Drobo Firewire 800 Review

 

My buddies have been raving about Drobo for over a year. For some reason I was just not getting it. Maybe it was the name or the tagline of “data robot” that was throwing me. Anytime someone mentioned Drobo, I would have a vision of a robotic arm that would move drives from slot to slot.

 

What is Drobo?

Well, I finally took a closer look. Drobo is not a robot! At least not in the mechanical sense. Drobo is a 4 bay hard drive array (RAID) that continuously monitors the health of the drives you install. Drobo automatically combines the drives you install into a single volume mounted on your desktop. The drives are also automatically mirrored/stripped for data protection. For example, if you put in two 750GB drives you will only have 696.8GB of available storage to you. This is because Drobo is using the other space (drive) to constantly protect/mirror/backup your data as it’s writing it. It’s also reserving a little bit of space so that you can hot swap out a drive if needed because you want to install a bigger one or if one is failing.

 

What sets Drobo apart?

I have used and written about other RAID systems. What sets Drobo apart from the rest is that it doesn’t require that the drives be the same size. You could for example start with a 750GB drive and 1TB drive. This won’t buy you any extra space if you’re only using two drives, but it will allow you to grow your available space by adding say a 3rd drive. The Drobo website has a fantastic “Drobolator” (space calculator) that will allow you to play out all your “what if” scenarios on how much space you will have depending on how many drives you install. The other thing that sets Drobo apart is the way it works with multiple drives. Drobo uses a technology called BeyondRAID. This allows it use both Mirroring and Striping. Drobo is also different in that it constantly monitors the health of your drives and doesn’t just tell you a drive has failed, but also tells you that a drive is going bad so that you can replace it BEFORE it dies. Even if you didn’t notice the warning (red light) and it died, you would still be protected as your data would be on the other drive(s) in the unit.

 

Great design

I love the way Drobo is designed. No screws or software to install (although the Drobo dashboard app makes it much easier to format your drive). You just pop off the magnetic cover and slide your hard drives in. The original Drobo was USB 2.0 ONLY. Many of the reviews I saw complained that this made it too slow for use as your main drive. The new Drobo is a Firewire 800 model (also has USB 2) and that makes it fast enough for regular use! The indicator lights on the front tell you all that you need to know including health of the drives and amount of space used.

 

What’s my configuration

I put four 1TB drives in it for a total usable capacity of 2.7TBs. Drobo is not bootable. I have it as a data drive on my Mac OS X Server. So far after a week, no major issues. It does take a few seconds longer to spin up, but that’s to be expected on any RAID system. 

 

Archiving, Backing up and Data Drive

The original Drobo, which was USB 2.0 only, wasn’t really fast enough to be used as a main drive. At least that’s what most people said about it. Therefore, most people looked at Drobo as an archival solution only and not for active use. Now that the Drobo has Firewire 800 support, it is fast enough to be used for your main drive or online storage. However, keep in mind that the Drobo is NOT bootable (even if you got it to work, it’s not recommended). This is why I have Drobo attached to my Mac OS X Server as a data drive, but not as the boot drive. I still boot from the internal drive which runs the Server OS and then I have the Drobo shared on my network via Mac OS X Server. Speaking of Archiving, the question becomes how much "stuff" do you need to keep? I’ve watched my server storage needs grow each year. I quickly went from a 250GB, to a 500GB, to a 750GB, then to a 1TB and now to 2.7TB’s of storage. What’s taking up so much space? You guessed it: Digital Photos, Music and Videos. I recently had a conversation about this very topic with Scott Kelby and he even wrote a blog post about this important topic with some tips. As a photographer, let’s say I do a shoot and let’s say I end up with 500 captures. I’ll do my best to narrow that down as best I can, eliminating the bad ones, the ones that are very similar or the ones that I just don’t like. Now let’s say that I’m down to 300 shots. I’ll then post a web gallery for the client, model, friend, etc. to pick the ones they want. So now let’s say they’ve picked their favorite 10 or so and I’ve picked my favorite 10 or so. Those are the ones that get retouched. Those are the ones that are delivered as the "Final" shots. So what do I do with the other 280? You guessed it, I keep them! Not once has anyone ever come back to me and said, "hey, you know those shots you took 6 months ago that I really didn’t like, well I’d like a couple of those shots now." So I literally have thousands of photos on my Drobo that will likely never see the light of day. Now keep in mind I know that family photos should be cherished and photos from wedding shoots should probably be kept, but where do you draw the line? Should those photos that no one wants (you or the client) be deleted? Should they be moved offline to some cheaper storage? Should they be deleted after so many months or years because they will likely not be needed? Everyone is going to have a different take on this. One thing I don’t trust is storing photos on a CDR or DVD as they will eventually fail. Putting them on a hard drive that you don’t use regularly could be risky too. Drives have lubricant in them that will eventually dry up or seize up if not used regularly. Online storage can be expensive too. I’m intrigued by the use of Flash drives for archival use. They are increasing in capacity and coming down in price. For example, Micro Center sells a 4GB drive for $12, a 8GB drive for $20 and a 16GB drive for $40. They are small and therefore easily stored. You could even bill it into the cost of the shoot. For example, if you were doing a portrait shoot and you expected to end up with 300 12MB RAW files, those would fit on a 4GB flash drive. So you could bill an extra $12 to store these photos. Slap a label on it, put it in an envelope and staple it to the contract/model release. However, the question of longevity still comes to mind. What’s the shelf life of these flash drives?

