then I copy the folder for that shoot to my Drobo 5D, here called Drobo #1.

Diagram #2 iMac with Drobos and Cloud Backup

Diagram #2 iMac with Drobos and Cloud Backup

As  you can also see from the diagram, because I have Backblaze set up on my iMac, as soon as I copy any new images to my Drobo 5D, they start to backup into the cloud. I will continue to synchronise changes to this Drobo 5D as I edit the images from my shoot, but I want to start to get my cloud backup started as quickly as possible. Any later changes will also sync into the cloud, so there’s little reason to wait on this, unless you are paying for data upload.

Diagram #3 – Second Backup for Paranoia’s Sake

There’s one last element of this base computer setup that I’d like to talk about before we move on, and that’s my second Drobo 5D which is purely for local backup purposes. I know this is a little paranoid, but bear with me. The Drobo 5D can have one hard disk fail without losing any data. If a hard disk fails, you simply pull it out and put a new hard disk in, and the Drobo automatically writes the necessary data back to the new hard drive, and you are safe against hard disk failures again.

In my paranoid mind though, that’s not enough to feel safe. I could have a second hard disk fail before my data is fully secured after replacing the first one, and the entire unit could fail too, leaving me with nothing local to fall back on. Assuming my Backblaze backup had already completed, I could of course download or have them send me my cloud backup on hard drives, but that takes time and I’d be panicking for days until my data was restored, so I just prefer to have a second local backup, as we see in this third diagram (below).

Diagram #3 - Second Drobo Mirrored Backup

Diagram #3 – Second Drobo Mirrored Backup

ChronoSync for File Synchronisation

For all of my file synchronisation I use ChronoSync from Econ Technologies. This is the only operating system specific part of my workflow that we’ll touch on today. ChronoSync is only for the Mac OS. When I used Windows, I used to use a command line tool called Robocopy, but I haven’t used that for years, so I won’t go into the Windows alternative today. If you have a great tool that you’d like to recommend for Windows, please drop a note in the comments section below.

ChronoSync is an incredibly powerful file synchronisation tool. It’s important that you actually read the help to avoid deleting files unintentionally, but once you have a good understanding of how it works, it can make life a lot easier. One of the reasons for this, is because you can save your synchronisation tasks and open them again later to rerun them. For example, after I’ve transferred my images from my camera to my Drobo Mini, to copy them to my Drobo 5D and start my Backblaze backup, I simply launch a saved Sync task that will look for anything that has been changed or deleted from my 2015 folder on my Drobo Mini (see below) and copy or delete it from my Drobo 5D as necessary.

ChronoSync Screenshot

ChronoSync Screenshot

As I work on my files from a new shoot, or make any changes to my earlier 2015 files on my Drobo Mini, I just run this task again. For the whole of 2015, the current year, I will use my Drobo Mini as my main archive, and the Drobo 5D 2015 folder will be my backup, so I generally just Mirror the changes across. If necessary, you can do a synchronisation and copy any changes that you make to the target drive back to your main copy, simply by changing the Operation that you see in the middle of the screenshot.

A couple of important things to note here are that I usually run the Trial Sync with the button in the toolbar before I actually execute the sync task. This is like a dummy run, and you get a dialog to see what will be copied or deleted, so you can check that you haven’t made any stupid mistakes before you actually make them. The other thing is that you can select wether to delete files immediately, move them to trash, or move them to an archive folder instead of deleting them. I don’t like the Move to Archive option because you end up with archive folders everywhere, but I do like to turn on to just move the files to the trash, rather than delete them immediately. This is just another safety net.

Lightroom Synchronize Folder

Lightroom Synchronize Folder

Synchronize Folders in Lightroom

Because I also have a 2015 (current year) folder in my “Photo Originals” directory on my Drobo 5D, once I’ve synched any images, I right click the folder in Lightroom, and select “Synchronize Folder…” This tells Lightroom to check the contents of the folder for anything new or removed, and you can also have it check for metadata changes as well.

