Increasingly the biggest challenge for home consumers will be managing their data storage. As broadband speeds continue to accelerate to allow rapid downloads of larger files, as we start to store multiple gigabyte video files, as we continue to store increasingly large photos at higher and higher resolutions, and as simple software takes more and more space, the need to store massive amounts of data and to do so in a redundant manner will become increasingly necessary. Currently most home consumers use external drives to store files and more sophisticated consumers use multitudes of external drives as software RAIDs; some consumers use hardware RAID devices as they become more and more popular and cheaper.
Unfortunately hard drives eventually fail, meaning that if you are using non-redundant external drives, you constantly face the risk of data loss. Furthermore, some RAID configurations require the use of identical drives, meaning that failures can cause you to have to redesign your entire RAID configuration.
Drobo is an intelligent storage solution that seeks to solve all of the problems traditionally associated with external storage. There are 4 bays in the Drobo device that accept SATA drives and no requirements that the drive be the same speed, manufacturer, or size. In order to function correctly, Drobo really requires 2 drives for data redundancy, but is designed for 1 drive to fail and to give you time to replace the drive in a single drive configuration.
User interaction with Drobo does not necessarily require software: status of the available storage and the state of each drive is shown through the use of colored LEDs on the front of the unit. For drive status, Drobo uses a very simple stoplight methodology: green means everything is fine, yellow indicates a warning, and red means there is a problem.
If you install 4 drives in Drobo and begin to run out of space, Drobo will actually visually indicate the smallest drive that needs to be replaced in order to add more storage, which is really cool. Furthermore, because the SATA drives slide into the ports on Drobo without any sort of adapters or cables needed, you can keep your eyes open for the best SATA deals and only upgrade, replace, or add drives when there are acceptable deals for you. Drobo winds up being infinitely expandable and will be as expensive or cheap as you make it based on the best SATA drive deals that you can find.
I'd like to see whether or not Drobo could be effectively used when connected to a server/computer and shared over a network -- I don't see nay reason why this would not work and it could be a very elegant and simply managed solution for non-complex LANs (i.e., small business).
Cost of the Drobo without any drives is $700, which seems expensive until you think back on the amount of money that you've spent on external drives and the fact that once you have the Drobo unit, you have infinite expansion options.
Link -- Drobo main page
Link -- video of how Drobo works (worth watching)