 

The bottom line

If your storage needs continue to grow, then Drobo is something that you should look at. As you need more space, you just add/replace with bigger drives. the drives are even hot swappable. You have to also remember that even though your data is much safer in a Drobo than a single drive, this doesn’t protect you in the case of a fire, flood or theft. So you should still have a strategy for offsite storage. I’m currently backing up my Drobo to an external Firewire drive (actually I rotate between two) that I put in the Safe Deposit Box at the bank. Drobo is cross platform and works on both Macs and Windows PCs. An empty Drobo (no drives) goes for $499.99. You can then buy whatever SATA drives in whatever capacities you want. You have to start with at least two. Use it for data, use it for archiving or use it for backup. If you want to share a Drobo and you don’t already have a fileserver set up, you can buy an additional piece of hardware called DroboShare ($197.48). Note: Although DroboShare has a Gigabit Ethernet connection, DroboShare connects to Drobo (up to two Drobos) via the USB 2 port and NOT the Firewire 800 port. So I wonder if that creates a bottleneck in performance? See how Drobo works from the Video demonstrations here.

  • Jack

    You’re right to question the longevity of flash drives – I’ve had some die for no apparent reason after only a few months (and others have lasted for years). I don’t think it’s the sort of thing I would trust for archive storage.

  • Tom

    Thanks Terry, why would I not want to use the Giga Enet port directly into my Mac Pro as I think this would be faster. I’m sure it does not have DHCP ability (that would be nice) but could you not hang this via giga enet as well of your server and/or giga enet hub?
    Thanks again.
    Tom

  • Terry White

    Tom, the Drobo doesn’t have a built-in Ethernet port. For that you would have to add Drobo Share. I didn’t go with Drobo Share because I already have a an OS X server with Gigabit Ethernet setup. Mac OS X Server offers more services than Drobo Share. So that’s the way I decided to go.

  • Del Tanner

    Terry,

    This is great news. I’ve been holding off on buying a DROBO solely due to the limited options for connectivity.

    I was just on their website and noticed that the droboshare connects to the drobo unit via a USB cable. Maybe I’m crazy, but wouldn’t that severely limit the throughput via ethernet? Seems like the USB cable would bottleneck the connection. Am I missing something?

  • Terry White

    Del,
    It’s so funny that as you were writing this comment, I was updating my post on the EXACT same question! Yes, DroboShare does connect to your Drobo via USB 2, so I would imagine that that has to have some impact on performance.

  • Looking around on the web, it seems like flash dirves only have an expected data retention life of 10 years or so – maybe DVDs are a better bet?
    Cheers,
    Phil

  • Jake

    No FireWire booting -> no sale!
    No OS X booting -> no sale!
    Expensive -> no sale!
    Nice looks but loud -> no sale!

    Just buy a Mac Pro, RAID the 3 extra drives…faster and cheaper!

    I use a PowerMac (Blue and White) upgraded to G4 (curbside pickup) running OS X Server with eight 750 GB Seagates connected to ACARD PCI RAID ($20 on ebay) via 100BT ethernet. The whole works is in the garage with a 3M filter ducted taped across the inlet vents. Ugly, yes but inexpensive, fast and additional office noise! Since it powers up/down during home office hours the electrical costs are minimal. It’s accessible from my MacBook Pro as well…

    I agree with the optical disc for archival…read the US gov or Smithsonian for recommended discs…my personal and finance data is DVD-RW archival in a back safe deposit box 🙂

  • Terry White

    Jake,
    while I wont argue any of your other points (to each his own), I don’t agree with the “loud” comment. Until you mentioned it in your comment, I never even thought about the “noise” level because I’ve never noticed ANY noise from it at all! Not sure if the previous models were loud or not, but this thing is practically silent and I have 4 drives in it.

    T

  • Tom

    Terry: I have heard others complain about the fan noise in this current version of Drobo as well although some claim the first version is much worse. When you are doing intensive copying to the drive, does the fan accelerate? I am very sensitive to noise and while I am interested in Drobo, the noise comments make me nervous. (I have an old MicroNet drive that I can’t even use because it sounds like a vacuum cleaner to me!)

