Making a Case for WiebeTech was quick to recognize the innovative potential of WiebeTech’s entry into the portable storage product marketplace. CEO James Wiebe continues to expand his catalog with monthly releases that range from heavy iron aimed at IT and server clients, through specialized forensic units, to home or office drives and docks of all current capacities.

Utilitarian design did not win WiebeTech any style awards during the company’s first two years in business. As the product lineup becomes mature, James and his energetic team are putting more thought and expense into exterior materials and appearances, and not just into guts and low-end enclosures.

David Weeks and I recently spent a day with RackFire+ (RF+), Wiebe’s “Hardware-based RAID with two FireWire drive trays in a 1U rack mount enclosure.” Translated into English, that means a large, flat, metal pizza box containing two sliding trays, each holding an independent duo of powered FireWire 800 storage drives. RF+ was too geeky for us to review with any authority. It represents WiebeTech’s highest-end existing item, and the industrial-strength case design is worthy of its contents and engineering.

Shortly after RF+ arrived at Weeks’ home, he joked that the UPS truck accidentally drove over the carton after first dropping it hard onto the driveway. If that had happened, RF+ might have scowled, but it just as easily could have been brought into service with only a few minor blemishes. WiebeTech built RF+ to last longer than the careers of most of the gearheads who will be installing and configuring it.

ToughTech desktop drives did receive David’s evaluation, and its score is a mighty 5 out of 5. What impressed him most was the clever way ToughTech is encased in a drive housing that is as versatile as it is durable and attractive. I’m using the FireWire 400 model of ToughTech, and it resides proudly in plain sight adjacent to my super-stylish Apple Cinema Display and Dino hubzilla.

WiebeTech is branching out beyond the obvious, exemplified by the company’s successful penetration into law enforcement and academic fields via their “Forensics Field” lineup (not to be confused with a mug’s gallery). These items are beyond the scope of’s typical reader, but sources close to Wiebe who refused to be identified and may be living under an assumed name in a witness protection program tell me that the forensics drives and docks are selling faster than Rolex watches in the New York City subway.

Another unusual role for James Wiebe is as industry insider, publishing white papers on expert topics. I waded through his essay on the future of FireWire 800 without needing more than a dozen toothpicks to keep my eyes propped open. Just kidding! James and his editor Kathy Wiebe write clearly and persuasively on topics pertinent to their industry that should be required reading for all journalists and bloggers who write without first engaging brains into gear.
papers on expert topics.

Why is WiebeTech any different from your typical storage vendor? Because all decisions and manufacturing are both top-down and bottom-up. The company is small, local, mom and pop, first person, and immediate. If you, the consumer or reseller, have a question for James Wiebe or Michael Gaskins, his customer support guru, you call or email them and they respond. That’s it.

When was having problems last year getting certain USB-powered pocket drives to mount, Michael sent me prototype cables that assisted both product development and user access. When my computer clients and I have defective or problematic WiebeTech products, they are repaired or replaced quickly and efficiently, via toll-free number and often at no cost. When I as a media representative tell James or Michael that certain enclosures or ports are clumsy or inefficient, they listen and consider my suggestions for future improvements.

How big does WiebeTech intend to grow? We’ll have to check back in a few years to find out, but for now the company’s homespun hometown attitude is winning them recognition and awards every year, including a Best of Show from Macworld 2004 and a award from the 2005 Expo.

My personal favorite WiebeTech product remains last year’s ComboGB. This is the portable external hard drive I carry daily to clients’ homes and offices inside my bulletproof Laptop Armor case. Aside from its DO NOT DROP warning, which I have ignored only once (whew!) ComboGB performs flawlessly in every FireWire 400 and/or 800 environment with reliable performance plus decent design and durability. I urge Wiebe to develop portable enclosures that are as rugged as their desktop ToughTech units.

I have a hunch. Some of the items in WiebeTech’s catalog are getting a bit long in the tooth, begging for replacement or upgrade. If past is indicator, James will want to clear his existing inventory in anticipation of new entries, with dramatic cost reductions from the already very competitive list prices. When you place your order, always check first to see if the life cycle of your desired drive or dock is near its end, because last year’s model will probably last you just as long as next year’s, and save you plenty at the outset.

If I were James Wiebe I would have an annual contest. The winner would receive $200 to apply too any shipping product. Every year one or more different categories of drive or dock would be assigned to contestants for design and style improvements. From this collective think tank could emerge innovative enhancements toward his goal of making a better case for WiebeTech.

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