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REVIEW: ioSafe SoloPRO Fireproof External Drive

December 22, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Today, external hard disk drives are a “dime a dozen” so to speak. They all use drives from a handful of companies, wrap them in a plastic or metal enclosure with USB, eSATA or some other interfaces, add a cheap external power supply, and box it up for sale. What all these drives lack, however, is security for your data. Sure, you can use a RAID, but if catastrophe hits- a fire, flood, tornado, etc, your data is gone. This is where ioSafe stakes their claim.

I already have a Netgear (nee: Infrant) ReadyNAS 4-drive device backing up my client’s projects and work in progress. Speed over Gigabit Ethernet is about 21 MBps write, 60 MBps read. Big HD video projects & DVD authoring take considerable time to back up, but at least I know I can survive a drive failure.

But what I was missing is the traditional “offsite backup” in case of catastrophe, like a fire. I could set up a multi-drive system and swap out off-site backups, but generally, this is a manual labor chore. What I wanted to explore was something that offered data security without direct effort. The SoloPRO was that solution.

ioSafe versus "normal" external HDD.

The Solo and SoloPRO are a series of drive enclosures that offer fire and water protection, as well as submersability, though, I don’t think anyone actually expects them to operate under water. What they mean is that they’ll survive a flood, or the water that puts out a fire. Then, if generally intact, you should be able to reconnect your computer and access the drive.

If the enclosure is hard hit, and the thermal casing does what it does to protect the drive & data within, you won’t be connecting it right back up to your computer. What you do is send it back to ioSafe for their Data Recovery Service. This DRS is a one-time, no questions asked, service that includes forensic data recovery if needed. You receive replacement hardware pre-loaded with recovered data.

The DRS service also covers hard drive failure, which ioSafe says is typically circuit board failure on the hard drive, and not the platters within. With their DRS, ioSafe touts a 99.9% recovery rate. I asked about this and they said that the drives they weren’t able to recover were deliberately, maliciously damaged beyond repair & recovery. So, barring that, your data should be retrievable.

Right out of the box, this DRS is complimentary for one year. The hardware warranty goes for three years. You can extend DRS to match the hardware warranty for three years, or extend both to last for five years, which I think is the whole point of the ioSafe purchase.

The drives themselves cost a bit more than other similarly capacious external HDDs. A 2 TB SoloPRO is $399, versus $99-$150 for other external 2 TB drives. But they are also about 6x the physical size and weight, with a lot of special technology going on around them.

It costs $50 to extend the Data Recovery Service from one year to three, and it costs $100 to extend both to 5 years. Given that I think this is the whole point of a fireproof safe, then the additional $100 is a given for me. I opted for the biggest drive they have- a 3 TB, because data ALWAYS grows to expand to the space you have. So my 3 TB ($500) + 5yr DRS ($100) = $600. A bit steep but then, there also isn’t much competition.

THE DRIVE:

My plan was to connect the SoloPRO to the USB port on the back of my NAS and have my NAS back itself up to the SoloPRO. This would yield a self-managed redundant backup (the NAS) that also had a fireproof backup. The NAS has the ability to e-mail me with any issues like a failed RAID drive, backup drive not found, etc.

My first problem was one I had not anticipated, the NAS needed a firmware update to deal with big drives (& other issues.) 3 TB is not your normal run-of-the-mill size so be aware that older systems & computers may have issues if connecting direct. Also, the NAS wouldn’t write to the NTFS-formatted SoloPRO. But I could easily reformat the SoloPRO to a file system that the NAS would handle.

The last issue was one of the 15lb weight of the SoloPRO. My NAS is next to my router & gigabit switch on a wire shelf about 7 feet up on a wall. The SoloPRO, with the fireproof housing, is easily 4x the weight of the NAS. The SoloPRO is also deeper and room must be left in the back for cabling. So it was not going be safe on that little shelf over my head.

You can see how the ioSafe enclosure demands respect.

I decided to connect the drive directly to my computer. This would solve the size, weight issue, and also enable me to take advantage of the SoloPRO’s eSATA port. Dropping the SoloPRO next to my other external drives really demonstrated what a monster the SoloPRO is. It dwarfed the other external drives, even the OWC Mercury Elite that I thought was pretty oversized looked like a toy compared to the SoloPRO.

