Sun-Times – “Drobo and DroboShare”

This column was originally published in The Chicago Sun-Times on February 14, 2008.

Drobo and droboshare

Cartoon characters have it so much easier than we do. Laws of cartoon physics say that if you run out of space on your hard drive, you can just jam a funnel into the top, dump in a few more drive mechanisms from a big metal bucket, and then you’re right back in business.

And so, ladies and gentlemen, I present the Drobo storage system. This $499 USB storage device is made by Data Robotics, Inc. (, but I’m pretty sure that DRI is actually a wholly-owned subsidiary of the ACME Corporation.

You pop the front off of the box to reveal four empty drive bays. Each one can hold a SATA-standard hard drive mechanism (which are as cheap and plentiful as greed and avarice). Just buy some and slide them right in. Installing drives in the Drobo is no more complicated than inserting a frozen waffle into a toaster. No screws, no mounting brackets…just push it into the slot until the bay’s retaining clip clicks into it.

You can mix and match capacities, leave some of the drive bays empty…it doesn’t matter. Dump the storage in and close the door. Drobo figures everything out all out on its own. Plug it into your computer and it appears as a standard, single USB storage device ready for formatting.

“Big deal!” you’re sneering, because you didn’t have a decent breakfast and my mention of waffles has made you cranky. “It’s a RAID storage array. What’s different about that?”

What’s different about it is that Drobo isn’t a RAID. Adding capacity to a RAID is a huge production.

I remind you that Drobo is a cartoon device. You need more capacity? Fine. Buy another drive mechanism and slide it into a vacant slot. Presto: your computer now sees the exact same drive with the exact same contents…only it’s larger.

Please note the things you did not need to do:

You didn’t need to reformat anything. Drobo saw a new, unformatted mechanism and automatically prepared it and added it to the pool of available storage.

You didn’t need to back up all of your data first. With a RAID, adding another mechanism means erasing the volume and starting all over again is often a much bigger production, depending on which RAID you bought and how you set it up. With the Drobo, there’s really no need to think in advance or understand how any of this works.

You didn’t even need to unmount the volume. The Drobo and its contents were “live” throughout the whole procedure. If you start a backup of your notebook’s internal hard drive and you suddenly notice that (holy crud!) you’re going to run out of free space on the Drobo, you don’t need to click “Cancel.” You can actually dash to the store, come home with a new mechanism, and slide it in.

Whoops…all four drive bays are already filled. No problem: just yank out that tiny 160 gig mechanism there on the bottom and replace it with the 500 gig one you’ve just bought.

Yes, while the Drobo is up and running.

Yes, while the backup is in progress. Drobo uses cartoon physics, remember?

Incredible, but true. Drobo stores your data redundantly, across all of its mechanisms; in a sense, it acts both as an external hard disk and its own backup. If you have more than one mechanism in there and one of them fails, absolutely nothing happens. The green light next to that drive bay turns red (to encourage you to replace the faulty mechanism before the fire spreads to the rest of the office), but your computer will be blissfully ignorant.

This redundancy does create one drawback: if you load up the Drobo with (for example) two 250 gig mechanisms plus a 500 and a 750, you don’t wind up with 1750 gigs of storage. As a rule of thumb, the capacity of the largest mechanism becomes overhead, so this example volume would be closer to about a thousand gigabytes.

But it’s a terabyte of damned-near bulletproof storage that can be expanded on the fly with zero effort. I insist that it’s more of a quirk than a drawback. To remove all confusion, an optional desktop utility as well as a long bar of blue LEDs on the device itself make it clear how much free space is available.

Drobo’s been out for a few months now, but DroboShare is a brand-new accessory that boosts it from Mega- to Giga-awesome range. It’s a flat base that sits under the Drobo and turns it into an network storage device. If you have the aforementioned desktop utility installed, your Drobo will just magically become available to every Mac or PC in the whole house or office.

But it’s a standard Samba fileserver. The software isn’t required…it just automatically locates and mounts the Drobo for you.

Drobo does to conventional hard drives what the iPod did to portable CD players. It’s a revolution that was desperately needed and it’s such a vast improvement over the old way of doing things that thirty minutes after your first flight, you can’t imagine traveling by foot ever again.

