Category Archives: Drobo

Drobo (2nd gen) to Drobo (3rd gen), part 1

This multi-part series will be an extensive review of the 3rd generation Drobo external hard drive enclosure and my experiences with it after migrating from a 2nd generation Drobo on a Mac. Thank you to Data Robotics for making this possible. My many years with Drobo have sometimes felt like an abusive relationship – I have had numerous instances of data loss and many other problems, but the “magic” of Drobo keeps pulling me back in. Hopefully, after another generation of product advancement, maybe this time things will be better. Drobo loves me. I know it does.

Most article writers seldom give you any indication of why they are qualified to speak on a subject. My experience with external hard drives began a long, long time ago . . . (Well, to you young folks. To me, it seems like only yesterday…) This will have nothing to do with the actual content, so please free to skip to Part 2 (once it is posted).

My Path to External Drives

In 1998, I purchased my first Apple product – an original bondi blue Apple iMac. It had no RS232 serial port, no parallel printer port, and no floppy drive. Instead, it used some weird port called a Universal Serial Bus (USB) to hook up to such devices. There was pretty much nothing available that used USB back then. Early USB devices included mice, keyboards, printers, RS232 serial ports, external floppy drives and hard drives.

In the next MacWorld keynote after the iMac was released, Steve Jobs gave a presentation where he unveiled “Firewire” (Apple’s re-branding of the IEEE-1394 standard). He demonstrated it by showing it used to hook up an external hard drive and a digital video camcorder. Back then, the only way I’d ever seen an external hard drive hooked up to a PC was via the parallel printer port (Iomega Zip drives, for example) or via a SCSI interface. The only way I’d ever seen a camera hooked up was by audio/video inputs to a video digitizing device. It was a very different world!

Seeing Firewire allow importing of digital video from a camcorder was revolutionary, and I instantly knew it was something I wanted to be able to do.


Around 1981, my father had a video camera that hooked to a huge VHS recorder. I remember making silly home videos with it a kid. In 1982, we made a trip to Walt Disney World with a “portable” VHS recorder and camera. I guess we recorded some of the earliest vacation “home videos” long before everyone there was carrying around a camera. In the years that followed, things got smaller: all-in-one VHS camcorders would be introduced, and then tiny 8mm video tapes (and VHS-C). The home video revolution was in full swing, but the only way I ever edited video back then was with two video recorders hooked together. As video moved to digital (Digital8 on 8mm tapes, or DV tapes), a new world opened up. Seeing digital video being “imported” from tape in to a computer and then edited on screen non-linearly was magic. I bought a Sony Digital8 camcorder in preparation for having this editing capability at home.

Although Firewire was initially only available on the high-end (and expensive) PowerMac G3 desktop, Apple quickly added it to their next consumer computer when the iMac DV (digital video) was released in 1999. It took me weeks to get one at the local CompUSA, but soon I was set up with a digital camcorder and a computer with Firewire. The only problem was that an hour of digital video took about 13GB of hard drive space, and the iMac DV Special Edition I had only came with a 13GB drive.

This is what led to me purchasing my first external hard drive. (I am not counting the “big floppy” Iomega Zip drives or SyQuest EZ135 drives I used on PCs, my Radio Shack Color Computer or OS-9 MM/1 systems. I had been using those for years, but they weren’t hard drives.)

After filling up this first 30 gigabyte external drive (at least, I think it was 30), I moved on to many more drives over the years, each one larger than the last. Today on my desk I have four external drive enclosures (two 2-bay RAID systems, and two 2nd generation Drobos), a 3TB Seagate backup drive, and about four tiny pocket drives… Between all of those and the drives in my computers, I easily have over 20 terabytes of storage which, sadly, seems to be full at all times.

Over the years I have gone through brand after brand, including many that no longer exist. Western Digital makes up most of the drives I am currently using, though there was a time when their drives were considered bad and you’d have better luck with Seagate. There were other brands that, for awhile, were considered the most reliable. I have no brand loyalty. I just want my data to be protected. EVERY drive can and will fail. Always assume that day will be tomorrow and keep redundant copies of all your important data.

So am I an expect about external hard drives? Not at all . . . but I’ve probably used more of them over the years, and use more of them today, than most folks will in a lifetime.

Up next, why I chose Drobo and a look at the 2nd generation model versus the 3rd generation model.


More cheers for Otterbox, and jeers for Drobo

  • 11/11/2015 Update: I now have my Drobo (thanks, FedEx).
  • 11/17/2015 Update: Eden, an inside sales person at Drobo, seems to have gotten the issue with orders being stuck “unfulfilled” fixed. I wonder if this was just happening to me, or to everyone getting shipments from Drobo? Also, added link to “full review”.