Lightroom Export to Copy “Finals”

Once I’ve completed my editing of a shoot, and have my “Finals” or “Final Selects”, I copy these to the appropriate year in my Finals archive folder. Everything from the current year goes into a single folder. If I created a TIFF or PSD copy of my raw file, say to create a black and white version in Silver Efex Pro, or did some work in Photoshop, then I will keep both the raw file and the new format files together. If no copies were made, I just copy the raw files to the Finals folder.

Because I star rate my images to help with filtering, when I’m ready to copy my files, I just filter out anything with two stars or above. In my rating system, 2 stars means an original raw file. 3 stars is anything that I will present to Offset for consideration for inclusion in my stock library. 4 stars are images that I consider good enough to show people or use in a blog post etc. 5 stars are what I consider portfolio quality images.

Lightroom Export Original Files

Lightroom Export Original Files

So, when I’m ready to copy my final selects to my Finals folder, I simply filter anything 2 stars or above from my original shoot folder, and use a Lightroom Export preset to copy these images to my Finals folder on my Drobo Mini and my Drobo 5D.

At this point, I copy to both locations because I can add the images to the Lightroom Catalog at this point, and that saves me from synchronising the Finals folder after copying files across manually or using ChronoSync.

The important thing to note here is that although this is an Export, I’m not creating a JPEG or any other new format. I select “Original” as the format, under both the Video and File Settings sections. This ensures that the files are simply copied to the new locations, whether they are a raw file, or a TIFF or PSD etc.

Once I’ve setup something like what we see in the screenshot here (right) I just save this as a Preset, then when I want to copy my Final selects to my Finals folder, I just have to select them and right click them, then select “Copy Original to Drobo Mini 2015 Finals” which is what I called the Preset, and I have a second preset to copy to my Drobo 5D.

Mirroring Entire Drives with ChronoSync

To close the loop on the last diagram before we move on, I guess I should just mention that to mirror the contents of my first Drobo 5D to my second, I also use a ChronoSync Task, but because we will mirror the root of the drive, I set up a few Rules to prevent ChronoSync from copying and overwriting some important system files, as we can see in this screenshot (below).

Sync Drobo #1 to Drobo #2

Sync Drobo #1 to Drobo #2

OK, so now you’ll see that we have a pretty sound process in place for managing images based on a Lightroom catalog and a few ChronoSync tasks that we can launch and run when changes have been made. It’s a little more complicated than simply transferring images to the hard drive inside your base computer, but remember, there’s one key advantage to having everything that you need to use regularly on that external hard drive.

Diagram #4 – Image Library Portability

With your workflow set up this way, all you have to do to access your images on another computer, is to eject your portable hard drive from the base computer and plug it into another computer. Whether you are in another part of your house or office, or on the other side of the planet, if you plugin your portable hard drive, you have access to everything necessary to start Lightroom and continue working as you would on your base computer.

Diagram #4 - Image Library Portability

Diagram #4 – Image Library Portability

Because Lightroom remembers the last catalog that you opened, it automatically goes to the external hard drive, even if you open Lightroom with the application icon. Of course, to cause this to happen, when you first move your Lightroom catalog to the external hard drive, you’ll need to double click on the catalog in its new location to force it to open from there, but as long as you have Lightroom set up to open the last catalog, that’s the only time you’ll have to do this. You can also select File > Open Catalog… and navigate to your new catalog location too, but again, you’ll only have to do this once.

Of course, because the main archive of all of your images, what I call my “Photo Originals” lives on a hard drive on your base computer, so that won’t be accessible, but when Lightroom can’t see anything, it just marks the folder with a question mark, to let you know that it’s offline. You can still click on the folders, and if you have previews created, you can even see the images. If you need to be able to edit photos that are essentially offline, you can enable this by going to Library > Previews, and selecting Build Smart Previews, but without that you can’t edit images in the Develop module etc. until you get back to your base computer. The point is though, Lightroom handles this gracefully.