After The Show

Yup, good Lord, this was a column where if I’d been given another 1000 words I would have blown straight through them and then asked for more. Suffice to say that I think Drobo is a really important product.

I would have blown through my word count just by listing all of the advantages of the Drobo approach to storage:

1) The Drobo acts as its own backup against drive failures. See above. If you have all four slots filled, you can lose two mechanisms without losing any data, according to the company. Lose one, and (just as I said) you won’t even know it until you glance over and see that one of its status lights has gone red. Lose two, and Drobo will calmly excuse itself from the room so it can have a good, long cry…but when it comes back online, it comes back with all of your data.

Obvious weakness: with four mechanisms in the same physical location and hooked up to the same bus and power supply, an external problem (like a drop or a power surge) that takes out one drive can take out all of them at once. To say nothing about a fire or a burglary at the house. So there’s still the usual, common-sense need for backups and offsite storage, but that’s still a huge win.

2) You can impulsively and easily add more storage. No kidding: I have a milk crate full of hard drives in my office. The rate of expansion of my data exceeds that of the Universe by a troubling margin. The fact that I have graduated from shooting 5 megapixel JPEGs to shooting 10 megapixels to shooting uncompressed RAW to bracketing damned-near everything has only thrown more gasoline on the fire.

I had actually sort of resigned myself to just buying a new 250 gig pocket drive every now and then and sticking a label on it with a range of dates, just like with a 3.5″ floppy. But the Drobo is very much a permanent solution to the storage problem. This thing is probably the last “big” storage device you’re going to need until the Industry moves from SATA mechanisms to isolinear optical wafers.

3) Expanding storage becomes affordable. Adding more storage is kind of a big deal, because conventionally you wind up buying a mechanism and and enclosure…and there are big markups involved. I’m not sure that I’d exactly be happy about spending $800 for a terabyte or two every year. But hell, even on a bad month I can afford $100 for a 500 gig mechanism.

And by the time I’ve maxed out all of the drive bays, prices on a 750 gig or even a terabyte mechanism will have probably fallen to the sub-Benjamin range. Slowly but surely, the lower-capacity mechanisms in your Drobo keep getting replaced with higher-capacity ones, and always at a rate which you can afford.

(And without filling up that milk crate with now-useless drives.)

4) It makes it easy to provide file services to a whole house. While writing this column I kept toying with a “hot water heater” analogy but it never really worked. The point is that nearly all of your computer gear is making a transition from a distinct entity into a Service that’s made available to the whole house.

There used to be a water pump in the backyard of the house. You could go up to it and get water. Then water became a Service which is simply available to the entire facility.

Microsoft is trying another new thing they’re calling the Home Media Server. It’s sort of a shoebox PC with big storage, set up as a headless server. Drop it on the network and it becomes the place where all the photos, music, movies, etc. are kept. I think that solution is probably overkill — supposedly HP is sending me a server to test out, so we’ll see soon enough — but Drobo is right there. Again I come back to this idea of being able to expand it cheaply and easily, without any disruption to the service itself.

On and on.

Setup was a snap. I was expecting that the mechanisms would have to be installed in sleds or rails, but nope: just slide ’em in. It’s possible to slide them in upside-down, but if you do, the confusion is momentary and you’ll quickly realize why it’s not clicking in the whole way.

Oh, and a bit more about the disconnection between the grand total amount of storage inside the box and the amount that’s actually available to the file system: it’s a bit of a drag, but you get used to it. When you plug it in, the OS will believe it’s a volume of the highest possible capacity (2 terabytes, in my setup) and a Get Info or Properties check is useless.

But that’s more or less OK because you get a couple of tools that allow you to get a real answer very quickly. For example, there’s a menulet here on my MacBook that makes the situation clear:

Drobo Menulet

That’s a good cue to underline a common question: Drobo does ship with a CD, and it is doing some very Wonka-like things inside that housing, but from the USB port outward it’s just a standard USB 2.0 drive. You don’t need to install any special software to use it.

Same deal for Droboshare. If your computer knows what to do with a Samba server, it’ll work with the Droboshare just fine. In fact, I had that pleasant installation experience where I realize that no, the hardware isn’t screwed up; I’m just an idiot. I plugged the Drobo into the Droboshare and put it on the network and went back to the MacBook to mount the volume. I knew that the Drobo utility was willing to locate and mount the network volume automatically but spent a minute or two looking for the button or the menu or whatever and cursing its “bad user interface.”