  • Terry White

    Tom,
    I must be one of the lucky ones or they have improved the product, because I’ve never heard ANY noise out of this one at all. I’ve copied close to 1TB of data to it, so I don’t know how much more intensive I can get than that. Not once I have I heard the fan kick on.

    T

  • Thanks for the info. I love the idea of usb drives for backup, but also wonder what the life on one of those really is.

    Also, would you mind sharing what service you use for for client proofing? I’m trying to figure out the best way to go about this. Thanks.

  • Terry White

    Mike, I use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and export a web gallery that I then post to my hosted web server. Thanks!

  • david r.

    jake,
    you’re don’t mention what kind of raid you’re running, but if it’s a raid 0 stripe, watch out. you’re one drive failure away from losing everything. i know, it happened to me recently despite running SMART diagnostic routines on my drives every hour. in the end, it didn’t matter and i lost a ton of data that i didn’t have enough space to backup.

    with drobo and 4 drives, 2 of them can sequentially (not simultaneously) fail and you can rebuild them with zero data loss. it will even email you automaticaly if there is a problem with a drive. that’s pretty awesome…and the fact you can upgrade drive size when you want to is far more flexible than a traditional raid5 where the capacities have to be the same.

    as for the expense, compare $499 plus drives against any raid5 or 6 system and drobo fares very well. it’s inexpensive for what it is and has some pretty high end features…like a small battery backup for allowing the unit to finish a write when the power fails to prevent data corruption. very cool.

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  • dave baker

    Hi Terry

    If I used the Drobo as my back up would I be best using Time Machine?

    Cheers

    Dave

  • Adam Connor

    the reason why you can’t hear the Drobo is that the xserve is such a fearsomely noisy beast. I can’t remember the exact specs (changes with model), but if your Xserve is about 35db when running and the Drobo is 30db, you won’t hear it.

    Move it into your lounge room as a media server, where the background noise is 26db and you suddenly have a problem.

    Mac Minis are too compromised for me, but I have a stack of them in my lounge room- and the wife can neither see nor hear them. When started from a FW drive and with the 3gb max ram they aren’t too bad.

  • Bob Koss

    Who makes a 2.7TB firewire drive to back up the Drobo?

  • Terry White

    Adam,
    I’m NOT using an XServe. I’m using a PowerMac G5 running Mac OS X Server.

  • Terry White

    Bob,
    Currently I’m not using the 2.7TB’s of space yet. I’m using less than 1TB, so I have a 1TB external. There are 2TB externals already and hopefully by the time I need to backup more than 2TBs, a 3TB or larger drive will exist.

  • Terry White

    dave baker, If you’re going to use Drobo as your backup and you’re running Mac OS X 10.5 or higher then yes, you should use Time Machine with it for backup.

  • Scott

    I have one of the new drobo’s conected via firewire to a mac pro. For me the fans on the mac pros are louder than my drobo has ever been (even under heavy load). My gfx cards x1900’s fans are louder. Noise for me would not be a factor IMO.

    As for file sharing… we have file sharing enabled on the mac pros and it boots up just like any other mountable drive.

    I have a bunch of mixed drives in there from 1tb to a lowly 160gb. Put them in and no problems.

    I haven’t tired the 1.5tb drives yet in there either, so I don’t know about that one.

    I find it quick enough when transferring data across various computers. About 75 % of the time though the files I am working with are about 250mb max.

    Only longer sustained read/writes the fans have kicked in though. Again I didn’t find them as loud as the gfx cards

    I would recommend them to anyone.

  • Andre

    I’ve read about some problems with the first drobo on OSX concerning software freezes and problems adressing the drive natively above 2 TB.

    I guess these issues have been tacled in the fire wire Drobo?

  • Terry White

    Andre,
    No freezes or problems to date. I has been rock solid so far.

  • I have a brand new 2nd generation Drobo and I am unable to get it to work with Windows Vista 64 when connected with Firewire 800. It does still have a problem when the volume size is set higher than 2 TB. This was causing the blue screen of death to appear when connected via Fireware 800. I changed the volume size to 2 TB and no longer get the blue screen of death, but it is still unable to work using the firewire connection once the computer it is attached to is shutdown. It sounds like this is a windows only problem after reading the posts here.

    I will also state that this drobo has been very quiet. I have had it now for a week and transfered 500 GB of photos and videos to the unit using the USB connection. I then transfered this data back to other storage areas when I changed the volume size of Drobo to 2 TB (I originally had set the volume size to 4 TB). After changing the volume size to 2 TB I was able to connect to the Drobo via firewire using their application. I was even able to transfer the 500 GB of data back to the drobo over the firewire. However the drobo would not respond after the transfer was completed and I had to reconnect via USB 2.0 to get it to power on again.