Backups While On The Road

Western Digital My Passport Ultra 2TB

WD My Passport Ultra 2TB

The other items that you’ll notice in Diagram #4 (above) is my mobile backup drives. I use WD My Passport Ultra  USB3.0 drives, because I think they provide great cost performance at just $99 for the 2TB drives. These are a little fatter than the 1TB drives, but I like to be able to backup my entire “Final” selects library on to these drives  as well as my current year’s “Photo Originals” folder.

Now, as you know, I’m paranoid, so when I’m traveling, I actually make two backups of my images. This means that as I shoot, I backup all of my current year folder to two backup hard drives. Backup #1 and Backup #2 in diagram #4. Again, I use ChronoSync for this, and just save a task for each backup, and run it as necessary. Because I only have two USB ports on my MacBook Pro, I actually have to eject and plugin new drives when I want to run my Time Machine backup, but because my Drobo Mini connect with Thunderbolt, I can have both Backup drives attached at the same time as well.

You can even create Containers in ChronoSync, which can contain multiple sync tasks, so if you want to backup your images to both backup drives without intervention, you can do that quite easily. This is useful if you want to for example start off your double backup before taking a shower etc.

I know that some of you will consider it overkill to have a total of three backups of your images while traveling, but depending on where you’re going, I think it’s necessary, and generally do this whenever I’m on the road. I actually had one of my three external hard drives fail near the start of 7 weeks in Antarctica, and that was scary enough. If that had been my only backup drive, I’d have been climbing the walls.

Ultra-Portable Alternatives

As I mentioned earlier, the Drobo Mini is a hefty drive to lug around, especially if you’ll be jumping on international flights etc. so here are a few ultra-portable alternatives that work seamlessly with this workflow.

1) The first and most obvious alternative, is to simply synchronise your Lightroom Catalog to the hard drive of your laptop, but of course this requires that you have a large enough internal hard drive or SSD to hold your Lightroom Catalog, your Preview images and also maybe the images you’ll be shooting as you travel. This is great if you have an internal SSD, because they’re lightening fast to work from, but big SSD drives are expensive, and if you’ll be traveling for a long time, it will likely fill up.

2) The second lighter alternative is to use a lighter but still external hard drive, like my WD My Passport Ultra drives as the main archive and for your Lightroom catalog etc. This isn’t as smooth and stress free an experience as working with the Drobo Mini, because these drives are much slower, but it works, and is a nice affordable second choice if you are going to be shooting a lot. Lightroom is pretty good at finding your images etc. on the new drive as well. At least on a Mac system.

If Lightroom can’t find your images when you open the Catalog on a different drive, signified by the folders having a question mark against them, just right click the top level folder and select “Find Missing Folder” in the shortcut menu, then navigate to the folder on your new hard drive. This will remap everything, including your previews, and in my experience will not corrupt your catalog or anything.

Set a Hard Drive Letter for Windows

If you use this method of using a portable hard drive in a Window environment, you’ll probably need to ensure that the drive letter doesn’t change as you move the external hard drive around. I don’t remember exactly where you do this right now, but you can assign a drive letter to your hard drives, so it’s a good idea to assign something well away from the start of the alphabet, like M for mobile. That way other drives that you might attach that will be lettered D, E, F etc. won’t displace your external drive’s letter.

Not Really a Cross Plastform Solution

I should also mention that this solution is not ideal if you switch between Windows and Mac regularly. The catalog can be taken from one operating system to the other and will open, but Windows and the Mac OS reference drives differently, so you’d need to tell the other OS where your files live each time you open the catalog on the other system.

Also the location of your presets and settings is not recognized, so I personally think it’s more trouble than it’s worth if you are switching between operating systems. It makes it easy to move from one system to the other, but not really great if you want to switching back and forth.


