My love letter to Drobo

Drobo is a US based firm that makes storage devices for home and small business. The amount of bays available range from 2 to 10 and you can purchase disks of any size, and all the units offer protection using their home-grown BeyondRAID.

I personally don’t own a drobo, I have to use one at one of my jobs and it’s quite painful, the list below will explain why:

  1. You have to use the Drobo Dashboard for everything.  The Drobo Dashboard is a windows based platform, and installs a Drobo service into your windows registry. It only takes up 20 MB of space, but you have to use it to configure shares, administrator passwords, IP addresses, and most of the other tools including copy jobs and so forth. The dashboard is java based so it seems to take a long time between clicks to get somewhere useful. Waiting to get to the admin panel takes 4 clicks, and clocked in about a minute. That might not seem like a long time, but when you’re pressed for time waiting for some animation to finish, it gets very tiring, very quickly. I’d prefer to see a web browser interface. My home NAS has it, and it can be accessed anywhere as long as I can forward the right port.
  2. It’s slow.  Copying to and from this thing caps out at 20MBps. That’s on a good day. It’s surprising since I’m running full GB nics forced with 9000MTU’s on each Drobo. This is using a Cisco catalyst 2960 with full Gig duplexing turned on. I can copy files from PC to PC at close to 80MBps – why does this drobo with 10TB of storage only recieve a quarter of that speed? I thought “maybe it’s just the computer I’m using”. So after installing SSH with many reboots (see below) I logged in and did a “rm-r” command from putty. The command seemed to take up to 5 minutes to work on one 4GB file.
  3. The apps don’t always work.  The Drobo website says it’s a simple: from the GUI (that has to be loaded from Windows), enable the droboapps check-mark (in a place that doesn’t really make sense). Then the unit restarts (why, I don’t know). When it restarts, it produces a new share called droboapps. Put whatever droboapps you can find from the Drobo website into this folder and restart [again] so the folders expand and install. However, the apps don’t always work properly – I tried to get ssh working and after restarting how many times it still didn’t show port 22 as being open. The same thing happened with Rsync: after finally getting ssh to work after about 5 reboots I tried Rsync from the command line, only to be shown ‘Rsync is a not a recognized command’. Lovely.
  4. You can’t view the log files.  The log files on the Drobo are all encrypted when you generate them. Why would a company encrypt their log files in the first place? Some of the most useful features of any NAS or storage unit is the ability to view history in the log. Useful information such as boot times, RAID configuration, share points, local users, groups, even being able to see a TIME stamp would be helpful, instead all I have is the GUI, that can only be loaded from a local computer, and only has basic options.
  5. You don’t know what kind of RAID configuration you’re getting.  When you first set up the RAID array, it doesn’t specify what type you want, it just seems to create it’s own RAID structure (see BeyondRAID). The only option you’re presented with is “protect my data”. I don’t even know what that button really means, it just does SOMETHING and the amount of free space I have somehow changes.
  6. Copy jobs aren’t saved on the the unit.  There’s a Drobo copy feature you can access that allows you to copy information from a PC to the Drobo.  I found this useful as I could copy another network share onto the Drobo.  However, that option disappears when you change computers or open the Drobo GUI on another computer – the job should stay with the drobo device. Just annoying
  7. Barely any features.  No USB connections, no eSATA connections, no print service ability, droboapps are sparse if not dismal.

Perhaps I’m a little critical on the Drobo offering, as I had tested all performance with one unit. When another showed up on my desk I had to configure a replicated backup solution I was a little perplexed why both had terrible transfer performance. Drobo insists that the ISCSI transfers are fantastic, but I don’t plan on putting any virtual media onto this yet as I’m not certain it will break past the 20MBps threshold I consistently achieve. The original intent for this was to be used as a file server, given the poor performance I can’t in good conscience recommend it. The other painful point is the lack of Active Directory integration, the linux file permissions just don’t work for a business with a Windows Domain Controller.

I’m hardly the first person to complain about Drobo units, and by the looks of things I certainly won’t be the last.

Drobo seems to reply back to every piece of negative media, which makes me wonder if the company is attempting more damage control and not enough development.  I’m certainly not fishing for anything here, with my experience with this device there’s certainly no way one would find it’s way in my home.

Model: Drobo Pro FS - (2 of the same model )
Disk config: 8 x 2TB WD Green 5300 RPM drives for both
Role of Drobo Pro FS (1): backup to disk location
Role of Drobo Pro FS (2): replication of backup to disk