The story so far . . . In August 2009, I purchased two 2nd generation Drobos. Back then, Drobo was still a relatively new thing. I had been aware of it since the first model was introduced in 2007, but it was USB-only and thus too slow for my needs. The 2nd generation model added Firewire and I hoped I could use it for some video editing.
I populated my new Drobos with the bare hard drives I had been using separately. It took quite a bit of juggling to get all the data off various drives so I could then wipe them out and put them in the new Drobo. (I always do a zero-byte full reformat of drives before I use them. This exercises every sector of the drive and helps the drive map out bad blocks, or identify larger problems.)
At the time, Drobo documentation said if you make the device look like one huge drive, it might take several minutes to boot up. I chose to have the Drobo split itself up in to 1TB volumes. (This startup delay went away with a firmware update, apparently.) As I added drives, more volumes would appear. Over the years, I upgraded from four 500GB drives to four 2TB drives, and eventually had six 1TB virtual drives on each device. (I say “virtual” because unlike a true RAID system, the Drobo file system is flexible. It has a set amount of storage, split between the various drive volumes. You can’t actually fill each to 100%, and the Drobo suffers from severe slowdown if you fill it within 10% of max capacity. There are alot of gotchas with the magical Drobo.)
Eggs in One Basket
While having to manage six volumes might seem like more work than one huge volume, it ended up saving me a number of times. I have had several instances of file system corruption on a Drobo volume where a volume would be unreadable (or not even mount). If this had happened to a huge 6TB single volume, I would have lost everything. By having it isolated to 1TB, it greatly reduced the amount of data I lost.
I tried Apple Disk Utility and a few other programs trying to recover the first disk crash, but only AlSoft’s DiskWarrior could do it. I strongly recommend every Mac user have a copy of this wonderful program. In all but a few cases, it was able to recover my corrupted Drobo volume. The one that it couldn’t is still a bit of a mystery. A support guy from AlSoft spent some time examining sectors on my Drobo and determined that the directory had been erased. Drobo support claimed they didn’t do it, and blamed Disk Warrior. Disk Warrior claimed they didn’t even modify the drive until the final stage after the data was declared recoverable.
Thus, two of my major Drobo issues: Support and reliability. Though overall they have been helpful, there have been a number of times when Drobo support was useless. Early on, when a firmware update looked like it had lost ALL my data, they provided me a special firmware version that would let me READ all my data off. That’s great if I had a few spare terabytes sitting around to copy it to. Fortunately, they figured out the problem and I was able to recover my data and continue using the device.
Let’s just say I have had quite a bit of close calls over the years with Drobo (and have lost several terabytes of data). There have been issues where the Drobo would suddenly shut off (unmounting, and not waking up), or times when it would cause my Mac to hang on startup (if plugged in to the computer) and endless other annoying issues. Web searched revealed hundreds of similar reports from other Drobo users.
Much like an abusive relationship, the magic of Drobo seemed to keep many of us involved even when we knew we probably should move on.
I stuck with my two Drobos for over six years. I put up with repeated problems that always seemed to manifest themselves when I needed to get some work done. If my livelyhood depended on them, I am sure I would have had to move on to something else, but since I was just earning some side-income as a hobby-business, I couldn’t justify the expense of a professional high-end RAID system. It seems Drobo is a consumer toy, not a professional tool.
Danger, Will Robinson
Recently, a few things happened that caused me to consider an upgrade. First, one of my Drobos was regularly sending me alerts that it was in the process of rebuilding.
After about a week or so of this happening, I contacted Drobo support. The 2nd generation models had been end-of-lifed so they were no longer supported, but I was able to get the support tech to look at a diagnostic log file from my device. They wrote back:
Response By Email (xxxx) (11/03/2015 02:26 PM)
Thank you for contacting Drobo Technical Support,
I would recommend replacing the drive with the serial number WMAZA1948667 in the top bay.
We are showing that drive has 31 bad blocks and has had a full timeout.
If you have any other questions feel free to ask.
Thank you and have a great day.
Technical Support Agent
At the very least, I was going to have to replace that drive. All of my 2TB Western Digital Green drives were now out of warranty, so if one was starting to fail, it seemed likely others would too.
During my research of RAID systems, the low-cost ones I looked in to would not have worked with my Western Digital Green drives. Had I switched to RAID, I would have had to replace all my drives — an expense I couldn’t handle.
But, thanks to Swagbucks, I could at least get me a replacement drive. I decided to go with a 3TB Western Digital Red drive. These were rated for NAS devices, so they would be good for a RAID down the line if I ever ditched the Drobo.
When the drive arrived, I put my Drobo in standby and swapped out the bad drive. After a restart, Drobo then went to work rebuilding the drive and informed me how long it thought it might take . . .
Axl Rose, We Have a Problem…
To be continued . . .