    It seems there are still many issues with Drobo when connected to a windows vista machine via FireWire 800.

  • John, this is Tom from Data Robotics. The specific issue you are describing on Windows with FireWire 800 is related to your third-party FireWire software driver for Windows 64-bit. I am 99% sure you are using a ubCore driver developed by Unibrain. You’ve described the known issues with their driver to a “T”.

    The Unibrain driver has had all sorts of issues with all storage devices (Drobo and every other brand) on Windows Vista 64-bit. Please contact our support for more information. You can also check out our knowledgebase which has information on that driver and its issues (just search: firewire). You need to download the latest build of the Unibrian driver which has a fix for the 2TB issue. I believe they are still working on the Vista 64-bit issues though. Here is the link to Unibrain’s download site: http://unibrain.com/download/download.asp

  • Tom, thank you for responding to this post. I have contacted your support team via email and by phone, but yours is the first suggestion I have heard. The only response I have received from your support team are just questions via email.

    I have downloaded the driver fron Unibrain as you suggested, but I will wait to install it until I see if I hear back from your support team. I figured I would give them a week to respond and that week is up this afternoon. The driver that appears in my device manager is “Texas Instruments OHCI Compliant IEEE 1394 Host Controller”. Is this the name the Unibrain driver uses for the device manager? The board, its box, and its manual don’t mention Unibrain so that is causing some confusion..

    Thank you again for responding to my post.

  • Iain Farquhar

    I’m really interested in the Drobo and would plan to hang it off a MacMini on a home network for Time Machine backups etc.
    I’m really concerned however about the feedback at the Skybox USA website and some other ‘horror stories’ that have surfaced
    http://skybox-usa.biz/Data-Robotics-DR04DD10-Drobo-4Bays-USB/M/B001CZ9ZEE.htm?utm_campaign=froogle&utm_medium=organic&utm_source=froogle-GB&id=uk#

    I understand that any technology can fail but given that the Drobo is designed to give peace of mind it is worrying a) to hear of it (allegedly) frying all its drives and b) (more worryingly) the poor technical support provided by the company and the apparent lack of interest shown by support staff.

    If it were to be reliable it would seem to be the best of the bunch of similar bits of kit available for the home user but at present I’m too worried that it will destroy all my data to take the plunge and it would seem mad to have to have another backup solution to cater to the uncertainties of using the Drobo.

    I hope that someone from Data Robotics will reply to this.

    Cheers

    Iain

    PS what’s the logic of only being able to connect a Firewire 800 Drobo to a Gigabit Droboshare with a USB 2.0 connector???

  • Hi Iain. I can respond.

    First, our products come with service warranties that you can extend. Many companies, like Apple for instance, once you’re out of warranty–that’s it, you can never extend it. We give our customers the option to extend their warranty once they are out and renewable up to thirty-six months, which I think is a nice option to have. Yes, we charge more for it, but most companies don’t even offer the option. So that’s that comment for that comment on Skybox.

    In regards to the other reviews, judging by the post dates I think this might have been the same person writing in over and over again. I am actually familiar with the specific person and case. The fellow writing in did not “have all for drives fail at once” as he states. In fact, his file system (OS X’s HFS+) suffered a corruption which caused the data on his Drobo to become unmountable (not seen by the OS). The Drobo was actually 100% OK and we even replaced it for him for free just to double check. We do as much as we can on Drobo, including the use of battery-backed RAM, to reduce the chances of this file system issue, but at the end of the day HFS+ is notorious for these sorts of problems. That is why OS X gives you a stern warning when you try to disconnect a hard drive, USB thumb drive etc with out first ejecting it. It’s really fragile and poor with external storage. (FYI–We’ve never seen a single instance of a problem like this on Windows’ much more stable file system called NTFS.) It’s really a problem with HFS that we do everything we can to prevent. I have personally seen similar HFS corruptions on my personal MacBook Pro’s internal hard drive.

    For instance, in July my computer froze with the gray screen of death and I had to do a hard restart. When I rebooted it couldn’t find the OS or boot. I had a “btree” “invalid sibling link” corruption that made the whole thing ummountable by the system. Fortunately I just restored from my Time Machine backup. But that’s why having multiple backups is CRITICAL to anyone with valuable digital assets. Drobo is awesome, but at the end of the day theft, fire, flood, earthquakes and file system corruptions cannot necessarily be avoided with Drobo. Safe offsite and secondary storage is crucial. I am not saying all this is cheap, but how much is your data worth to you?

