Media and storage of the future

I just lost a hard disk. No big deal.

My somewhat complicated home media setup is this: I have a Samsung TV plugged in to a first generation AppleTV. The AppleTV is connected to the network via wired ethernet to an Apple AirPort Extreme base station / router. Hanging off the USB port of the Airport Extreme is several terabytes of storage courtesy of a Drobo containing a bunch of cheap(ish) OEM hard drives.

The AppleTV has been upgraded with a Broadcom Crystal HD chip in the internal PC Card slot – which normally has a wifi card in it. I figured it was worth sacrificing wifi, since with the size of HD video you really want to be using a fast wired network anyway. In order to make use of the HD chip, I have XBMC installed on the AppleTV.

So I sat down this evening to watch a film over dinner. I switched the TV over to the AppleTV, fired up XBMC, and navigated to the files on my Drobo – except they weren’t there. For some reason, the AppleTV wasn’t seeing the Drobo. I pulled the face plate off the Drobo to find out what was going on, and noticed it was in standby mode – unmounted by the Airport Extreme. No wonder the AppleTV couldn’t see it!

I restarted the Airport Extreme, but when it came back up and woke up the Drobo, I had the ominous flashing red light beside one of the drives. The light that means “drive failure”.

At this point in the story, there would normally be panic at the thought of lost data. What actually happened was a swift trip to Amazon, a quick calculation of cost per megabyte followed by ordering a new OEM drive to replace the failed one. It should be here on Monday, but meanwhile I can still access all my data.

It’s not always smooth sailing – see Drobo good, bad, ugly and Drobo updates. But when talking to a friend the other day who was still nursing individual external USB drives, I realised that on the whole the Drobo has been well-behaved and fits into the “it just works” category of technology that is so rare these days. It’s been online for almost two and a half years, and I’ve only had to mess with it on three occasions until now: installation, adding capacity, and replacing the first blown disk.

So I’d thoroughly recommend a Drobo instead of an external USB drive, and for a home media centre solution it works really well with the AppleTV (and associated hacks) as well.

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