Then I bothered to look on the left-hand side of a Finder window and noticed that oh, okay…the software had found and mounted it almost immediately. No clicks necessary.

The Drobo and Droboshare are such an immediate hit and such a natural match that I’ll be pretty surprised if the company doesn’t make an all-in-one product before too long. And that’s going to be the way to go.

Drobo is a damned exciting thing. I really do think it’s iPod-like in its nature. Who wants to keep buying USB drives and migrating data when one $500 purchase allows you to just buy a cheap mechanism once a year or so and expand your resources on the fly, with no disruptions?

Added: Commenters have asked plenty of good questions and raised plenty of great points and I wanted to pull some of them up here:

Noise: The Drobo isn’t whisper-quiet — you’ve got four hard drives spinning plus a cooling fan — but it isn’t particularly noisy, either. Like a tower PC, the noise is definitely there but it quickly fades into the background of your home office.

Capacity: Storage via the Drobo isn’t “limitless.” There’s a 2-terabyte-per-volume limit imposed by some file systems. If you’re using Mac OS X or Vista, no problem (though read the comments to learn about how that affects startup times) but if you’ve formatted it for Windows XP, you’re stuck with that.

Speed: Drobo ain’t lightning fast. It certainly isn’t as fast as many conventional RAIDs (which offer Firewire 400 or 800 interfaces) and even many conventional RAID network storage (which don’t have the USB-Ethernet bottleneck of the Droboshare). It’s fine for “storage” but if you’re using it as (say) a swap drive for Photoshop or video editing, you’d be better off with something else.

Data redundancy: Drobo isn’t unique in its ability to keep popping along after losing a drive, or allowing the user to hot-swap an individual volume. What I should have said is that the Drobo is the only such device I’ve ever seen or heard of that makes this sort of thing actually work. You simply don’t need to care what happens to these mechanisms or what you do with them. Drobo will work it all out for you. Other RAIDs require a certain procedure and respect for common sense. Or, they just plain don’t work.

93 thoughts on “Sun-Times – “Drobo and DroboShare”

  1. Joachim Bengtsson

    I have a Drobo connected to my G5 server in my tiny 22 square metre apartment, and in my experience, the Drobo is very, very noisy, very much more so than my G5. Not always: the fan on it adjusts to the heat, but for some reason the Drobo always seems to want to cool itself down around midnight, right when I want to sleep. It’s about the noise level of a maxed-out MBP fan. Also, I happened to get drives that have a very noisy write sound :/ Not much dampening from the chassis. That part is my own fault, though…

    Also, the drobo is sometimes mighty slow. Streaming video from it isn’t an option, I always have to copy the media file to the local drive before watching the latest Lost, for example. However, from what I’ve read, that’s not as much a problem with the bandwidth than it is a bug with buffering, because it’ll stall randomly whatever you stream, even if it’s a low kbps mp3 (although only maybe once half-an-hour, it’s not as bad as I make it sound, although it’s bad). They’ve written on their support page that they’re “working on a fix”, but they have been doing so for quite a while now…

  2. Dustin Wilson

    I have a photographer friend with one of these and just like you Joachim he hates the noise of the thing. I wouldn’t suggest this to you, but he was having a slow day one day and decided to take the drobo apart and line the inside of the casing with dynamat. After he put it back together it was relatively silent. Granted when you open it up now the inside doesn’t look as pretty, but it sure is more quiet.