    At the end of the day, if you name a brand and model of hard drive I can find horror stories from people not using best practices. (For instance…read the Western Digital reviews on the Apple Online Store for any of their products…) Most of these people unfairly assumed that a hard drive could never crash or become corrupt and then got really angry. (That makes me feel bad for the hard drive makers as they are more responsible for actual physical failure of hard drives, but as we both know, it’s only a matter of time!) We all know that sh** happens and thus you need to exercise best practices. Drobo will help you survive what nails most of these people–a single hard drive going dead. I am the first to admit Drobo is not the answer to every problem ever. Drobo is an awesome part of best practices. I personally recommend a Drobo in consonance with an offsite strategy. Feel free to follow up with me at tloverro {at} datarobotics {dawt} com for any further questions or follow up {BTW, the email address in the curly brackets with weird words is meant to avoid spam bots from finding my email address}

  • Iain Farquhar

    Tom,

    I really appreciate your replying to this in an open forum. I will email you directly but will post the results of our discussions to this blog if that’s OK.

    Cheers

    Iain

  • I bought Drobo 2Gen and loved it. however …

    Trying to get the promised Firewire 800 speed seems to be a challenge. I am running Vista 32-bit and all I got was about 13MB/s write speed while the USB 2 connection gives me 18 MB/s. I read all articles I can find and tried both Microsoft provided driver as well as Unibrain driver. No difference.

    Frustrated, I wrote to Drobo and here is the reply:
    —————————–
    Thanks for contacting Drobo tech support.

    Yes, The Drobo does not support 100% of FireWire cards and chipsets yet. Most work fine but some get a slow connection speed. This is due to FireWire not having a good Driver in Windows. We have Unibrain making us a custom driver and have no ETA on its release. Please check the website periodically to stay informed.

    Thanks for your time,
    Drobo Tech Support – JB
    —————————–

    Since people have reported the same issue two months ago, I am not sure when they would provide a solution. In the meantime, I guess i have to put all my investment on the new Firewire 800 technology aside and stick to USB 2.0.

  • Iain Farquhar

    Terry,
    had a reply from Tom Loverro of Data Robotics; to paraphrase:

    Tom acknowledges that DR’s technical support has not always been up to the mark, agrees that this is unacceptable and says that the company is recruiting to “increase both quality and responsiveness”

    DR have 40,000 systems in use, so this helps to put the number of reported problems into perspective (though they are no less serious to the individuals concerned)

    Most of the problems with Firewire 800 systems have been with Windows esp Vista 64 and these are primarily due to problems with a third party Firewire driver and DR are working with the company concerned to address this (I believe this has been a fairly protracted process)

    Tom acknowledged that a Drobo to Droboshare USB 2.0 connection could be a bottleneck but noted that network speeds for the type of setups usually seen where Drobo/Droboshare are implemented only rarely exceeded that of USB 2.0.

    Overall I feel that Tom has answered as straightforwardly as possible. In the end I guess people have to make their own decisions. I am considerably reassured and now just have to decide whether to ‘jump’ now or wait a little while to see what DR produce next.

    Cheers

    Iain

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  • Hi, I just ordered Drobo 2nd Gen and 4 1TB Seagate drives. I am anxiously awaiting their arrival.

    Now I read that Drobo erases the data on the drive at insertion. Hence my question: What if the 2.7TB capacity is filled, how do you read the data on an old Drobo drive (which is now replaced by a new one) if it is going to be erased? Do we need two Drobos then?

    Thanks,
    Mary

  • arne

    hello
    im a happy drobo owner, kinda

    i was downloading to my drobo, and left my house. when i got home the drive was not on my dashbord, it was still listed in drobo dashboard(but had changed name to untitled)
    now i cant get it mounted and if i go into disk utility i cant repair, i get a sibling link error. i have a 2nd drobo so most of my data is safe. just one folder of about 30gigs is not backed up, any ideas how to get my disk mounted again.

    hope someone can help and thanx in advance

  • Mark F.

    @Mary – Drobo pools all of the capacity of the drives together (up to 4) AND it stores data redundantly so that you are protected against a hard drive failure. When you replace a drive with a larger one, the drive you pulled out is no longer needed by Drobo. You can reuse it in another computer, or Drobo; sell it; or store it.

    @arne – sounds like a job for DiskWarrior.

  • Alex

    How loud is the fan? Can it be used in a quiet room?

  • Hi, Tom from Data Robotics. The second generation, FireWire 800 is pretty darned quiet. It has multiple internal temperature sensors and a smart fan so its basically silent most of the time (technically about 24.1dB in normal operation). The fan will spin up to low in usage with four disks and spin up higher if you’re working in a hot environment or under really strenuous usage. To be honest, we had some complaints about fan noise in the first generation Drobo, but rarely hear those complains with the second generation Drobo. In fact, we get a lot of compliments on the redesign for making it quieter. I have Drobos at home and in the office about 24″ from me so I take this topic very seriously!

