Drobo Review

Drobo Front

Drobo Open

Drobo Back

I’ve had a second gen Drobo for about a month and I thought I’d share my thoughts on the device. I put in four two Terabyte drives in it. I run it connected to a 3.06 GHZ 24 inch iMac with 4GB of ram on Mac OSX 10.5.7 using Firewire 800. I haven’t dumped all of my media onto it yet but I’ve played around with it enough to know whats up.

What is a Drobo?
According to Wikipedia:

“Drobo is a data storage peripheral which interfaces up to four 3.5″ SATA hard drives with a computer via High-Speed USB 2.0 or FireWire 800 (2nd generation only). It is primarily designed to allow installation and removal of storage devices without requiring manual data migration, and also for increasing storage capacity of the unit without downtime.”

Who should buy one?
Anyone who creates lots of media and is constantly running out of storage. Shooting RAW photos and HD video eats up space like it’s going out of style. Cloud storage services like S3 would be much better for backup, unfortunately consumer ISP bandwidth is so slow its flat out unfeasible for large amounts of data. As an aside I tried to use one of these cloud based services (backblaze) and it told me it was going to take more than a year of non stop uploading to make the initial backup given my So until the day when we all live happily in the cloud local storage is the way to go. With that in mind the most flexible solution is a Drobo.

videographer

Things you should know:
The actual amount of storage you get is MUCH less than what the drives can store. This is because the system needs a big chunk of space in order to be able to move files around and secure the data. See ‘used for protection’ below:
Drobo Dashboard Expanded

The Drobo comes with an app that is relatively unobtrusive. However it runs as a login/startup item by default so you see it every single time you reboot. Luckily you can easily disable it. Here it is:

Drobo Dashboard Screenshot

Speaking of booting, this thing actually boots up like a computer. I thought this was bizarre because I’ve never had a peripheral boot up before. Depending on the size of your drives it can take quite some time to boot up.

Here is a screenshot of the dashboard ‘advanced’ control panel when it’s healthy:
Drobo Advanced Controls

If you see anything other than green here you’ve got problems and you’ll need to do something about it. If you see red one of your drives is probably failing. My brother Jon Rawlinson got one and had a drive failure within a few days of owning it. Not sure if he lost data or not. Jon?

Something else you should know is that the Drobo will completely erase the drives you put into it when you first start using it. So you’ll have to migrate the contents of any drive you want to use before you insert the drive into the Drobo. On that note bear in mind that it only accepts SATA drives. So if your first thought was use that stack of old IDE hard drives on the shelf you’re SOL. Someone needs to make a Drobo like device for those old drives lying around.

Pros:

  • Huge amount of space.
  • Expandable.
  • Hot swappable.
  • Don’t need a bunch of external drives lying around.
  • Easier than a traditional RAID.

Cons:

  • You’ll probably just end up with more stuff to backup!
  • It has to boot up and its slow to do so.
  • If the drive goes to sleep it takes a while to wake.
  • Has it’s own fan and it can be noisy when the drive is running hot.
  • All your eggs are in one basket.
  • For some reason it’s ass slow if you try to run Aperture off it.

Conclusion:
It’s a great device and has certainly given me peace of mind. The Drobo is far from perfect but I would recommend to anyone who needs a big chunk of storage.

[Drobo on Amazon | Photo by blhphotography]

37 comments

  1. Second it being ass slow w/ Aperture. I bought a 320 GB internal for my MacBook so I could keep my photos on there, and use the Drobo for my Aperture Vault.

  2. Great review.

    Ya, one of my drives failed, but it wasn’t because of the Drobo. The douchebags at NCIX sold me a defective hard drive, it had a dent in the side!

    Luckily I didn’t lose any data, because I hadn’t even started really using the Drobo when the drive failed.

    So far, so good.

  3. The reason that it is slow is that Aperture's file is in fact a directory; So You're accessing multiple directories at once from the Drobo. This is bad news.

    The most intelligent way to do it is A) NEVER run programs directly off it. DROBO and similar RAID setups are not for direct access, but redundancy; it seems you forgot this while writing your cons. And B) There is an option for DroboCopies which allows you to set a schedule to tell the Drobo when to backup certain directories on the host computer.

  4. The drobo is marketed as a digital storage device not just a backup solution. The whole point is to use it as a hard disk and not have to treat it like a RAID device…

    Also, I'm not running the application off the drobo itself. The application is running locally on the computer but the photo library is on the drobo.

  5. As mentione previously the drobo is sold as an expandable drive. This encourages people to fill it with all their stuff and forget about backups. Given that, all your eggs are in one basket because all it takes is one spilled coffee or a drobo failure of some kind you lose everything…

    If you store your data in the cloud this is not an issue. Not to mention many cloud based storage solutions have redundant backups of your data so if their data center burns down your data is still fine.

    I'm glad you found my review useful.

  6. The reason that it is slow is that Aperture's file is in fact a directory; So You're accessing multiple directories at once from the Drobo. This is bad news.

    The most intelligent way to do it is A) NEVER run programs directly off it. DROBO and similar RAID setups are not for direct access, but redundancy; it seems you forgot this while writing your cons. And B) There is an option for DroboCopies which allows you to set a schedule to tell the Drobo when to backup certain directories on the host computer.