  3. Lynn

    All is not necessarily well in Drobo-land. I bought a Drobo and two Seagate 1 TB drives to use as a Time Machine volume when Leopard was released. It all worked fine for about six weeks. Then, without warning, one night around 1 am, the Drobo started flashing green and red lights on both occupied drive bays. Flashing green and red lights are not described in any Drobo documentation. It kept doing that for a couple days. But then one day when I came home from running some errands, none of the drive lights were on, but the power light was flashing green. That condition also is not described in the documentation. Drobo support claimed that the unit was in the process of a re-layout (indicated by flashing green and yellow lights, according to their documentation). But my Drobo unit was flashing green and RED, not green and YELLOW. After sending diagnostic dumps to Drobo, they told me that my array was in a degraded state, possibly due to unsafe shutdowns. Since I never attempted to shut down, disconnect or power-down the unit, any unsafe shutdown was entirely the fault of the Drobo unit. (My Drobo unit is also plugged into an APC 1500VA UPS that also powers my iMac.) They then told me that I needed to reset the drives by performing a “Clear Disk”, which requires you to copy all of the data you don’t want to lose from the Drobo because the “Clear Disk” process does exactly that — it erases everything. So, I did the “Clear Disk” per their instructions, after which the Drobo unit worked OK for about 10 days. It then started flashing green and ORANGE (not YELLOW) lights, yet another light combination that is not described in the documentation. It stayed in that mode for a couple weeks. After sending yet another diagnostic file to Drobo, they then claimed that the drive in the third drive bay (I had the drives in the first and third bays) was showing a lot of media errors and was probably the cause of the problems and that I should consider replacing that drive.

    Before I contacted Newegg about getting a replacement drive, I wanted to try to verify that it was bad. Finally, after many unsuccessful attempts to run spinrite on the drives, yesterday I was able to test both drives on a friend’s Windows Vista box (I only have Mac and Linux boxes) using the Seagate SeaTools disk diagnostic program. SeaTools gave the drive Drobo claimed was bad a clean bill of health. SeaTools results for the other drive (the one Drobo didn’t say was bad) were inconclusive. The diagnostic test for that drive never finished, which my friend and I took as an indication that there was some unidentified problem with that drive.

    So, this whole process raises some questions about Drobo. First, if one of my drives is bad, why can’t the Drobo unit tell me that? Isn’t it supposed to show a red light when a drive is bad? Why does it flash green and RED, and green and ORANGE lights, on both drive bays, neither of which are described in any Drobo documentation? Is everyone at Drobo green-yellow colorblind and think that orange is yellow? Is my Drobo unit really flashing green and red/yellow, which looks like green and orange? Why does Drobo think this particular Drobo unit is not a defective unit?

    Needless to say, I’m less than impressed with this unit and Drobo’s support response, much as I want to like it. You’d think that for $500 (not to mention $600+ on disk drives) that Drobo might be more interested in determining why this particular unit flashes light color combinations that they don’t document, than in pointing fingers at brand new disk drives. One has to wonder if you really can put 1 TB disk drives in Drobo and have it work.

  4. Rob L

    This piece seems like it was pulled strait from the Drobo press kit. It is far from ideal, and presents quite a few problems

    I’ve been reading just about everything I can about the Drobo, and there are two fatal flaws. First is the just plane stupid choice of USB 2. This is a clip from a post on Amazon by Grant Corbin “The ACHILLES heal of this unit is that it was limited to a USB 2 connector to the PC it is attached to. This oversight was a REALLY bad mistake. A RAID box is supposed to be your working drives. In all my servers it is, and in all of them SCSI or SATA provides rapid throughput. Any RAID will have overhead which generally slows performance. Opting for USB 2 (nearly the slowest interface around) kills the units functionality as a frontline storage box. Firewire 800, 100MB or 1GB LAN, and eSATA are ALL available now, and all would have made this box useful as an online storage bay.”

    Secondly, there are many reports that the time required to rebuild the drobo (after inserting a new drive) can take more than 12 hrs! This means that the Drobo and Computer must remain on and undisturbed during this time. Powerfailure, someone turning off the computer and……. will all result in data loss. There are other problems, but these two are really standouts to me.

  5. John K

    Rob L says: Secondly, there are many reports that the time required to rebuild the drobo (after inserting a new drive) can take more than 12 hrs! This means that the Drobo and Computer must remain on and undisturbed during this time. Powerfailure, someone turning off the computer and……. will all result in data loss.

    From what I’ve read on Drobospace (a non-affiliated Drobo forum), there is a battery backup in the Drobo that will write out the cache on a power failure. When power is restored, it will resume its relayout operation where it left off.

  6. Matt S.

    I bought my Drobo several weeks ago, and have four 750gb drives in it, which gives me 2tb of protected space for all of my multimedia files – and really maximizes the 3tb of total space available on the drives. Anyone who has been around computers long enough should already being redundantly backing up their data – I use a 250gb portable drive and .Mac online for my most critical files.