    One thing to note is that in normal operation the number and model/brand of your hard drives will create more noise than Drobo’s fan, so choose your drives wisely. I personally recommend the Western Digital GreenPower drives for really quiet drives without compromising much in performance.

  • Hi Tom,

    Any update on the Firewire 800 driver issue for Windows (XP and Vista)? I am still using USB 2 for better performance on my 2nd Gen Drobo and counting the days to switch to Firewire 800 once a new driver is available somewhere.

  • Terry, Is there anyway you can let me know how you are interfacing Drobo with Mac OSX Server. Do I need Droboshare, How does Server see the Drobo.

  • Terry White

    George,
    The Drobo mounts on your Mac OS X Server desktop like any other drive. At that point you can make it a SharePoint in Mac OS X Server. DroboShare is NOT needed.

  • Thanks Terry

  • Terry – I haven’t sen this idea covered here – can you configure the Drobo into 2 separate arrays so that 2 drives could be used for backup and 2 as active drives i.e. FCP scratch drives? Thanks,

    Matt

  • Ordered by Drobo yesterday. Can’t wait to get my data organized in one place rather than the three external drives I have hooked up right now.

  • I have been waiting to post my experiences with the Drobo 2nd gen unit until I have some resolution with Data Robotics’ tech support. Alas, my experience has not been good. After watching the progress of the Drobot for a year, when they introduced the Firewire 800 interface purchased I purchased one. It appeared to be a good solution for storing thousands of image files in a fault-tolerant manner.

    After only ~3 weeks of use the device stopped showing up as a drive on my pc. The status/diagnostic lights went out and the fan appeared to stop. I followed all the online diagnostic instructions with no solution. Contacting customer support is an ordeal — multiple levels of people manning the phones who couldn’t provide any information. It took 12 days for a “level 3′ service engineer to get back to me. According to him two of my four drives had failed simultaneously, and Drobo only protects data from a single drive failure. However, the device didn’t signal – as advertised- that the drives failed. Rather it appears that the Drobo itself failed.

    I have asked to return the Drobo for a refund and am waiting to hear from the next level of customer support — I wonder how long it will take before I hear from them…

    My conclusions regarding the Drobo: 1) I would rather use a proven (and more cost effective) RAID mirrored configuration for my valuable data — the Drobo system is based on a proprietary striping algorithm; 2) I question the reliability of the Drobo – after this experience there is no way that I would trust it as a primary backup solution; 3) Customer service is evidently overloaded and very slow to respond – this does not engender any confidence in the product or the company (although I see from their website that they are hiring for customer service); 5) ARGH!!!

    Leslie

  • Hey Leslie,
    This is Tom from Data Robotics. First off, per my earlier comment–I apologize if there’s been any delay in our support or RMA process. We need to do a better job there and we’re in the process of improving that. Just this week we hired on additional Support resources. I think we still have a ways to go, but the resolution times are already improving quite a bit.

    Next, I am sorry to hear it appears your Drobo broke after a while. The good news is that you can move your disk pack to a new Drobo without any problem and we provide advanced-exchange via FedEx on Drobo so you won’t have to be without one long.

    To answer your questions specifically, 1) Drobo is no more or less proprietary in practical terms than any RAID 5 system. For instance, you cannot take a RAID 5 disk pack from a Buffalo and put it in a LaCie (trust me on that one–don’t try moving RAID 5 disk packs between vendors at home). It’s also good to know that traditional disk utilities all work on Drobo (Disk Warrior, Disk Utility, you name it). Even data recovery if you suffered a floor or fire is an ordinary affair on Drobo compared to RAID 5. To be clear, we use standard file systems such as NTFS, HFS+, EXT3 and FAT32.

    2) 3) and 4) Our mechanical problem rate is ~1%. Most problems occur from faulty fans or bad power supplies which are a common industry issue not Drobo specific. For instance, I have a dead Netgear ReadyNAS NV that won’t turn on sitting in my closet I had from well before I came to work for Data Robotics. Mechanical things break over time–but you’re right–when things break, Customer Support should respond ASAP and do everything they can to help. You’re right that we can get better here. We are working to get better. Unfortunately, we’re a bit of victims of our own success in terms of lots of sales increases general load on incoming Support and Pre-Sales calls. We are increasing the quality, number and training of our Support resources to compensate. I think the positive effects will really start shining through in the next few weeks.

    PS- I will escalate your case for you. Please email me to make sure I have your real name and info. I can be emailed at tloverro [at] datarobotics [dawt] com. (Trying to avoid spambots there.)

