Review: ioSafe SoloPRO Secure Hard Drive
Posted Sep 8, 2011

ioSafe SoloPROToday, external hard disk drives are a dime a dozen, so to speak. They all use drive components from a handful of companies; wrap them in a plastic or metal enclosure with USB, eSATA, or FireWire interface; 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-fire, flood, hurricane, tornado-your data is gone. This is where ioSafe, Inc. stakes its claim.
In my current studio setup, I have a NETGEAR ReadyNAS four-drive device backing up my clients' projects and works in progress. Speed over gigabit Ethernet is about 21MB/sec. write and 60MB/sec. read. Big HD video projects and DVD authoring take considerable time to back up, but at least I know I can survive a drive failure. But what I've been missing until recently is the traditional off-site backup in case of catastrophe. I could set up a multidrive 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 ioSafe SoloPRO proved to be that solution. The ioSafe SoloPRO and its smaller counterpart, the Solo, are drive enclosures that promise fire and water protection, including "full immersion," although I don't think anyone actually expects them to operate under water. What it means is that they'll survive a flood or the exposure to water used to put out a fire. Then, if generally intact, you should be able to reconnect the drive to your computer and access the data.

Data Recovery

If the enclosure is hit hard, the thermal casing does what it can to protect the drive and data within. But with the likelihood of damage to some or all of the data, you won't be connecting it right back up to your computer. What you'll need to do is send it back to ioSafe to be handled by the company's Data Recovery Service (DRS). This DRS is a one-time, no-questions-asked service that includes forensic data recovery if needed. You will receive replacement hardware preloaded with the recovered data.

The DRS also covers hard drive failure, which ioSafe says is typically circuit board failure on the hard drive and not the platters within. With its DRS, ioSafe touts a 99.9% recovery rate. I asked company reps about this and was told that the drives they weren't able to recover were deliberately, maliciously damaged beyond repair and recovery. Barring that, your data should be retrievable.

Right out of the box, DRS coverage is complimentary for 1 year. The hardware warranty is good for 3 years. You can extend DRS to match the hardware warranty for 3 years, or extend both to last for 5 years, which I think is the whole point of the ioSafe purchase.

What You Pay and What You Get
The drives themselves cost a bit more than other, similarly capacious external hard disk drives. A 2TB SoloPRO costs $399.99-quite a bit more expensive than
the $99-$150 you'd typically pay for other external 2TB drives. But the SoloPRO is also about six times the physical size and weight of other drives, with a lot of special technology going on around it.

It costs $50 to extend the DRS from 1 year to 3, and it costs $100 to extend the DRS and the warranty to 5 years. I think this is the whole point of a fireproof safe, so the additional $100 is a given for me. I opted for the biggest drive ioSafe offers, a 3TB, because data always grows to fill the space you have. So my 3TB drive ($500) and 5-year DRS coverage ($100) would have cost me $600. That may seem a bit steep for hard drive storage, but then, there also isn't much competition for this level of security.

Installing and Using 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 (of the NAS) that also had a fireproof backup. The NAS has the ability to email me with any issues such as a failed RAID drive, backup drive not found, and so on.

ioSafe SoloPRO

My first problem was one I had not anticipated: The NAS needed a firmware update to deal with big drives and other issues. Three terabytes is not your normal run-of-the-mill size, so be aware that older systems and computers may have issues if connected directly. Also, I found that the NAS wouldn't write to the NTFS-formatted SoloPRO. But I could easily reformat the SoloPRO to a file system that the NAS could handle.

The last issue concerned the 15-lb. weight of the SoloPRO. In my studio, my NAS is positioned next to my router and gigabit switch on a wire shelf hanging about 7' up on a wall. The SoloPRO with the fireproof housing is easily four times the weight of the NAS. The SoloPRO is also deeper, and room must be left in the back for cabling. So it wouldn't have been safe on that little shelf over my head.

I decided to connect the drive directly to my computer. This would solve the size and weight issue, and it also would enable me to take advantage of 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 oversized looked like a toy next to the SoloPRO.

I was dismayed that this big enclosure still relies 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, two-wire power supply such as those used by the Mac Mini or Apple TV, which both boast great energy efficiency as well.

The SoloPRO does have a small internal fan that runs constantly to pull air through the enclosure to cool the drive within. It's certainly audible in a quiet edit room, so editors who are keen on silence will have to make arrangements for the SoloPRO. I didn't have a problem with it, as it was located 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. There are no colors for read and write and no increasing scale (size of the dots) for throughput.

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

Testing the Drive

I tested the SoloPRO via USB and eSATA, and the numbers were typical for a single external drive. Via USB, it delivered roughly 21MB/sec. read and write. eSATA speeds were generally 155MB/sec. read and 75MB/sec. write. The numbers did peak higher, but those higher speeds were not sustained. For comparison, a Fantom GreenDrive (WD mechanism) did 111MB/sec. read and 97MB/sec. write. My OWC Mercury Elite does 114MB/sec. read and 92MB/sec. write. So the SoloPRO tends to read faster, but it writes slower than other eSATA drives I have, but not terribly so in either direction.

ioSafe SoloPRO

There's a USB 3.0 version as well. This provides backward compatibility to USB 2.0, but it also delivers eSATA-like speeds with newer USB 3.0 hardware. The drive tested at about 105MB/sec. read and 77MB/sec. write with USB 3.0. These figures are similar to other single USB 3.0 external drives on the market, but they're slightly slower than the eSATA performance I experienced.

These speeds certainly can't compare with a RAID system, though. Two laptop drives striped in a RAID 0 net me 195MB/sec. read and 155MB/sec. 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 512GB, and that 512GB drive is $3,000. So I'll stick to hard drives with little spinning platters, thank you very much.

ioSafe SoloPRO

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 RAID 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 that I think may be useful in the future-alternate takes/languages and the like-then I can put them on the end of a timeline, and they'll be archived too. Then I'll back up this trimmed project 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. Hardcore, multistream, 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 have to deal with not only recovering from the fire (or whatever disaster strikes) 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.

There's insurance and then there's making a concerted effort to ensure that the data is secure. A 3TB SoloPRO, amortized over the 5 years of protection, costs $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 and videos that archive our lives are all digital, the SoloPRO can help ensure precious personal memories survive where albums and prints won't.

If there's one aspect of the SoloPRO that I'd change, it is a personal thing. With the tanklike ruggedness that the SoloPRO offers, I'd like to see custom, laser-etched faceplates. This way, after a tornado, when the Solo is found amid the rubble-perhaps miles away-the person who finds it will know who the SoloPRO belongs to.

Anthony Burokas (VidPro at ieba.com) of IEBA Communications has shot award-winning corporate video internationally and recorded events since the days of 3/4" tape. He is currently technical director for the PBS series Flavors of America and resides just outside of Dallas.