OK, so I hope that has been useful for you. Having synched my Lightroom catalog around for the last few years, I’m finding it much easier now to just move my external hard drive around. It might not be for everyone, but I am really enjoying this workflow. As good workflows should, it just works, and that’s important to me.

Show Notes

Drobo Mini + 4 x 1TB 7200 rpm 2.5″ HDDs:

Crucial 250GB Internal SSD:

WD My Passport Ultra portable hard drive:

Music by Martin Bailey


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Podcast 302 : Drobo Review, and Giveaway!

Podcast 302 : Drobo Review, and Giveaway!

This week I’ve had the absolute pleasure of being able to test and review a Drobo, which as most of you already know is an external storage device that takes multiple hard drives, even of different size and creates one or more large volumes or drives with redundancy so even if one of the drives fails, as they eventually all do, your data is safe.

Drobo LogoI’m really happy to tell you that we are also going to give away a drobo courtesy of Drobo, so stay tuned to see how you can be in with a chance to get your own four bay drobo, to protect your precious images and other data! First here’s my review of the Drobo.

First Impressions – Excellent!

When I unboxed the Drobo, I was immediately reminded of how it felt when I first opened my MacBook Pro box in January. I haven’t come across many companies that get packaging like Apple does but Drobo are very close. You’re greeted with “Welcome to the World of…” on the box as you open the outer box, then as you lift that first box out, the Drobo is in a nice black cloth bag with the word “drobo” on top in white. Very nice.

Welcome to the World of Drobo

Welcome to the World of Drobo

Drobo Box Contents

Drobo Box Contents

The top box contains all you need to connect the Drobo to your computer, including both USB and Firewire800 cables. There’s also a nice printed manual. I was surprised to see this at first, and most companies now put their manuals on the CD along with the drivers, but on the day I unpacked the Drobo I had already had a busy day, and was ready for a bit of relax time, so I was able to take the manual down to the living room and read through it in front of the TV instead of having to read it on my computer, which was a nice added bonus.

The unit I got was a basic Drobo, with four bays. As 3TB drives are still quite expensive, I decided to use eventually four 2TB Hitachi 7200rpm drives. Drobo suggests either green drives which are slower, or up to 7200rpm drives for this model, but I generally try to buy the fastest drives possible, as this will effect read/write speeds, even if the USB and Firewire interfaces are going to become the bottleneck here. The Drobo does a lot of internal data handling between disks too, which is probably faster with faster drives.

Drobo Box Contents

Drobo Box Contents

To test how the Drobo automatically expands as you include more drives, I initially loaded just three of the four 2TB drives, and connected the Drobo to my MacMini. As I mentioned in Episode 293 when we discussed Backing Up and Accessing Photos from Laptops, I keep a MacMini turned on and connected to some of my hard drives all the time, so that I can access my images and other data from all around my studio and house, without having to physically be connected to the drives. I don’t use straight Network Storage, as I want to be able to install Backblaze so that whenever I copy anything new to these drives, it automatically gets uploaded into the cloud.

To setup and control your Drobo, you install a cool bit of software called the Drobo Dashboard that comes on the CD. You’re asked if you want to automatically install new software and firmware updates, which Drobo suggest you turn on. I did, as it seems that Drobo release updates to smaller groups of users initially to ensure that there are no problems before carrying out the automatic updates.

Create a 16TB Volume!

Create a 16TB Volume!

(Note: if you can’t read the text on these screenshots, click the thumbnails at the end of the post.)

Something that struck me as strange initially, but makes a lot of sense bearing the technology in mind is that Drobo advise you to create your initial volume at the maximum size possible, which is 16TB. This is to allow the drive to expand in the future if you run out of space. If you have all four bays filled and you do run out of space you just pull out one of the drives and put in a new larger one. Of course, you can only do one at a time with this unit because it only protects against one drive failure. By creating a 16TB volume to start with though, this allows you to install up to four 4TB drives in the future, and the drive will be able to grow to that size without having to be reformatted.