    Contact me directly any time.
    -Tom

  • Drobo? Not really.

    I was interested in Drobo when it first came out. Love the concept. But it was USB only and I knew that would not be fast enough for my needs (video editing/media storage and retrieval). So I told them to put me on the email list for if and when they came out with a Firewire 800 model. Of course it did come out and they did alert me. They even gave me 50 bucks off* if I acted "now."

    I did.

    Boy was I surprised to learn that it’s impossible to get the unit to work at firewire 800 speeds with Windows. Actually "surprised" is a nice way of saying it. Not only does it not work at speed, it causes the Blue Screen of Death if it’s simply connected to my Win-XP computer. This is on the same firewire card/driver combo that works perfectly at 800 speed with all of my other drives – Lacie, Western Digital, Maxtor, etc.) So after many emails with tech support and painful phone calls, what I have is essentially a USB Drobo that I paid more for than the original, and no sign of a solution. No further response from DRI. It’s not exactly the "Nordstrom way." By the way, this whole FW800/Driver thing is well noted on their website, but in an area you can not access until AFTER you’ve purchased. Nice. That’s why I say at every opportunity [at least for Windows Users] "Drobo? Not really."

    *BTW That $50 took many emails to actually get, but that’s another story.

  • Can anyone comment on what happens when a Mac directly connected to a Drobo goes to sleep? I’m wondering if the Drobo is still available when the Mac wakes up.

    Thanks –

  • Doug M

    Tom from DROBO (or anyone), How can i configure my 1st Gen Drobos with Droboshare for use on a microsoft network without using Droboshare? Unfortunately the length allowed for the Droboshare name using the Drobo Dashboard set-up is one character shy of what I need.

  • David D

    I have been reading up on the Drobo for several weeks (my wife taught me the value of research). After reading several negative reviews concerning product support I decided not to take a chance on a purchase. I even communicated my concerns to Drobo via their web support page. I was surprised to receive a response from Tech Support explaining the specific issues from the negative reviews from their point of view. From my point of view the fact that Data Robotics took the time to respond to my concerns reflects positively on their support philosophy. As a result I ordered a Drobo and should get it sometime this week.

  • Ronn

    FYI I have the Drobo Gen 2 w/4TB and it will not work at all over firewire (400 or 800) with Windows XP Profession. Blue screen. Works fine over USB but if I wanted USB (and I do not) I could have bought Gen 1. One Hour on hold today with DR Tech support, countless emails, nothing. Worst support I’ve seen in a while. Their mention of the issue on the website is useless – says use SIIG card (I am) and Windows drivers (I am).

    Screw DR.

  • Jack G

    I have the Drobo-2 and am dual-booting XP Pro (32bit) and Vista 64-bit and get BSOD with Firewire 800 – this isn’t surprising since it’s a known issue. What really surprises me is that this problem has been around since at least October and it’s now Jan 09 and there is still no fix. You would think they would let people know about this issue before they purchase the unit and to be honest it borders on false advertisement by not doing so. I spent $500 for a device that doesn’t work as advertised (at least yet). Not very professional.

  • Mike

    Terry:

    Thanks for the informative posts here. I am considering purchasing a Drobo and the information here has been very helpful.

    I do however have a couple questions that you might be able to answer. I use a Mac at home and have a 1TB Time Capsule hooked up for my Time Machine backups. The questions I have are:

    – Can the Drobo be partitioned to look like several different drives?
    – I’m sure Drobo supports Time Machine backups, but can I use Drobo and the Time Capsule for dual backups (probably more of a Mac OS X questions, I know).
    – I have several external drives that I presently have information stored on. Can those be taken apart so that I can use the drives in the Drobo? Do you know if most of them are SATA?

    Thanks in advance for any information you can provide.

    mike

  • Mark

    I just purchased the 2nd Gen Drobo three weeks ago. I also purchase hardware to upgrade my network to gigabit, 4 new hard drives, and a FW 800 PCI card. All this to discover I’m stuck with just USB interface because of the missing drivers for Windows. Tech support told me three weeks ago they’re working on it, but today I was told they’re not. Problems with the current PC USB 2.0 interface:
    1) The bottleneck is very noticeable when streaming video. If anyone else on the network accesses the Drobo the video lags or skips.
    2) The drive is intermittently slow to find on the network.
    3) Benchmarking access speed is 3x slower than my external FireWire 400 external drives.
    I have more specs if anyone is interested.
    Drobo support will not respond to my emails after the first one. Nor will they let me return the device.

