After one week with the Drobo v2

Drobo v2 (redux)
[View on Flickr]

I wrote a few days ago to brag that I finally have a Drobo. I just wanted to share my experience with it these past seven days.

Installation

Followed the instructions right out of the box and everything was a breeze. I realized that I didn’t have a Firewire 800 port, but rather Firewire 400. So, until I get a cable converter, I’m using USB 2.0. My two 500 GB hard drives went in, I powered it on, and the Drobo drivers installed onto my Windows machine.

Next, I installed the Drobo Dashboard software to get the hard drives formatted. It stated five minutes to format, but it only took one or two minutes. Once that finished, I updated Drobo Dashboard and Drobo firmware.

That’s it. Within maybe 10-15 minutes, I had 460 GB of protected hard drive space.

Usage

I copied all my photos and Lightroom catalogs from my main hard drive to the Drobo. As of now, it’s using 192 GB. I’m not sure if I’ll move more onto it because everything else important is already being backed up to my Amazon S3 bucket with Jungle Disk. Maybe I’ll setup a Replicator job to sync into a folder on my Drobo.

Performance

Copying the ~200 GB of files was going to take awhile, so I walked away. (Actually, we had band rehearsal for a few hours. I’m sure it was done way before that, though.)

I’ve been currently working with those Lightroom catalogs off the Drobo. I might switch that to my main hard drive for a speed boost, but it’s not bad. I’ll bet it’ll be better if I was taking advantage of Firewire. Soon enough.

Noise

I can barely hear the Drobo fan. It’s on top of my desk, maybe 2-3 feet away from me. With the TV on, music playing, or a house fan on, I don’t notice it.

Concern – firmware updates

I stumbled onto this horror story:

I briefly [owned] a Drobo and had it connected to my PowerMac G5 tower. Up until the first official firmware update, I was a happy camper. All the cartoon physics you described were in effect.

However, after the update, my Drobo would not remount, so I rebooted. This was the first time I’d seen this behavior so [I] was surprised.

I called Drobo tech support, sent in a diagnostic file from the Drobo, then waited. [I’d left it off the entire time for fear of wrecking something.] After a few days, I was given explicit restart instructions, […] generated another diagnostic file, then waited.

A week went by, then two. […] After several more calls, checking on the techs and providing two more diagnostic files – by this time, it was nearing 4 weeks – I was told that my data was gone. I asked if they could [examine] my drives […] and was told there was nothing to recover.

The tragedy of this is that I was only backing up 400MB of old project data. Up until then, I loved my Drobo and swore by it. Now, I just swear at them when I hear the name and advise […] all to stay clear of this product until it’s out of beta, or to use with severe caution […]. (source)

I’ll email Drobo tech support because this is serious.

Example – Let’s say I had about 1 TB of data on my Drobo. If a new firmware version was released, before upgrading to that, would I need to back that data off onto another external hard drive…just in case? That defeats the simplicity.

Unless something is broken or a firmware update greatly increases reliability and performance, I probably won’t touch it.

Reasons for purchase

  • I don’t want to worry about losing data WHEN one of my hard drives dies.
  • WHEN I need more space, I love how easy (and inexpensive!) it’ll be to buy/install more internal hard drives.
  • I won’t have lots of clutter associated with various external hard drives along with their accompanying cables and power cords.
  • Maintenance isn’t a concern.
  • Tweaking isn’t a concern.

Conclusion

This device isn’t for everybody. Once you understand what it can and can’t do, I think you’ll buy it with excitement. For more information, visit the Drobo website.

Disclosure: I bought the Drobo with my own money. I didn’t get any money out of writing this review. But, if you do end up purchasing it through Amazon, can you use my referral link below? Amazon will give me a really tiny cut. Thanks!

[amtap amazon:asin=B001CZ9ZEE]

Other reviews

Update (9/11/08) – Firmware updates addressed

I got a reply from Drobo three business days later. It follows:

Firstly, Drobo is [f]astest on USB in Windows. We highly recommend not using [Firewire] on a Windows [c]omputer due to Windows driver instability.