I was dismayed that this big enclosure would still rely on a cheap external power supply, but that just seems to be the nature of the business these days. I was hoping for an integrated, 2-wire power supply like the Mac Mini or Apple TV, with both boast great energy efficiency as well.

The SoloPRO does have a small internal fan on the back which runs constantly to pull air through the enclosure to cool the drive within. It’s certainly audible in a quiet edit room, so editors keen on silence will have to make arrangements for the SoloPRO. I didn’t have much problem with it as it was several feet from where I sit, but I could still hear it.

It also has blue LED lighting on the front that indicates power to the drive, and it flickers with activity, but despite the cool “dot” design of the enclosure, there is no indication other than blinking. No colors for read & write, and no increasing scale (size of the dots) for throughput.

The SoloPRO has four hard plastic feet that, on a typical hard table top, slide quite easily despite its 15lbs of mass. Were it my drive to keep, I’d either replace those or get bigger rubber feet for the bottom of the drive. This way, if it gets bumped, it doesn’t slide off the table and do serious damage to whatever it hits when it falls.

PERFORMANCE:

I tested the SoloPRO vie USB & eSATA and the numbers were typical for a single external drive. Via USB, I tested about 21 MBps read & write. eSATA speeds were generally 155 MBps read and 75 MBps write. The numbers did peak higher, but those higher speeds were not sustained. For comparison, a Fantom “Green” drive (WD mechanism) did 111 MBps read & 97 MBps write. My OWC Mercury Elite does 114 MBps read, 92 MBps write. So the SoloPRO tends to read faster, but write slower than other eSATA drives I have, but not terribly so in either direction.

ioSafe USB test

There’s a USB 3.0 version as well. This provides backward compatibility to USB 2.0, but also eSATA-like speeds with newer USB 3.0 hardware. The drive tested around 105 MBps read and 77 MBps write. These figures are similar to other single USB 3.0 external drives on the market, but slightly slower than the eSATA performance I tested.

These speeds are certainly no comparison for a RAID, though. Two laptop drives striped in a RAID-0 net me 195 MBps read, 155 MBps write. Even though both of these speeds probably pale in comparison to the SSD options that ioSafe offers, the size of the SSD option is limited to 512 GB, and that 512 GB drive is $3000. So I’ll stick to hard drives with little spinning platters, thank you very much.

ioSafe eSATA test

In actual usage, it’s actually far more convenient to use the ioSafe as the computer’s primary “media drive.” In theory I could do continual backups to my RAIDed NAS, but I prefer the option to deal with all the media while editing, and then, when the project is finished, export a new project, give media some handles, and throw away everything I didn’t use. If there are files I think may be useful in the future, alternate takes / languages, etc., then I can put them on the end of a timeline and they’ll be archived too. Then back this trimmed project up to the NAS.

While not as fast as the fastest RAIDs, and certainly no competition for Thunderbolt RAIDs, I think the eSATA or USB 3.0 versions serve the entire middle market well. They can easily handle the speeds required for many of the HD codecs used in production today. Hard-core, multi-stream, uncompressed HD editors will need internal RAIDs for editing. For them, the SoloPRO can sit external for nightly backups.

CONCLUSIONS:

The security offered by a fireproof, waterproof, and generally theft-proof external hard drive is good to have, especially where losing the footage would be a “very bad” thing to have happen. Then you not only have to deal with recovering from the fire (or whatever) but also the clients who paid serious money for footage that’s now gone. Commercial clients may keep a duplicate of the camera footage, but the “event video” workflow seldom creates these duplicates.

The business side of the ioSafe HDD

There’s insurance and then there’s making a concerted effort to ensure that the data is secure. A 3 TB SoloPRO, amortized over the five years of protection, is $120 a year, for something that you’ll use every day. And that, in my book, is cheap indeed.

Even for home use, where the photos & videos that archive our lives are all digital, the SoloPRO can help ensure precious personal memories survive where albums & prints won’t. If there’s anything that I’d change, it is a personal thing. With the tank-like ruggedness that the SoloPRO offers, I’d like to see custom, laser etched face plates. This way, after a tornado, when the Solo is found amidst the rubble- perhaps miles away, the person who finds it will know who the SoloPRO belongs to.

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