As previously mentioned, Otterbox makes great protective cases for phones and tablets. They also have outstanding customer service and warranty support. Recently, I damaged my iPad Otterbox Defender stand and wanted to get a replacement. Otterbox currently does not sell one for my model iPad so I had to contact them to ask how I could get one. A few e-mail exchanges later and I was told to call in on Monday to pay a $2.99 shipping charge and they’d send me a replacement. Amazingly enough, even with the damage being entirely my fault, they still wanted to send me a replacement at no cost (other than shipping). Everyone I dealt with, e-mail or voice, was incredibly nice and even apologetic over the process. Beyond Disney and Apple, I don’t think I have ever encountered this level of customer service. Way to go, Otterbox.

Meanwhile, things are not going quite as well with Data Robotics, creators of the Drobo backup devices. I have had two of those units which I purchased many years ago. Both are sold old they have been end-of-lifed by Data Robotics. Due to various problems which I will cover in a future article, I am now waiting for a replacement unit to arrive. The order was entered last Monday, then still showed “unfulfilled” in their tracking system three days later. Has Amazon spoiled us so much that we now actually expect a company to ship same or next day for online orders? I had to contact them to ask what was up, and was given a tracking number. Apparently they did ship the next day, but the system didn’t show that.

One week later, and the item is still not here. Actually, FedEx tried to deliver it on Friday, but I work days so I was unable to sign for the package. Due to how Data Robotics ships, I am unable to have the shipment “held for pickup” at the FedEx centers. Instead, I can only have someone sign for it. I am unable to do this, so apparently I am unable to receive packages from Data Robotics… I can’t imagine why they don’t allow me to go to a FedEx office and show my ID there to pick up a package, but would allow a stranger to sign for it at my address.

Hopefully I will eventually be able to get this shipment.

UPDATE: Thanks to the wonderful Cindy at FedEx Ground in Grimes, Iowa, I was able to pick up my Drobo from them on Friday night. She says I should have been able to do that anyway, though the FedEx online system would not let me redirect, and a rep at 800-GO-FEDEX also said I could not due to shipper restrictions. I don’t really care who was right as long as I can get my package 😉

Eventually, my Drobo will finish rebuilding (it estimated as much as 440+ hours at one point) and I can move the drives in to this new unit for a full review.

The tale of two Drobos

Picture if you will, two second generation (FireWire/USB) Drobo hard drive enclosures from Data Robotics. Both are connected to a Belkin hub via USB, which is then plugged in to a Late 2009 model MacBook.

Drobo 2 contains four matching Seagate ST31500341AS hard drives (7200 RPM).

Drobo 1 is in the process of being upgraded to more storage, so it currently contains three Western Digital WD20EARS 2TB “green” drives (5900 RPM) and one Seagate ST31500341AS 1.5TB hard drive (7200 RPM).

My thinking was that one I started putting in the slower “green” drives, that Drobo would be the slower of the two, so I spent days moving dormant “backup” type data to Drobo 1, and kept Drobo 2 for stuff that might need more speed (like iMovie files).

Imagine my surprise when I did a disk speed benchmark using the excellent (and free) AJA System Test. According to this program, Drobo 1 (with the slower drives) has a write speed of around 24MB/s and a read speed of around 25MB/s. (It varies slightly between subsequent reruns of the test, but these numbers are good enough for this article.)

Drobo 2 (with the four matching faster drives) is probably going to be faster, right? Or at the very least, the same speed if Drobo itself is a bottleneck. So imagine my surprise when Drobo 1 cranked out about half speed – 13MB/s write and 12MB/s read!

What gives? I re-ran the test a number of times on the different virtual drives (each Drobo is configured to show five 1TB volumes, currently). I even went as far as plugging a single Drobo directly to the MacBook and testing, and doing the same with the other one. I kept getting about half speed on the second unit.

I know the Drobo supposedly slows down when it is full, so I did some searching. Drobo 1 was in the green (after upgrading three of the 1.5TB drives to 2TB), and Drobo 2 was showing yellow.

A quick search at the Drobo website shows that they claim a slowdown happens when it goes red, due to extra work being done by the unit to find room for data. Should this also affect read speed? And neither of my units were red.

As an experiement, I moved even more data off the yellow Drobo 2, until it was also green.

I re-ran the speed test and saw only a very minor increase in speed.

So a day later I decided to create this blog entry hoping someone else may find it in a Google search and give me some thoughts on what is going on here.

But as I run the test right now, I find that both Drobos are back to reading and writing around 25 MB/s! Huh? I still expect the one with the “slower” drives to be slower, but perhaps Drobo itself is a bottleneck and faster drives really don’t help much.

What happened to return the speed after a week of slowness? Perhaps Drobo is migrating data in the background and moving things around for performance?

Does anyone know how these things work?

Magic sometimes scares me. Especially when it is protecting all my data!