Second, [f]irmware updates are the first and most safe step in troubleshooting any Drobo issue. The Drobo has been out of Beta for almost a year now. Chris H’s comment was from a Beta Drobo from the records I found. Drobo has a backup firmware in case the update is not installed correctly. The Drives and data are never [a]ffected by firmware updates [anyway].

Also, if you have any doubt at all, you could always standby, power down, eject the drive pack (all the drives in order) then power up and update the firmware. Then standby, power down. insert drive pack, power up.

Lastly from the above, I doubt the Beta Drobo died due to the firmware update, It was most likely a multiple drive failure soon after doing the update.

If Drobo dies you can replace and Drobo and put your drives in a new one and have your data.

If a drive dies the Drobo handles it automatically and asks you to replace it.

I’m pleased that they addressed my concern about using USB rather than Firewire. I guess getting that cable is overkill. But, should I/we be happy with that reply altogether? I hope so.

Published by

Bryan Villarin

Bryan is a Community Guardian at Automattic. He's also a photographer, card magician, and cat whisperer. (Thanks to my friend and colleague Steve Blythe for the sweet photo!)

12 thoughts on “After one week with the Drobo v2”

  1. Good review, and good reminder with the horror story. No matter how good something sounds, it is always fallable. I have a Drobo v1 that I’ve had for ~2 months. I am really enjoying the space and reliability. I have put *all* of my photos on there, plus a bunch of media. To be sure of my data, though, I have a 1TB “regular” external drive that I grab a copy of all the photos weekly and then take that drive back in to work. Once extra backup is worth the price for peace of mind.

    Like

  2. Thanks for writing about this. I’ve been looking at other options for storage and have absolutely no idea where to start. I just have a dinky external, but I could definitely use more space given how much I’ve been shooting lately.

    Just wondering how jungledisk is working for you. I’m looking into it as another option to backup wedding stuff.

    Like

  3. Excellent review, Bryan… For anyone worried about losing their data, like me. The Drobo should not be the only backup of precious content, such as original RAW photographs.

    I suggest backing up to DVDs or having another hard drive. One cannot have too many backups.

    Like

  4. I’m one of those horror story people. I’ve been using it fine for 6 months or so, and then I foolishly clicked ok on that “upgrade firmware” question. Now my drobo unit fails a few times a week, requiring a reboot of both the computer and drive. Not great for a server… I’ve emailed several times to Drobo tech support, and they have no idea how to fix it, and now just ignore me. All I want is to downgrade the firmware.

    STEER CLEAR of Drobo!

    10/4/2008: From Bryan — I don’t know if you should trust this comment. The email address was invalid.

    Like

  5. While I was initially impressed with the ease with which it took to setup the Drobo, this was the shortest “Honeymoon” of any purchase I have made in sometime. The amount of money lost is considerable, though the hard drives can be reused in another RAID/SAN solution, but not as much as my time and some data that are gone for good.

    After contacting the Data Robotics technical support line (the makers of the Drobo) on three different occasions for three different issues, the final solution was always to reformat my RAID. The time and effort to copy data back and forth across multiple hard drives (obviously my 4TB Drobo RAID is bigger then my individual drives) gets old really fast, especially at the speed at which the Drobo copies even through the “DroboShare” (which in itself works very well). Let me not forget to mention that the support hold time can be longer than most, and when someone eventually comes on the line, though pleasant and will run through a very thorough checklist of troubleshooting methods, if they can not find the solution will tell you someone will call you back; but unless reminded no one will. I waited over a month, I called back twice to remind them of my issue only to have to go through some of the same troubleshooting before the person would conclude that yes my problem needed to be escalated to level three support. Another week later, I have to say a very nice person in level three support, tells me how they understand how frustrated I must be and will try to help, but in the end cannot.

    I had had my Drobo for six months and had only gotten about a months worth of use from it; now I need to find a way to discard it without contributing to the destruction of the environment as the Drobo is made, almost completely of plastic; maybe a plant holder for a cactus plant.

