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I'm hoping to graduate from manually copying important files to multiple external desk or portable drives; affordably.

We have 3 Macs and an iPad or two. I have just now learned about Drobo, who as I understand it offer a very user-friendly RAID system, which for any uninformed readers is a redundant array of independent discs, so that your data is backed up on at least two discs, interfaced as a single drive (very simplistic explanation/understanding).

It definitely seems more sensible to be purchasing a single "case" for multiple hard drives as opposed to more than one portable drive, and then adding/replacing the functional aspects of the drive as needed.

I'm not looking for full Time-Capsule style OS-system backups here - just reliable back-up of specific files.

The Drobo conversations I'm finding here on Ask Different seem to be a few years old.

Does the Dobro include software as well as hardware. Is it a minimal computer that is specifically for managing a RAID system? Is this kind of like getting a TV with a VCR built in?

A more recent discussion on MacObserver including someone's RAID system in an Other World Computing drive bay.

I'm hoping for some input from the community before making a purchase. What are some of you using and please share experiences/recommendations and any pros and cons that come to mind.

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First thing I would like to comment on is "just reliable back-up of specific files." and you asking about Drobo RAID. RAID is not a BACKUP, RAID protects you against a physical drive failure, it doesn't protect against deletion, corruption, overwrites, etc. Just copying your files to a system with RAID (i.e. Drobo) isn't backing them up, it is just making a copy of them. A true backup solution will let you restore a file to a point in time, reverting changes or restoring it completely if it was deleted.

Now you CAN set this up with an external NAS like the Drobo. For example most of these devices (QNAP, Synology, Buffalo, etc.) have support for TimeMachine (Apple's backup service) on them. I know you said you didn't want OS-system backups but TimeMachine backs up up only a small subset of the OS, it is mainly a user's files and can be configured to ignore directories that you don't care about.

I am currently running a 6 Disk QNAP TS-659 which I have as a TimeMachine target backing up 3 Mac's (1 Mini, 2 MBPs). My QNAP is then running CrashPlan which backs up the other files from configured network shares on the QNAP to their Internet based service.

If you want to add another device to your network you could just back up directly to CrashPlan, they support individual encryption keys so they can't see your data and their unlimited data, 10 computer family plan is less then $200/year. I actually purchased it for my family so I have my parents, in-laws and immediate family all backing up to it.

Another option is the CrashPlan free program which can use an external disk to create backups on (not file copies). Though since you are running Mac's this is duplicating TimeMachines functionality.

Now if you want a Drobo or it's like for more then just actual backups and want to use it as a file share between multiple systems then that is a different story. The original Drobo's and OWC's drive bay's (or other's by caldigital, etc.) require a connection to a host computer through USB, FireWire or now Thunderbolt. Then the unit shows up as an external drive to the system. If it's a RAID unit then the primary benefit of it is that you can configure the disk's RAID to provide striping for fast access or RAID5 for lots of storage (not backups).

Newer units from Drobo and ones from QNAP, Synology, Buffalo, etc. are actual NAS's (Network Attached Storage). They are a standalone unit that attaches to your network (wireless or wired depending on model) and then is configured through a web based GUI. You can create separate user accounts on them so multiple people can store their own files on the system and basically run it as a SOHO File/Print server.

  • Very thorough and informative answer. – MikeiLL Apr 10 '15 at 22:43
  • To have multiple Mac's backing up to the QNAP system, did you need to create multiple partitions? – MikeiLL Apr 10 '15 at 22:56
  • No I did not. When a Mac create's a TM backup on a network resource (TimeCapsule, QNAP, etc.) it name's it based of the machine name and other information (mac address, etc). I have three Mac's backing up to my QNAP without any conflict what so ever. – BMorgenthaler Apr 10 '15 at 22:58
  • Here is a posting about how to get timemachine working on a NAS that doesn't support it natively. Notice steps 4 & 5 which grep the mac address and manually create the sparsebundle initially. code.stephenmorley.org/articles/time-machine-on-a-network-drive – BMorgenthaler Apr 10 '15 at 23:00
  • Got a QNAP ts-431 and it has TimeMachine functionality out of the box. It seems like a great consumer-level option. There is also a 2-bay product. Very happy. – MikeiLL Apr 22 '15 at 3:00
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You might check out Transporter. It lets you attach a usb hard drive (or comes with one built in if you get that option) to your network and gives you a "private cloud" to store your files. Think of it as a Dropbox or Box like solution where you control the physical storage. They even let you connect them so if you have friends or family out of state you can have a remote backup mirrored across the network. This would give you some of the benefits of Drobo while also having backups in multiple locations.

You could even plug a Drobo into a Transporter if you wanted all the benefits of both.

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