Is the Drobo FS The Solution to my Storage Problems?

My folks came over to my house the other day, and my dad walked into my office to check out my setup. He looked at the two Western Digital My Book for Mac boxes, and said, “Why are you using those? That’s a very unreliable, amateurish setup.” He suggested I go with a network attached storage setup. or a NAS, for the uninitiated.

I don’t know if my Dad is correct about my setup being amateurish, but getting a NAS has been something I’ve considered for a long time now. I’ve put it off mostly because of price, but also because of Mac capabilities. Most that I found were fairly universal, but the cheaper versions weren’t customizable and didn’t allow for expansion. I don’t want a bay of NAS drives floating around my place, just one will work just fine.

But I’m also ridiculously anal about backup, particularly with my more important files. I’ve also got a rapidly growing media collection, and every time I do a photo shoot I seem to burn up 10GB of hard drive space. I need something reliable and stable with expandability. That led me to Drobo.

At my old company, I remember our IT guys going nuts when they ordered a Drobo S for the office. A few weeks later, they weren’t impressed. Turns out it didn’t play well with the network. But now there’s the Drobo FS, designed for the network from the start, and very expandable. I could install 10TB worth of drives in its 5 bays, and with dual drive redundancy, my data is protected.

I’m still not sure though, so I figured I’d take it to the web and ask for your opinion. Has anyone out there used a Drobo and if so, how do you like it? Would you recommend the purchase to someone?

Comments

  1. Marco Coulter says:

    Short advice: buy the drobo drive, but do not plan to use it reliably as NAS.
    I bought the Drobo Firewire and later the Firewire/USB. A few years later they are both running well. (Had a drive failure in one without loss of data, so it proved their RAID code well). Drobo fans are noisy, so I wanted it on the other side of the room; leading to my purchase of a DroboShare NAS adaptor for them. Their NAS code was not reliable. Trying to write two video files to it at once would normally end up in the device eventually dropping off the network even when ethernet attached. Once in this state, only a power reset would get it back on the network and visible to the Drobo software.

    Drobo RAID is REALLY simple to setup, and it has protected me from drive failures (though I REALLY wish they would tell me which drive is in trouble instead of me having to randomly unplug drives to see when error messages did not occur).

    Maybe the code in the DroboFS is significantly different from the DroboShare but I doubt it. So I would plan on using an old PC/laptop as a file server attached to the Drobo to supply the NAS function. (How I am currently setup).

  2. Background:

    I bought a NetGear NAS RAID5 NAS drive in January 2007. In October 2009 I bought a Drobo (version 2) to serve as a tethered storage for my home media center. Later that month the power supply on the NAS went, and the “ridiculously anal” me bought TWO replacement power supplies!

    Last month another power supply went. Since the NAS serves as my main backup – I also have a portable Lucie that I regularly make a SuperDuper! bootable sart backup regularly with – I decided it was time to get a new NAS. I chose a Drobo FS with 5×2 terabyte drives.

    Service/delivery:

    I ordered it Saturday morning May 1, and being anal I paid for overnight shipping. About 2 hours later I was notified via email that it was backordered. No mention of how long. On Tuesday May 4 I called their support. Like when I called them with my previous order, they answered immediately and even sounded like they knew of my order! I was informed that the unit had shipped that day and that the Western Union drives were also backordered but should ship in another day. That was exactly what happened. Overall, I have to give their support a 5 star rating.

    Installation:

    Drop-dead simple. It runs it’s own OS and when you put a drive in it will erase it and reformat it quickly. I chose tow configure things to handle two HDD failures instead of the default of one, so my 10 terabytes of storage went down to 5.39. I also configured it to have a static IP address.

    After installing 2-5 drives and powering it up, you then eed to install Drobo Dashboard on a computer. This is about the only negative I can point out about anything related to having a Drobo – the install (and many upgrades) will require a reboot!

    Drobo Dashboard:

    The application itself is quite good. This is where I configured the dual failure and static IP. It’s also where you create your volumes. My biggest surpirse was DroboCopy, a slightly-flawed but very nice feature.

    I had several SynchonizePro backups I’d run. One of the longest ones synched up my iTunes music library from my MacBook. 3726 items, over 30 gig. I needed something like SynchronizePro because I needed to *not* include any TV shows or movies, as my MacBook storage capacity meant a different kind of backup is needed. What I never figured out is why SynchronizePro found nearly 10,000 files or folders. When it was going to do this again, I decided to try DroboCopy. Now, going on a month later, I have shelved SynchronizePro.

    Two small bugs (or is it features?) I haven’t figured out yet. First, it appears that it matters whether you mount the volumes using Drobo Dashboard or Finder. The volume name in the copy is different. Second, Drobo Dashboard will put the HDDs to sleep. It looks like if a copy is starts before it wakes up, it errs off.

    Drobo Apps:

    I thought this would be more used than I have so far. I don’t need an iTunes server and have a better Torrent client. The one I’m waiting for is Oxygen Cloud. It was supposed to be released in May (their site said this as late as May 30) but they seemed to have pushed it out until June.

    Overall:

    If you can handle having a proprietary RAID, go for it. Minimum amount of drives is 2 and you can mix and match drive sizes (unlike regular RAID). Great customer support. Nice looking and quiet.

  3. I have a FW800 4-bay Drobo I’ve been using primarily as a Time Machine backup target for four other computers. I highly recommend Drobo for ease of use and reliability. I pull off using it as a Time Machine target by attaching it via Firewire to a Mac mini which runs as a sort of server and setting the appropriate Time Machine flag for the device (backmyfruitup will help automate this http://code.google.com/p/backmyfruitup/ ).