    I have really enjoyed using the Drobo so far. Sure, it is USB, and yes, it is much louder than my whisper-quiet iMac, but for my purposes it is all that I’ve come to love about Mac (and why I switched a couple of years ago from PC) – it simply works – without a lot of complicated effort on my part. I use it for storing my massive files of backed-up DVD movies and movie back-ups that I’ve put together within iMovie after I’ve created the DVD’s. I keep my iMac pretty simple as far as data files go, and clone it using SuperDuper! to my portable drive, just in case. Finally – it does “go to sleep” when you put your computer to sleep.

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  8. Ihnatko Post author

    @Rob – I am not charmed by the implication that I rewrote a press release, sir.

    USB 2 is way sub-ideal for a high-performance drive but it’s not a dealbreaker. I used it as my prime drive and didn’t notice any real dip in my system performance. It would have been a different story if I were using it as a swap drive for…well, just about anything that uses swap drives. Examination of the Drobo site left me with the impression that this wasn’t being sold as an enterprise file server but as a new take on the Big Ass Hard Drive. On that basis, USB is ok. A missed opportunity, but…all right.

    As for reports of taking 12 hours to rebuild the Drobo — this isn’t supported by my own experience (albeit with just about 20% filled) nor by the experiences of longtime Drobo owners I talked to. I’d need to know the circumstances around this claim before I’d use this anecdote as a reason to minus the Drobo.

    I don’t think that the complaints being posted here are invalid. But I note that they’re all of the nature of “This should in no way be considered an enterprise-class NAS.” There are fine RAIDs of that description. This wasn’t designed to be one of those. And to its credit, it’s a totally consumer-friendly approach to expendable and redundant storage. I’ve tried others, I appreciate them for what they are…but when you try to apply Drobo’s claims to any other storage solution, there’s a big burst of Fail and then you need to open windows to air out the room.

  9. Jason Clark

    @Ian: Your quote from is very specific, “Time Machine can also back up to another MAC…” (emphasis mine). Time machine currently supports backups to drives on other Macs, and to the all-in-one Time Capsule, but does not, as far as I’ve been able to ascertain, allow you to back up to a (non-Time Capsule) NAS or other non-Mac server. This includes the Drobo if attached to the network via DroboShare, and other USB devices if attached to an Airport Extreme base station.

    I’d love to be wrong about this. Due to the pending purchase of a new Mac, I’ve put off upgrading to Leopard, so I haven’t been able to run any test of my own. Personally, I’d like to see if it would support an network share on a Linux Server being shared via AFP, which is pretty easy to setup under Ubutnu. One of these days…

  10. Rip Ragged

    Dang it, Andy,

    I have no need for one of these things. I have a TB of extra HD space just laying around idle. My lovely wife will do that short-scream-with-a-long-stare thing if I even suggest buying more storage.

    Are they available in land-based stores?

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  14. odysseus

    The problem with this review is 1) there are no throughput statistics (and the Drobo is reputed to be slow, and 2) it doesn’t mention whether the Drobo supports rendezvous/mdnsresponder/Bonjour networking (it doesn’t). I’ve also read that there are serious reliability problems with the Drobos. Frankly, although I see there’s one negative report here, I’d rather bet on the Netgear (Infrant) ReadyNAS units. Netgear announced at CES a whole new lower-priced “ReadyNAS Duo” line based on 2 disks that should be out this spring and that will be much more Mac-compatible, including Bonjour and iTunes server.

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  17. dfbills

    I love the idea and marketing, but the 2TB volume limit really should be discussed in the article as it greatly impacts the concept of the consumer-friendly, infinitely expandable USB volume.

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  19. Chris H

    I briefly own 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 was surprised. I called Drobo tech support, sent in a diagnostic file from the Drobo, then waited. After a few days, I was given explicit restart instructions (I’d left it off the entire time for fear of wrecking something), which I followed, generated another diagnostic file, then waited. A week went by, then two and 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 take my drives and examine them 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 any and all to stay clear of this product until it’s out of beta, or to use with severe caution and backup data elsewhere.

