Storage device manufacturer Drobo has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy alongside its parent company, StorCentric, in California’s Northern Bankruptcy Court. While bankruptcy doesn’t necessarily mean the company will dissolve, it does imply it is in its current form unsustainable as a business, which could complicate things for photographers and videographers alike who use Drobo’s line of external storage products.
Drobo was founded in San Jose, California back in May 2005 under the name Data Robotics. Over the years, its line of Drobo products took hold in the data storage market, offering simple solutions for anyone needing to store and back up their digital data. Unlike many of its competitors, Drobo succeeded in simplicity, with a proprietary technology that allowed users to hot-swap hard drives without the need to manually migrate data. Should one of the drives in a Drobo product fail, simply pop out the broken drive, throw in a new one, and carry on your way.
|Drobo’s current line of products, although you’ll be hard-pressed to find these available as new at any retailer.|
After half a decade of success with its Drobo brand, Data Robotics renamed itself to Drobo, Inc. in 2011. Two years later, it would go on to merge with Connected Data, Inc. in the summer of 2013, becoming an independent subsidiary of the company.
As detailed by Mike Tomkins in Popular Photography, Drobo was off to a rosy start as a company. At a time when RAID solutions weren’t necessarily commonplace in the consumer world, Drobo offered a lifeline to creatives who wanted a simple solution to keeping their data safe. Things started taking a turn, however, at the turn of the decade, with a few notable names in the photography industry publicly announcing they were no longer using Drobo products due to their unreliability and slow speeds.
Specifically, both Trey Ratcliff and Scott Kelby shared articles detailing why they were leaving Drobo in the dust. In his 2011 update to his original Drobo review, Ratcliff said he found his Drobo products to be ‘much cheaper and much slower, and many people believe less reliable, than other products on the market. In 2012, Kelby wrote an article titled ‘I’m Done with Drobo,’ wherein he states that ‘for the fourth time one of [his] Drobos is a brick.’ That, despite the drives inside still being functional, he was unable to access any of his photographs – ‘not a one.’ He even shared a 54-second video showing his five-bay Drobo on the fritz, as its lights blinked and drives spun:
Eventually, the Drobo brand was acquired by an ‘Investment Group Comprised of Seasoned Tech Executives’ in May 2015. Over the years under this ownership, Drobo release new products on an annual basis, but started to feel the heat as the likes of Buffalo, Lacie, Promise Technology, QNAP, Synology, Western Digitals and others improved their simplicity and expanded their respective product lines at a price below what Drobo’s proprietary technology came in at.
Three years later in August 2018, Drobo would once again be sold, this time to StorCentric, a ‘newly formed customer centric storage solutions company.’ Drobo, alongside Nexsan, who StorCentric purchased at the same time, remained an independent division under the StorCentric organization. After that announcement, however, Drobo has been fairly quiet on the news front. As visible on its Press Release page on its website, far fewer announcements were made each year and only one new product was announced, the Drobo 8D in 2018. Aside from that announcement, the rest of the press releases are either marketing material or announcements about other acquisitions and business moves from its StorCentric parent company.
|One of Drobo’s stand-out features was its clever use of lights to let users know the current capacity and stability of the drives inside the bays.|
Since its last announcement in 2018, the situation appears to have only gotten worse for Drobo. Based on product listings, both on Drobo’s own website and retailers, nearly its entire lineup of products, both consumer- and commercial-facing, have been discontinued and have proven difficult to come by. COVID-19 and the resulting global supply chain issues appears to have also played a role, with StorCentric CEO, Mihir Shah, posting this letter titled ‘CEO Letter – Keeping You in Mind As We Move Forward’ to a dedicated url on the company’s website in May 2020. In it, he says the company is ‘trying to mitigate the impact of any delay in the supply chain.’ It doesn’t appear as though supply has increased since the start of the pandemic, however, and no further update has been provided.
Considering this bankruptcy filing is the first major news from the company in over three years, it paints a bleak picture for the brand, its employees and the end-users who rely on Drobo hardware to keep their data safe.
|The Drobo Mini used 2.5″ HDDs or SSDs, making it one of their more compact options.|
Chapter 11 bankruptcy doesn’t necessarily mean an end to the company, brand and/or its products. Its purpose is to assign a trustee from the Department of Justice’s U.S. Trustee Program who will then work to reorganize the company and settle any debts it’s incurred in an effort to keep the company operating without further debts and losses. While it is possible for a company to make it through a Chapter 11 filing intact, Drobo’s situation is quite dire. Not only does Drobo and StorCentric have existing debt, it also doesn’t appear to have any supply on hand to sell to consumers, leaving almost no meaningful way of bringing in revenue.
Drobo’s first court appearance is scheduled for tomorrow and creditors have until October 17, 2022 to make claims to debts they’re owed. This means Drobo will at least have its hands full throughout the remainder of the year and will likely see this impact its operation through 2023 and beyond.