    For about the $700 price of a Drobo FS, you can buy an on sale Drobo 2nd generation ($250) and a discounted Mac mini (around $500), adding far more flexibility and possibilities as a[n additional] dedicated server in your network. You lose out on one additional Drobo drive, but you can utilize the Mac mini drive for some side storage as well. Depending upon the drives you purchase, it all runs quietly.

  4. I don’t own a NAS, but I disagree with your Dad’s assessment of your current set up. No reason multiple externals can’t be just as reliable — same drive mechanisms, and you can provide full redundancy by either using software RAID, or simply use regular backup software (SuperDuper? CCC?) to perform scheduled backups from one to another. Added benefits for you are (1) such a setup is often much cheaper to get started with, (2) the drive is more portable if you want to take it to another location (e.g. your parent’s home), and (3) drives in NAS’s often use proprietary formatting so if problems with a drive unit start happening you can’t just take it out and connect directly to your computer with USB/firewire/eSATA and use your favorite diagnostic software. Sure… if you need 8 or 10 TB storage, then NAS provides other advantages (like one nice clean housing), and offload RAID functions… but I think it’s overkill for folks who can easily get by with a couple of 1TB or 2TB externals backing each other up. My $.02

    Jim

  5. I think you mean 10 Terabytes…

  6. @Marco

    I steered away from using a DroboShare also, because of all the comments of slow speeds – due to it’s wireless connection to the network. Hence my first Drobo was always intended to be tethered to a MacMini.

    The Drobo FS is meant to be tethered to a wireless router, which is how most NAS units are set up. On my 802.11n network, I’m noticing better speeds than I had with my NetGear.

  7. I have a mac mini and Drobo 2nd gen now, love it… for about the same price as the drobo fs.. just a thought. Go with the 2nd gen and buy a mac mini, or just attach it to your primary mac.

  8. first thing thought of when he said 2 Western Digital for Mac hard drives was…OMG…first of all they are consumer items and are no where near as reliable as others in the same market…when I see someone coming in and buying those drives I just think…insanity because FW400 & FW800 is so much better and faster…and the fact that I have all of the following drives connected to my Mac Mini with ONE FireWire cable…just ONE…

    I don’t have any NAS set up either…but what I do have is Lacie D2 drives that I adore…they are quiet and kool to look at…no they are not in one single casing like the Drobo is…but I have the rack mounts that they also sell for the hard drives to slide and secure into…so I have 8 Lacie D2 drives (7 & 1 DVD burner) sitting under my desk…and they are amazing…NOT ONE ISSUE WITH THEM EVER

    and I have had them for about 2 years…granted they don’t get constant use because I use my MBP more often then anything else and now my iPad for my day to day…but connected to my Mac Mini (Late 2006 1.83Ghz Core Duo) and serving as the iTunes server for my two TV’s it is a great set up and I love it…granted I want to upgrade the drives to 2TB drives soon in the future because I am running out of space but I have no complaints about my set up

  9. Martin Hill says:

    I have a 2nd Generation Firewire 800 Drobo directly connected to our TV iMac at home which has given great service over the last year or more storing our growing TV and movie collection and has flawlessly handled me boosting storage bit by bit to the current state of 2 x 2TB drives + 2 x 1.5TB drives.

    I was impressed enough that I bought 3 more Drobos here at work, a 16TB Firewire Drobo Pro and two 16TB dual gigabit Drobo Elites running iSCSI. We now use these drives as portable scratch storage for transferring terabytes of data between our 30 Xserves and 6 Promise e-class RAID arrays which we’ve boosted out to 200TBs of storage.

    Sure they are slower than our fibre-channel Promise RAID arrays, but they are a heck of a lot more portable for our offline needs.

    I was unable to get the Drobo Elites to work directly connected with ethernet to my Mac Pro, but they work fine when allocated IP addresses and routed through our switches. We haven’t yet tried aggregating their dual gigabit ethernet ports for faster throughput, but they have proved they can quickly be switched from one server to another just by mounting and unmounting them using the iSCSI option built into the Drobo Dashboard software.

    -Mart

  10. Get a cheap PC, put in a few additional sata & esata cards, attach a bunch of 2 TB drives. Use OpenSolaris and setup a ZFS pool using your 2 TB drives. Create zfs volumes and save that via iSCSI. Then use GlobalSan (free) on the mac to access the iSCSI drives.

    It’s cheap and reliable. If the PC fails, just move the drives to another PC and import the zpool. If drives fail, simply replace the failed drive and zfs takes care of the rest.

  11. I have the smaller 4-disk drobo since nearly 2 years now and I like it. I testet the USB 2.0 only version before (my dad has that) and bought myself the newer FireWire 800 version. Its much better than burning DVDs, much safer than using just one external disk, much easier to use than double backups and even other RAID systems. My father had some problems (which could be fixed), but those came from incorrect Finder file-headers.

    My first review (USB 2.0, german): http://blog.tice.de/beitrag.php?file=2008_05_10_1455
    My second review (FireWire 800, german also): http://blog.tice.de/beitrag.php?file=2008_09_22_1740

    How to update the firmware: http://blog.tice.de/beitrag.php?file=2010_03_18_0646
    And the solution for the Finder problems (I never had those myself): http://blog.tice.de/beitrag.php?file=2009_02_06_2214

    So all-in-all I can say: I haven’t seen a better solution – buy one.

  12. Oxygen Cloud is still not out? That was a big reason why I purchased the FS…bummer!

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