  7. The reason that it is slow is that Aperture's file is in fact a directory; So You're accessing multiple directories at once from the Drobo. This is bad news.

    The most intelligent way to do it is A) NEVER run programs directly off it. DROBO and similar RAID setups are not for direct access, but redundancy; it seems you forgot this while writing your cons. And B) There is an option for DroboCopies which allows you to set a schedule to tell the Drobo when to backup certain directories on the host computer.

  8. The drobo is marketed as a digital storage device not just a backup solution. The whole point is to use it as a hard disk and not have to treat it like a RAID device…

    Also, I'm not running the application off the drobo itself. The application is running locally on the computer but the photo library is on the drobo.

  9. The drobo is marketed as a digital storage device not just a backup solution. The whole point is to use it as a hard disk and not have to treat it like a RAID device…

    Also, I'm not running the application off the drobo itself. The application is running locally on the computer but the photo library is on the drobo.

  10. The drobo is marketed as a digital storage device not just a backup solution. The whole point is to use it as a hard disk and not have to treat it like a RAID device…

    Also, I'm not running the application off the drobo itself. The application is running locally on the computer but the photo library is on the drobo.

  11. As mentione previously the drobo is sold as an expandable drive. This encourages people to fill it with all their stuff and forget about backups. Given that, all your eggs are in one basket because all it takes is one spilled coffee or a drobo failure of some kind you lose everything…

    If you store your data in the cloud this is not an issue. Not to mention many cloud based storage solutions have redundant backups of your data so if their data center burns down your data is still fine.

    I'm glad you found my review useful.

  12. As mentione previously the drobo is sold as an expandable drive. This encourages people to fill it with all their stuff and forget about backups. Given that, all your eggs are in one basket because all it takes is one spilled coffee or a drobo failure of some kind you lose everything…

    If you store your data in the cloud this is not an issue. Not to mention many cloud based storage solutions have redundant backups of your data so if their data center burns down your data is still fine.

    I'm glad you found my review useful.

  13. As mentione previously the drobo is sold as an expandable drive. This encourages people to fill it with all their stuff and forget about backups. Given that, all your eggs are in one basket because all it takes is one spilled coffee or a drobo failure of some kind you lose everything…

    If you store your data in the cloud this is not an issue. Not to mention many cloud based storage solutions have redundant backups of your data so if their data center burns down your data is still fine.

    I'm glad you found my review useful.

  14. Hey all,

    I just got a v2 firewire drobo, threw in 4 2tb hitachi deskstar drives. But the noise is ridiculous! When the drives are spinning up or just resting, they are perfectly quiet. But after I plugin my drobo on my 27? iMac, it sounds like it’s writing tons of data between the drives, working them to death. This keeps up all day. And this happens every time my computer wakes up from sleeping, or if I turn on and plugin my drobo.

    According to the activity monitor, the computer is not writing anything to the drives. Time Machine is not using the drobo. I thought it might be spotlight cataloging everything, but this happens EVERY TIME my machine wakes up or restarts.

    According to drobo tech support everything is peachy. No problem whatsoever according to the Drobo Diagnostic log I sent them.

    This is another issue I have with Data Robotics. The Drobo Diagnostic file that the drobo dashboard generates for you to send to their tech support, is encrypted, and data robotics refuses to send a copy of of the decrypted file to me. Wait a minute? They won't allow me to see how my own drobo is doing? Isn't that a violation of the Freedom of Information Act? Lawyers? :) It seems like a hospital denying a patient a copy of their medical records, after saying everything is A OK, when something is obviously wrong…

    Anyway, anyone have any problems like this? Any suggestions/recommendations? Drobo tech support is useless, so hopefully someone brilliant comes up with a solution… :)

    THANKS!

  15. Hey all,

    I just got a v2 firewire drobo, threw in 4 2tb hitachi deskstar drives. But the noise is ridiculous! When the drives are spinning up or just resting, they are perfectly quiet. But after I plugin my drobo on my 27″ iMac, it sounds like it’s writing tons of data between the drives, working them to death. This keeps up all day. And this happens every time my computer wakes up from sleeping, or if I turn on and plugin my drobo.

    According to the activity monitor, the computer is not writing anything to the drives. Time Machine is not using the drobo. I thought it might be spotlight cataloging everything, but this happens EVERY TIME my machine wakes up or restarts.

    According to drobo tech support everything is peachy. No problem whatsoever according to the Drobo Diagnostic log I sent them.

    This is another issue I have with Data Robotics. The Drobo Diagnostic file that the drobo dashboard generates for you to send to their tech support, is encrypted, and data robotics refuses to send a copy of of the decrypted file to me. Wait a minute? They won't allow me to see how my own drobo is doing? Isn't that a violation of the Freedom of Information Act? Lawyers? :) It seems like a hospital denying a patient a copy of their medical records, after saying everything is A OK, when something is obviously wrong…

    Anyway, anyone have any problems like this? Any suggestions/recommendations? Drobo tech support is useless, so hopefully someone brilliant comes up with a solution… :)

    THANKS!

