Review: iStoragePro iT4UFER and a contest

Storage is cheap, and just keeps getting cheaper. I remember buying my first 250 megabyte hard drive, and paying just under a dollar per meg. Now we’re approaching multi-terabyte drives at retail stores for extremely reasonable prices. The age old problem, though, is how to protect all that precious data. RAID solutions have been around for a long time, but the consumer-grade products haven’t been all that great, and the commercial-grade products have been way too expensive. Things are starting to change, though, and the iStoragePro iT4UFER is a good indicator of what’s to come.

The iStoragePro iT4UFER is a pretty simple product. It’s an external cabinet for up to 4 hard drives, not included. The iT4UFER creates a single RAID 5 volume using the four disks. This means that a single drive can fail without any data loss. That’s a pretty good starting point for entry-level data protection.

The review unit I received came with four 1 terabyte disks. In a RAID 5 configuration, that provides 3 terabytes of usable space. When you power on the unit, you’re asked if you’d like to initialize the RAID. This will erase everything on the disks and create a new, blank volume that you can partition and format from your PC. Obviously if this is the first time you’re getting started, you’ll want to answer the prompt in the affirmative. If you’d already done this step and had loaded some data onto the volume, then you’ll obviously want to say “no” (or just wait: the question times out, and the device becomes usable after a few seconds).

Initializing a RAID volume is fast. It takes less than a minute, and then your volume is ready to be partitioned. Connect the iT4UFER to a computer, and set up the disk however you see fit. The iT4UFER supports USB, Firewire 400 and 800, and e-SATA. I tried all of the first three, and each was as easy to use as you’d expect from any other USB or Firewire device. Throughput depends on which connection you’re using, with Firewire 800 being the fastest of those I tried.

To your computer, the iT4UFER looks like a single physical hard drive. You can create one or more partitions and format them with the filesystem(s) of your choice. I created a single 3TB Mac OS Extended (Journaled) partition and connected it to both a MacBook Pro (OSX 10.6) and a Mac Mini (OSX 10.5). I copied some m4v movies I’d ripped from my paltry DVD collection over to the iT4UFER using USB, Firewire 400 and Firewire 800. Nothing really exciting to report here: the files transferred across just fine.

To test the fault tolerance features of the RAID volume, I did what anyone would do: start watching one of those ripped movies, and yank a hard drive out of the unit during playback. Again, there’s little to report here: playback continued uninterrupted. I placed the drive back in its slot, and the iT4UFER asked me whether this was a new disk. I lied and said that it was, and the unit happily set about repairing the RAID volume using the new disk. The whole time I was able to enjoy Sean Astin and the whole crew of the Goonies tearing it up in Astoria without a single hiccup.

Bottom Line
If you have data that’s important to you, you should be taking steps to protect that data. Devices like the iStoragePro iT4UFER are a good, entry-level investment in RAID technology: it protects your precious data from all-too-common hard drive failure. And the fact that it’s a portable, external unit means you can easily take your data with you if you shuffle between locations.

Along with the demo unit, I received a $100 gift card to Starbucks. I’m not sure if that was a blatant attempt at a bribe or not, but I’m above such things. I’m making that gift card available to you, dear readers, so that you can maintain the proper blood caffeine levels.

All you need to do to win this $100 Starbucks gift card is to write a short essay, here in the comments, explaining importance of data protection! Whether you choose to focus on RAID, or tape backup, or something else, be informative. Share your personal experiences. There’s no length requirement, so be as verbose or as brief as you feel is necessary. The only rule I’m imposing is no profanity. This is a family-friendly web site!

We’ll pick a random winner tomorrow at noon, Eastern.

UPDATE: Congrats to commenter Matthew B for being selected by our super sophisticated random number generator! The $100 Starbucks gift card is his. Coffee’s on, Matthew!