  • Spike

    I just got a FireWire 800 Drobo. It has been amazing. The transfer speeds were certainly not as fast as that type of connection allows for, but considering how much is going on with the data as it’s transferred, I’m happy. I tested my Drobo out in a few ways. First of all, I had two 1TB drives in there, one Samsung Spinpoint F1, and one Hitachi Something-or-Other. I had the Drobo stuffed, less than 50 MB free. While playing a high def video, I yanked the Hitachi. Movie kept playing without a hitch. I put in a 1TB Western Digital Green Power to replace it, and the assimilation took nearly 13 hours. Definitely could have been faster. However, I did not need to tell Drobo I was going to remove this drive, or that I was going to add another. And the data was 100% accessible 100% of the time. Now I’ve added two 1.5TB Seagate Barracuda drives to the array. They assimilated instantly.
    Several days later, after adding another 1.5 TB worth of data on to Drobo, all of which is safe in other locations, I got curious. So I pulled a drive out of Drobo, and in about 30 seconds, it began its rearranging of the data among the remaining disks. This was going to take 19 hours according to Drobo. I stuck the drive back in, and within 5 minutes, all four bay lights were green and Drobo was reporting good health. After that, I got more curious. I put my Drobo into standby mode, and disconnected it from my computer. I then removed all four disks from the Drobo, and put them back each in a different spot. Drobo didn’t care. It took a noticeably longer time to boot itself up than usual, but no more than two minutes.
    I have not yet had any drives fail in the Drobo, nor have I had to deal with their customer support. I did take down Tom’s email address, in case I need to contact someone in the company, but so far everything has been as good as they said it would be. The other techs where I fix computers all agree Drobo is powered by wizards and the extra storage space Drobo is able to deliver over standard RAID configurations comes from the same dimension all of our left socks disappear to. As far as I can report, Drobo is my perfect storage solution.

  • D. Marshall

    Have 3 drobos (2 Gen2, 1 Gen1/USB). Both Gen2 will not function via FW800/400 when connected to Windows 2003 R2 (I have seen reports of like issues with XP and Vista). If the devices are attached you will receive a BSOD with both the UniBrain and Microsoft Drivers. The FW800 card is a Siig (recommended by DR until you dig deep into there knowledge base where you will find numerous reports of FW issues. Basically the Drobo is not compatible with FW cards based on TI chipsets. Most cards are TI based, including the Siig). We have the drobos attached via USB and if we do heavy reads or writes to them they lockup and have to be power cycled to get them back. This is referenced in the knowledge base but buried.

  • Scott

    The fan on my 2nd generation drobo drives me insane. It cycles on for 10 minutes, off for 10 minutes, and it’s annoying. My desktop is near silent- quiet power supply and zero noise solid state hard drives, so I don’t want to hear anything. The drobo should not be cycling its fan when the unit is just sitting there doing nothing and if it does, then it should do so at a very low fan speed, not max on or totally off. Annoying. I’ve griped about this to data robotics numerous times but not in a few months so I will gripe again and see if anything changed.

  • I have issues with the glossy screens on the newer iMacs. I would like to reduce that glare but I am somewhat confused as to the best solution of those that I have seen on the web. I respect your advice. Do you have any thoughts. Thank you,John.

  • Philip McD

    I’ve had a 1st generation Drobo for about a month. It’s great. I am confused about the no booting issue. It boot’s just fine on a Mac. Maybe not OSX server or Windows? But it definitely boots under Leopard via USB. I assume the 2nd generation one will too. I should add it works great off an Apple Airport Express Base Station.

    philip

  • davidF

    Philip McD you said “I should add it works great off an Apple Airport Express Base Station.” Do you mean an Airport Extreme? I hope it does work off an Express as I am really keen to get this working but haven’t found a way to do airdisk from an Express Base Station. Thx Dave

    • pmcd

      to davidF: I meant the Airport Extreme (the one with gigabit ethernet).

      philip

  • Abud

    Hi, I would like to know if the FW 800 issue has been fixed if the DROBO is ran under Windows 7 ?

  • I did some testing of my new Drobo unit under Ubuntu. Didn’t test firewire 800 but did test USB2 and Firewire 400. Results from my testing are available at:

    http://www.whitehats.ca/main/members/Malik/malik_drobo/malik_drobo.html

    Regards
    Jamie

  • I need storage space for an iMac. I have read lots of reviews online about the Drobo. They are either very good or very bad. It seems like the bad comments are coming from people hooking it up to PCs and not Macs. Does anyone have further input on this?

    If I do not get a Drobo, what other solutions have people used? I would want to hook it up via Firewire 800 so that I can get the best speed/performance.

    Thanks

  • Mac

    I have had a first generation drobo for about 3 months. I am using it as a backup so the USB2 speed is not a problem. It is sitting within arms length and I have no noise problems from the fan, just some noise from the two hard drives. I am using Windows XP and everything seems to work as advertised. I am very happy with it.