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  21. vij

    I own a ReadyNAS and have been using it now for over 4 mnths without any issues. I have (to test), even swapped out my 500 G drive with a 750 G drive and it expanded without any issue. I don’t have a gigabit router, but I get the same speeds on this one as I have on other NAS’s (Maxtor Shared Storage 1 TB).
    The drobo is not available here in singapore but i would be inerested to know if some has done a proper comparison with it.

  22. Coleman

    Exciting to read your review, Andy. I’ve been going back and forth in my head about whether or not a Drobo would work for our situation. We’d like to use one for storage in our office, but my only concern was speed. I’d seen some reviews that reported it being dog slow… I’m glad to hear that’s not the case.

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  24. Jay

    To the ReadyNAS users, I just sold mine lock, stock and barrel because the performance (for a NAS) sucked worse than the vacuum of space. On a GigE switch with a server the best I could get was 35MB/sec using AFP and that was after all of the hacks suggested on the Infrant boards. That’s much slower than USB 2.0 speeds. Add to that a long standing known problem with remote mounting AFP shares where OS X says the ReadyNAS is out os space when it isn’t (great when trying to download a movie from iTunes) and I’d had enough.

    I replaced the ReadyNAS with eSATA drives attached to the server. The downside being that the server has to be up to get to the drives, the upside is that it’s all OS X and there is no bottleneck (or less of one than there was).

    Netgear’s ReadyNAS X-RAID allows expandable storage but is proprietary too. That said, even most RAID5 solutions will not be readable on another vendor’s RAID5 box unless they are HFS, NTFS, ext2, etc. and many are not.

    Drobo sounds pretty cool. The ReadyNAS kind of put me off of “intelligent” storage but it’s worth considering if it gains FW800 or eSATA interfaces at some point. Sadly I sold the drives with the NAS (four 750GB Seagate SATA units) about a month ago before I saw this or I might have considered a Drobo for at least my backup mounts.

  25. Ihnatko Post author

    Yeah, again, that’s why I like the Drobo. You plug it in and it works. I can’t say that of any of the similar RAID-ish solutions.

  26. Lee Joramo

    Can I pull all of the drives from one Drobo and insert them into another Drobo?

    This would alleviate my concerns about the Drobo using a proprietary format on the drives. Over twenty plus years of computer consulting, I have seen a number of blown motherboards and power supplies. If I can quickly replace the Drobo box and drop in the old drives, I could see the Drobo attached to a Mac Mini becoming the main file store for my personal and business use.

    I have built large RAIDs for clients. Recently I setup a JetStor from, 6TB attached via scsi to an xserve. The RAID has multiple pools, some pools are for databases (RAID 10) others are for file serving (RAID 5). It has two hot spare drives, with cold spares waiting to be dropped in. It sends emails when any of a dozen conditions occur. Redundant power supplies, Redundant SCSI, Redundant servers, high dollar support contracts. This is all for online storage. I won’t bore you with the backup setup.

    However, for the needs of my own business, I think the Drobo maybe a perfect solution bulk online storage. The ease and low cost of growing the a reliable data store makes the Drobo very interesting. Plus it can be maintained by myself or my partner who is a Queen of Photoshop but not a sysadmin. Of course, I will use it in conjunction with tools like Time Machine, Super Duper, rsync and CrashPlan.

  27. Klaba

    Hard drive recommendations for use with the drobo?

    Leaning to (4-500gb) western digital sata for 1tb total backup space…

    I assume the fan on the drobo would drown out any excessive noise from the hard drives…

    Is this a correct assumption?

    Any input appreciated… :—>

  28. Brad

    Heard everyones glowing reviews on MBW this week and bought one today.
    Do i really need to spend the extra 200 on the drobo share if I have this connected to an always on PC and shared through that?

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  30. Marty

    There is a Dark Side to the Drobo …

    I got myself a Drobo and added 2 new 500 GB drives so that I could move files from two existing, external 500 GB drives. Once completed, I removed these from their original drive cases and added them to my Drobo which was now 2 full terabytes! Then I copied all of my files from all of the smaller drives I’d accumulated since 1984.

    This let me spend hours re-organizing files and eliminating multiple copies of everything!

    Putting everything onto a single Drobo made me nervous so I added a UPS to protect it, also.

    But, then it happened. In the blink of an eye.

    I wanted to update my AppleTV so that I could run Boxee on it.