  16. Hey all,

    I just got a v2 firewire drobo, threw in 4 2tb hitachi deskstar drives. But the noise is ridiculous! When the drives are spinning up or just resting, they are perfectly quiet. But after I plugin my drobo on my 27″ iMac, it sounds like it’s writing tons of data between the drives, working them to death. This keeps up all day. And this happens every time my computer wakes up from sleeping, or if I turn on and plugin my drobo.

    According to the activity monitor, the computer is not writing anything to the drives. Time Machine is not using the drobo. I thought it might be spotlight cataloging everything, but this happens EVERY TIME my machine wakes up or restarts.

    According to drobo tech support everything is peachy. No problem whatsoever according to the Drobo Diagnostic log I sent them.

    This is another issue I have with Data Robotics. The Drobo Diagnostic file that the drobo dashboard generates for you to send to their tech support, is encrypted, and data robotics refuses to send a copy of of the decrypted file to me. Wait a minute? They won't allow me to see how my own drobo is doing? Isn't that a violation of the Freedom of Information Act? Lawyers? :) It seems like a hospital denying a patient a copy of their medical records, after saying everything is A OK, when something is obviously wrong…

    Anyway, anyone have any problems like this? Any suggestions/recommendations? Drobo tech support is useless, so hopefully someone brilliant comes up with a solution… :)

    THANKS!

  17. Dan if I remember correctly my Drobo did that at first as well. It turned out to be spotlight. Turns out spotlight could never catch up to indexing the size of my drive with all my data. It was a process called CMD or something if I remember correctly. So I disabled spotlight indexing by using the privacy settings for it in sys prefs and rebooted the machine and this fixed it. Unfortunately the drive isn't searchable now… Hope this helps.

  18. Dan if I remember correctly my Drobo did that at first as well. It turned out to be spotlight. Turns out spotlight could never catch up to indexing the size of my drive with all my data. It was a process called CMD or something if I remember correctly. So I disabled spotlight indexing by using the privacy settings for it in sys prefs and rebooted the machine and this fixed it. Unfortunately the drive isn't searchable now… Hope this helps.

  19. Dan if I remember correctly my Drobo did that at first as well. It turned out to be spotlight. Turns out spotlight could never catch up to indexing the size of my drive with all my data. It was a process called CMD or something if I remember correctly. So I disabled spotlight indexing by using the privacy settings for it in sys prefs and rebooted the machine and this fixed it. Unfortunately the drive isn't searchable now… Hope this helps.

  20. wrong disks… should buy WD Caviar Green… best performance/noise/power consuption ration in the market!

  21. wrong disks… should buy WD Caviar Green… best performance/noise/power consuption ration in the market!

  22. i also purchased a drobo with the hopes of simplifying my storage issue. instead i have had problems with this device since the day i pulled it out of the box. the first thing was that it not take any of my older (known good) drives and use them. the device kept restarting and loosing the connection. at that time i lost my entire iTunes library. contacted support and was given a bunch of directions that helped me milk a cow better than fix this thing called drobo. after buying 3 1TB green disks from WD, i started to pile on data to the array and low and behold, the thing crapped out again!!! sent an email to drobo for support and was told that the firmware was not up to date…. funny thing was that there was nothing available via the little button that states “check for updates”. kept on telling me that the firmware was up to date. the tech said that the drobo was not able to read the sector clusters correctly from the WD drives and this firmware update would fix it. boy was he wrong, not only does the paperweight not work but its not recognized by my MACBOOK PRO but it lost my iTunes data again!!! its crap and i want my money back drobo!!!

  23. i also purchased a drobo with the hopes of simplifying my storage issue. instead i have had problems with this device since the day i pulled it out of the box. the first thing was that it not take any of my older (known good) drives and use them. the device kept restarting and loosing the connection. at that time i lost my entire iTunes library. contacted support and was given a bunch of directions that helped me milk a cow better than fix this thing called drobo. after buying 3 1TB green disks from WD, i started to pile on data to the array and low and behold, the thing crapped out again!!! sent an email to drobo for support and was told that the firmware was not up to date…. funny thing was that there was nothing available via the little button that states “check for updates”. kept on telling me that the firmware was up to date. the tech said that the drobo was not able to read the sector clusters correctly from the WD drives and this firmware update would fix it. boy was he wrong, not only does the paperweight not work but its not recognized by my MACBOOK PRO but it lost my iTunes data again!!! its crap and i want my money back drobo!!!

  24. Mike,
    I wouldn't say Drobo or RAID setups are for “redendancy” as there are far better ways to achieve redundancy…and, for the matter, back-up. What a RAID is good for is 'availability'; this is it will keep going immediately after a partial failure (like a drive) without the need to stop for a time to reconfigure and/or replace failed drives — an essential feature for critical operations. If that's what you're after, Drobo and RAID set-ups are great. It seems a lot of folks who are primarily after reliable back-up are incorrectly choosing Drobos and RAID systems. Also, since most of the Drobos used USB or Fire-wire for I/O, I would say that is reason enough not to access the directories for any process you want to accomplish quickly.

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