Once you put your drives in and select your format and give the volume a name etc. the Drobo takes just a few minutes to format the drives and ready itself to protect your data. Once it was ready, I copied 1.6TB of data to the drive to start some tests.

Relatively Quiet

Speed-wise, the drobo is as fast as my other external USB drives, though when connected with Firewire 800, it does get a little faster. The unit isn’t silent, but it’s much quieter than I expected it to be for a unit of this size, even when I installed four hard drives later. Sometimes it did get noticeably louder as it worked hard copying lots of data on a pretty hot afternoon in my studio, but it didn’t get loud enough to annoy me, and it was only when it was working hard. It runs very cool too, never getting warm to the touch, which is pretty impressive, especially when you consider how hot these drives get when they’re spun up. I know this because I use some of my drives just stuck into a device (as you can see in this photo) that allows me to use bare drives, and they get very warm.

Drobo with 3 Drives Loaded

Drobo with 3 Drives Loaded

You can also see that the Drobo looks great. All in all I found it to be very well engineered. You don’t need to use a screwdriver at any time either. You drop your drives in and they just click into place, and the front panel is magnetized so that you can just pull it off to get to the drives, and reattach it easily but securely.

 Guerrilla Test

Once the Drobo was set up and had a good amount of data on it, I decided it was time to do a few tests, so at 1:00PM on Oct 9 I pulled out one of the three 2TB drives while the Drobo was running, simulating a drive failure. Once I’d pulled out one of the three drives, I opened the Dashboard, and the drive was now marked with red, and the bottom of the three green lights on the Drobo turned red, indicating the drive failure.

Drobo Guerrilla Test

Drobo Guerrilla Test

I opened the drop drive in the Finder though, to see that the data on the drive was fine, and I could still access and edit my images from Lightroom, which I tried just a few minutes after pulling out the drive, which I thought was pretty impressive.

This of course though now meant that there was no redundancy, so my data was not protected against one of the remaining two drives failing. To test the rebuilding of the data and getting back to a state where my data would be protected again, I put the fourth 2TB that I’d bought into the third bay on the Drobo.

Data Protection in Progress

Data Protection in Progress

With the new third drive installed, the Drobo took literally just a minute or so to prepare the new drive, and increase the available volume of the drive back to 3.6TB. Note that drive manufacturers count drive capacity differently to how computers calculate it, so a 2TB drive is actually only around 1.8TB to the computer, and because you need to spread the data for redundancy across the other drives in the unit, when you have three 2TB drives installed, this gives you 3.6TB of protected storage.

Although the Drobo increased the volume of my drive almost immediately, it actually took the Drobo about 15 hours to rebuild the redundancy data to once again be able to fully protect my data. I imagine this will also vary with the amount of data you store on your Drobo. I was able to use the Drobo the whole time, and I even copied some new data across while I was waiting for it to rebuild itself.

Drobo Healthy Again

Drobo Healthy Again

Once the Drobo was healthy again and able to protect my data, the cool graphic showing the state of my Drobo turned back to green, and a message at the bottom of the screen told me that my Drobo was now healthy again and has sufficient capacity.

Stay Informed

In the Drobo Dashboard Preferences, there’s an option to setup mail alerts, which I did, so as soon as I pulled out the drive, I received an email telling me that the Drobo was in trouble, and then another when I put in a new drive, and the Drobo started to work towards getting back into a data protection state.

I also set up my MacBook Pro to accept Growl updates from my MacMini, so as long as I’m somewhere in my house or studio, if something goes wrong with the Drobo, I’ll see this instantly on my screen, even though I might not have Mail open. I found that both of these ways of being kept up to date with the state of the Drobo give you peace of mind, especially when you’re out and about. Even if I couldn’t get home immediately to correct the problem, I could alert someone at home to take action, such as going out and buying a new drive to replace a failed one, which is pretty comforting to know, especially as my wife is totally non-technical, but although it would freak her out, I know that it would be easy enough for her to be able to do.