    This required installing special software onto a USB flash memory thumb drive that I could boot my AppleTV from.

    To prevent any problems, I used my Drobo Dashboard software to suspend my Drobo, un-mounting it from my desktop, before I ran the software to format and make my thumb drive bootable on my AppleTV.

    Then I ran the utility. It worked in seconds but to my horror, the Patchdisk USB drive mounted with the Drobo’s drive icon and it was labeled as a 2 TB drive!

    That’s right. In less than a minute, 24 years of my digital life had been erased.

    My most precious files survived on an old, unused 500 GB drive so, all was not lost. But, I still managed to wipe out 800 GB of audio and video files that I’d collected.

    So, beware! NEVER keep all of your files in only one location … even if it is a Drobo!

  31. Graham

    The drobo is a great idea but still not reliable enough for prime time.

    I had a new drobo 2 (firewire 800), 4 x 1TB drives with 1.8TB of media files on it. Always fired up and shut down as per drobo recommendations.

    4 days after I got it, the drobo dashboard suddenly shows the volume as empty. I sent a diagnostic file in, and after another 4 days of to and fro-ing (and insisting I buy disk warrior to check the disks) drobo europe confirm it is the drobo that is at fault and my files MAY be retreivable on another Drobo…. but might not be.

    My options: pay for another drobo there and then and they will send it out to me that day, with a refund when I return the broken one; or send in the broken one at my expense and wait for a replacement unit 10-12 business days later. Neither a great option when I might not be able to recover the data in any case.

    I had backups on a JBOD setup so no great problems, but for many people this could be a disaster.

    Luckily I bought the drobo from a local computer store and took it back for a full refund. Drobo themselves do not offer refunds in this situation.

    As the commentator above says never keep all your eggs in one basket, ESPECIALLY if it’s a drobo.

  32. Marty

    As a follow up to my earlier post … about accidently formatting my Drobo …

    I’ve been very fortunate finding both a complete backup of my files that was on an external 500 GB USB2 drive dated Feb 2007 AND incremental DVD backups that filled in the gaps until October 1, 2008!

    This limited my immediate concerns to reconstituting only the last two months of my digital life which I’ve been able to do, pretty well.

    The time this has taken has now been 2 weeks! This was the biggest penalty I paid.

    I now have ‘current backups’ from my Drobo onto a new USB2 hard drive which is stored off line.

    I still love my Drobo! It never was presented as the only thing I’d need … that was my own wishful thinking!

    All of us want the ‘perfect’ solution and it doesn’t exist … probably never will!

    Be careful and mindful to have a solid plan so that WHEN your file system fails, you can recover!

    Good luck to us all!

  33. Craig Bowers

    @Lee Joramo:
    Yes you can pull the drives and insert in another Drobo. I have the V2 firewire version. Out of the box mine had 2 issues. The firewire ports didn’t work, nor did the 3rd drive bay. I emailed support. 2 days later I had a reply asking for a diagnostic file (that took me to US Thanksgiving, and the weekend). First thing Monday I had a call to arrange replacement. The replacement arrived 2 days later (shipped from US to Canada). Both issues resolved. One first mounts the replacement drive and checks that the firmware is up to date. Then power it down, and move the drives over. Good to go.
    As to performance, mine peaks at about 16-17 MB/s Connected via USB, it’s about 14.
    The only issue that remains is that when connected via Firewire on my iMac it occasionally dismounts itself, more frequently when in the middle of a Time Machine backup to the other firewire port and an external enclosure. This doesn’t happen when connected via USB. It’s formatted as 4TB, with less that 1TB of data on it. Drobo support suggested they were seeing some issues with Apple Firewire, and that Apple doesn’t recommend ANY firewire drive be formatted beyond 2TB. Currently shuttling data off to do a re-format back to 2TB.

  34. Marty

    More trouble …

    I was surprised when my drobo was gone from my desktop. Nothing would get it to mount, again!

    This was after using the 1.2.4 Drobo Dashboard to format it and having reloaded 650 GB of data, again!

    Drobo support walked me through an undocumented “pin reset” … which they promised would “really reset my Drobo back to factory settings” followed by another reformatting and partitioning. Hopefully, the last!

