I have searched for a way to easily back up all the computers in my house for quite a while, when I came across the iStoragePro Dock View RAID box. This is a two-drive RAID 0/1 box with eSATA, FireWire 400 and 800, and USB2 connections.
My goal is to have a single place in which all of my family's computers could back up using Time Machine. Furthermore, I want an easy way to make off-site backups. The Dock View does that wonderfully. Once a week, I pull one of the drives out of the Dock View, and put in a new drive. The pulled drive goes with me to work, where it sits on a shelf. When the week is up, I bring the drive home, pull one of the other drives from the Dock View, put the drive that I just brought home back in, and tell the Dock View to rebuild. The nice thing about using a mirrored RAID is that each drive is complete by itself; I could put the drive into a different enclosure and recover the files using the Finder.
iT2DockV Dock View RAID Front
For those readers who are not up on the different kinds of RAID, here is a quick synopsis: RAID stands for Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks. It is a set of techniques to group more than one disk together in a storage set in such a way that you can increase throughput or reliability. RAID level 0 (striped) spreads the data across multiple disks to increase throughput. Raid level 1 (mirrored) duplicates the data on each of two disks to increase reliability at the cost of storage space. See Wikipedia for an in-depth description of the various kinds of RAID.
The 11-pound Dock View is a small box, just large enough to hold two 3.5" drives and some electronics. It has a pair of buttons and an LCD screen on the front, so that you see the RAID's progress. All the connectors are on the back. The two drives are mounted on trays that slide in and out easily. All you need to do is to push firmly on the blue button on the tray and the drive unlocks. There is a small plastic slider that you use to lock the trays in place, so that you do not eject the trays by accident.
The solidly built Dock View is made from cast aluminum. In these days of plastic drive cases, this is a welcome change; it shouldn't have any trouble with the occasional bump or ding. When it contains a pair of drives, the entire assembly is surprisingly heavy.
iT2DockV Dock View RAID Back
When you remove a drive from the Dock View, and insert a replacement drive, it immediately can tell that it has a new drive, and asks you if you wish to add the drive to the RAID system. If you answer in the affirmative, the Dock View will "Rebuild the RAID," which involves moving the data around on the two drives to get the system back into the desired configuration. For RAID 1, that involves copying all the data on the existing drive onto the new drive. I used Seagate 7200 RPM 1.5 TB drives, so this took about 5 hours, which works out to about 5 GB/minute or 85 MB/sec.
Hot Swappable with Good Performance
The hot-swappable trays are an important feature of the Dock View. That is, you can remove a drive while the box is powered on and mounted. Even better, if you use a RAID 1 setup (mirrored drives), you can remove a drive from the box while the system is in use by a computer. Most of the other RAID boxes that I investigated over the last year require you to unmount the drive from your desktop before you could swap out a drive.
iT2DockV Dock View RAID Tray Swap
The Dock View does not have this limitation; you can continue to use the system while it is missing a drive (RAID 1), and while it is rebuilding the RAID system as well. However, if you use the system heavily, the time to rebuild goes way up. I started a copy of about 1 TB worth of data onto the Dock View disks, popped out a drive, put in a new one, and told it to add the new drive to the RAID, all while the copy was in progress. As far as the Finder was concerned, nothing changed. The copy continued, without any loss of speed. Instead of 5 hours to rebuild, however, the DocView told me that it would take over 10 hours, and sure enough, the next morning it was still rebuilding.
Dock View RAID On Mac Pro
The Dock View performs very well. I copied about 56 GB of data onto the device using the FW800 connection, and it took about 1000 seconds, in both the striped and mirrored modes. This suggests that the limitation here is not in the Dock View, but either in the FireWire connection or the source disk.
The fan is the only problem that I have found with the Dock View. It runs all the time, even when the device is idle. It's not a terribly noisy fan, but it is the noisiest thing in my home office. This upsets my wife, who likes to nap on the couch in the home office; she claims that it is too noisy for her to sleep. If I want to make the iT2DockV a permanent part of my setup, I would have to build some kind of enclosure to muffle the fan noise.
The manuals that come on CD with the Dock View are very poor. They are merely PDF images of the data sheet and the Quick Start guide. There is no documentation on the DIP switches on the back of the device, nor any listing of the menu options available via the screen on the front. The iStoragePro web site does not have much information, either.
You can order the Dock View with either a pair of 1 TB drives ($489) or a pair of 2 TB drives ($695), and can be purchased from Amazon. iStoragePro includes a full set of cables (USB, eSATA, FireWire 400, and FireWire 800) as well as an external power brick in the box. You can also purchase extra drive trays. While the entry price might seem excessive, the backup convenience, ability to hot swap, reliability and solid build of the iT2DockV, make it a good solution for reliable backups of your important files.