Increasing Capacity

Once I’d confirmed that the Drobo was now working normally with the three 2TB drives installed, I did my last test, which was to increase the capacity using the fourth drive I’d bought. Having reformatted the drive, because it was the one that I’d pulled out the previous day to simulate the failure, I inserted the fourth drive while the Drobo was running.

Drobo Capacity and Tools Menu

Drobo Capacity and Tools Menu

Again, literally within about a minute, the drive was prepared for use, and my available volume jumped from 3.6TB to 5.42TB. When you only have three hard disks in the unit it has to share the redundancy data for each drive across the other two, so for your 5.42TB of disk space, 3.6TB seems quite small as you use one third of the capacity for redundancy. When you have four drives installed though, the redundancy data is spread across three other drives, not just two, so you get to use more of the installed capacity. So for the actual capacity of four 2TB drives, which is 7.27TB, I get to use 75% of that, giving me a nice beefy 5.42TB of protected data.

Still Need a Backup Regime

Even though the Drobo does a great job of protecting your data, as we’ve discussed in the past, your precious images should always exist in three places to be totally safe. You still need to ensure that you have at least one more backup of your images close by, and ideally you’ll have at least one more copy of your data offsite, in case something should happen to your home or office.

I generally have at least two copies of my images in my studio, usually three, and then one that automatically gets uploaded to Backblaze giving me a copy in the cloud. At the end of each year I also send a hard disk with all my images on to my brother in the UK as another off-site storage solution. If you value your images and I know that you do, then do try to ensure that you have a good backup regime in place, and don’t rely just on one device, even the Drobo. You never want to be in a position where a natural disaster or single point of failure could result in you losing all of your work.


I’ve been aware of and secretly lusted after a Drobo for a number of years now. Since shifting to a MacBook Pro as my main computer I’ve been using multiple external drives to store my data on, and although this works, it’s always a bit of a worry to keep them powered up all the time, as most external hard drives are just single drives without any redundancy.

The Drobo

The Drobo

All of my drives run pretty hot too, which will doubtlessly reduce their lifespan, so there’s a contant worry that these drives will fail. The Drobo though removes that worry. With its great engineering and redundancy, as well as a really cool looking full featured Dashboard, it gives you a lot of peace of mind.

With this amount of storage I will be able to copy all of my data, not just my Photo Library which is currently about 2.3TB, and then as the data does grow, I’ll gradually switch out drives to larger ones as they get cheaper. The drives I take out won’t go to waste, as I have to have something to put my off-site backups on to send to my brother in the UK, and I don’t mind those backups being split across multiple drives.

For the studio, I’m seriously considering picking up a second four bay Drobo, and just setting that up to copy anything new from the first drive to the second drive every night, using the scheduled Copy functionality in the Dashboard, then I would be able to do away with all of my external drives, and just run the two Drobos. Just the time I’d save not having to mess around backing up to all of my external drives would probably pay for a second Drobo within a year.


As I mentioned earlier, the kind folks at Drobo have agreed to giveaway a Drobo to a lucky winner picked at random from the list of people that register using a simple Web form. For your chance to win, just click the link below, and enter your details, and submit your form. That’s all you have to do.

Here’s the cool thing though. If more than one thousand people register, Drobo will give us two units, not just one, so don’t keep this Giveaway to yourself. Tell all of your friends, and let’s see if we can’t get two Drobos instead of just one.

The offer is open until midnight PST on Nov 1st, 2011. Then on Nov 2nd, Drobo will let me know who the winner or winners are and I’ll drop you a line with the good news.

Whoever wins, I know that you’re going to love your new Drobo, as much as I do mine.

Good luck!

UPDATE: The winner has been drawn! Nat Parnell from the UK will be receiving a nice shiny Drobo! Congratulations Nat! And thanks to everyone else that also registered.

Show Notes

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