    They also informed me NOT to use the suggested 2 GB size but rather suggested the 8 GB setting would work best with my 4 – 500 gb drives so it will be easier to expand in the future.

    After another three days of reloading from backups, I need to get back to my normal work and hope that this is it!

    Be sure you have good normal backups when switching to Drobo … you may need them! Good luck!

  35. J just J

    Ugh.. If you buy a drobo, consider a UPS essential in your whole installation process. I just dropped another drive in my Drobo, and whilst in the midst of a 500GB transfer, accidentally hit the power plug. The drive is now completely unreadable and really needs to be formatted to start fresh.

    This has highlighted that the supposed battery backup of cache memory doesn’t quite work as advertised. (Clearly, I’m a klutz and shouldn’t be allowed to operate power plugs, but a power failure would have caused the same problem..)

    Otherwise, the little machine is pretty slick and works relatively seamlessly.. Good luck with *your* drobo.. :)


  36. Joseph

    I purchased a brand new Drobo with four brand new Segate 750GB hard drives. My reason for purchasing the Drobo was that I was afraid with all my data spanning several hard drives that I would surly fall victim to hard drive failure. So when I received my Drobo and got things setup the first thing I did was I consolidated all my data onto the Drobo relying on it’s proprietary system to keep my data safe.

    Everything was working smooth till one date I ran an update that Drobo released and the next day my Drobo kept crashing with no hope of data recovery.

    If you read the forums or google for it, you’ll find other people with the same issues and no warning from Drobo.

  37. WTL

    Hey Joseph

    I’m sorry to hear about your data loss. That said, perhaps a lesson can be learned – having data in *one* place, no matter how safe (my Drobo has been very reliable), *always* have at least a second backup of the data. Many people say you data isn’t safe until it exists in *three* places – including one off site.

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  40. John Goralski

    Hi Andy,

    Have been listening to MacBreak Weekly with Andy, Leo & the crew for some time and enjoy the experience immensely. Acting upon your praise for the ‘Drobo’ I shelled out mega Aussie dollars and purchased this device and to date it works works very well and lives up to your well documented expose.
    However, I decided to partition my Drobo so that I could do a ‘Super Duper’ backup each day (500GB) and the rest for photos, movies and alike as a result I ended up with two volumes. The other day the red light flashes and tells me I have a 500GB drive low on space so I pop in a 1TB drive to replace the 500GB. Everything still works well but the ‘Drobo’ took over 10 hours in backing up data or whatever it does and now I have three volumes with three individual icons on my iMac desktop. For the life of me, I DO NOT UNDERSTAND what is going on even though everything works just fine and I have a full compliment of green lights. ‘Drobo’ documentation does not make reference about partitioning drives or offer any known solution to this issue. Can you explain or throw any meaningful light upon my dilema? (Please note I have the newer version of the ‘Drobo’ with USB & Firewire). Many thanks

  41. kinto

    i won a drobo from scott bourne last year for making a macbreak weekly video. i immediately slapped 4 brand new 1.5TB seagates in there… excited to never worry about data loss again. i’ve had no issues with it at all until last night when i got home from work and it wouldn’t mount. 1 solid red light at the top and the other 3 not lit at all. i figured it was a drive gone bad so i checked their site to verify colors. the site says solid red on top indicates full capacity (but with 3 solid green as well… and as i said mine is 1 solid red and that’s it.)

    here’s the thing… for over a year now the capacity has been 3 blue lights, about 30% full. yes, i’ve been consistently saving more data to it, but in an entire year it hasn’t even increased to 4 blue lights. capacity full? ummm… right. so if that’s true then the blue indicator lights don’t work?

    ugh. my only option now is to buy a 2TB drive and hope it’s just blue light suckage. but if full capacity IS my problem then their ’solid red-green-green-green’ code is incorrect too. in any case, if i am actually able to salvage my data i’m just getting 5 external drive cases and dealing with manual duplicates myself, because after this headache and everything i’ve read i don’t trust this thing at all anymore.

    and on a sidenote… the drobo site says to update your firmware you should first backup your drobo. ok, so now this product requires a SECOND 6TB drobo to backup the first?!?!? or should i just burn like 1000 backup DVDs?!?!?

    isn’t the entire point of these things that it’s a LARGE, SAFE place to keep your data?

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