    I have to recommend that if you are looking for a home SAN/RAID solution, stay as far away from the DROBO as possible. It is by no means ready for someone who wants to actually store data safely.

    Like

  6. Andy, If there was a box to check [ did this info help? ] I would say it just killed my forthcoming purchase of a Drobro. Still looking for an external SSD to pair with a firewired Mac-mini. Any ideas?

    Like

  7. Hello “Peechus”,

    I ended up purchasing a Promise NS4600 and have to say I am completely satisfied with it. While the initial cost for NS4600 is a bit higher than the Drobo (about $430.00 street cost), the cost is actually less expensive than when adding the cost of the “DroboShare” to the Drobo for network access since this option is already built in and with other options far superior in the SmartStor NS 4600.

    The setup is about as tough as your answering a few basic questions trough a very simple well written application accessed through any browser that will build the raid for you, and while your RAID is permanent after being built, if properly planned in advance you should not have to worry about your data again with the exception of fire, water damage, or theft. Very important data should always a have triple redundant backup if possible; First Copy: your working file, Second Copy: flash drive or other external HD, and the Third Copy: permanently burned to CD/DVD/Blue Ray and stored off site; another choice is to also store your information off-site through one of the new “Off-Site Storage” networks, but this a matter choice, especially when security may be an issue.

    The following link will take you to Promise Technologies site to read about this products features, which I have tested most of for myself; http://www.promise.com/product/product_detail_eng.asp?product_id=211

    Good luck with whatever device you eventually choose.

    Like

  8. Everyone, please remember that the Drobo, like any other RAID solution, is no substitute for backups. RAID is designed to increase the availability of data, ideally decreasing to zero the amount of time spent restoring data from backups due to a disk failure. But double disk failures do occur. Ground faults occur. Lightning strikes occur. Fires occur. Operating system bugs occur. And you might stupidly delete a file on your own from time to time. Offsite backups will save your bacon in these situations.

    Like

  9. I’m another horror story victim. 3 Harddrive failures within 1 wk. I understand hardware failures are a fact of life, but after reading many posts I am learning that this is just too frequent a problem to chalk up to a bad batch of drives. And then if you want to get into the real crime is their tech support (or unsupport). Drobo likes to blame the hd manufacturer and when you contact the manufacturer they blame drobo and the olympic finger pointing session begins. I liked it better when I relied on hardware failures rather than drobo’s self healing and fail safe data protection. I purchased the drives that drobo recommends and now they blame the manufacturer that they recommended. Poorly run company who’s product is less fail-safe than they will admit. Just go old school and back up your drives. Don’t buy a drobo.

    Like

  10. I have had a lot of problems with my drobo. First it just shut down one day, and my mac wouldn’t recognize it – I had to go through a procedure of shutting it down, removing all the drives… etc etc. It came back and i was back in business, but about 6 months later I had the same problem… without warning I got a message saying improper device removal…. etc. After trouble shooting for a couple of hours I called tech support. They had me go through numerous exercises to get it back up and running, but no luck. They escalated the issue up to the next tier but they still couldn’t get it working – so they told me to send it back to them and they would replace the unit. I was responsible for shipping costs. I could not get expedited service since I didn’t purchase this option. After 2 weeks I had a new drobo. I followed their instructions for inserting my drives but my computer didn’t recognize it and wanted to format the drives. YIKES! Another call and I was told I would have to purchase data recovery software, and they recommended one to me. So I paid another $100 for this, but the software didn’t recognize the drives either. I called drobo tech support again, and then they told me to purchase another type of data recovery software… ARE YOU KIDDING??? But no, they were not. As of now I still, one an a half months later, can’t access my data. I’m out the initial cost of this unit, 4 – 1TB drives, $100 for recovery software, $50 in shipping costs… and now need to shell out more money that may or may not work. This has been a killer for me and my business… I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone –

    Like

Talk to me, Goose

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s