Drobo's latest generation
Late last year i had to do something to increase the directly attached storage on my primary PC, which is laptop. I liked what Drobo was offering in their latest generation, but I didn't like the amount of negative press they had received for previous products.
It was not clear to me (and still is not) whether they had many, many units failing, or just a few units failing causing a few high profile bloggers to offer negative impressions, and thousands of people repeating "I've heard they are no good..."
I read the criticisms, and to be honest many of them sounded pretty bogus to me. People make a big deal about Drobo using a "Proprietary RAID system", but I count this as a positive. Why is that?
Well first let me say why it is not a negative. If a drive fails in a Drobo or any other RAID system that has been configured with redundancy, you replace the drive and everything carries on. If the enclosure itself fails, you put all the drives into another enclosure of the same kind, and again, everything carries on. You cannot take drives from units built by one company and expect them to work in a different brand of enclosure, whether or not the first unit was a Drobo. So really, no difference. On the other hand Drobos have some cool tech that makes common management tasks much simpler than they are with other units I have tried.
So I had a good look at the new Drobo 5D and found a lot that I liked. A few highlights...
- 5 bays. Many use 4. The fifth bay makes redundancy less expensive. For example with dual disk redundancy, using 5 drives gives 50% more storage for only 20% more hard drives.
- Intellligent acceleration by caching oft accessed files on an inexpensive msata SSD. Great idea.
- Enough built in "UPS" ability to shutdown safely when power is lost. I don't have a UPS in the location I want to use this unit, so this is perfect.
- Mac users will probably be excited about the thunderbolt support. Not having thunderbolt ports, I don't really care.
So I took a leap, knowing I was doing so. And furthermore, watching the release date slip, I anticipated that they might have some 1.0 problems, as many new products do. I was okay with that.
They did, and they do. The unit I received 7 or 8 weeks ago exibited a variety of problems related to USB connectivity.
- On connection, the Drobo dashboard might not see the unit for a minute or longer. That's irritating when I want to get some work done.
- Windows would sometimes warn me that the device was unrecognized, the driver was not installed, and offer to format the device.
- Windows would often warn me that the device was capable of operating more quickly if I put it on a USB 3 port. Only problem is, it WAS on a USB 3 port. Inconsistent negotiation of USB 3 speed connection is mentioned as a known issue in the latest firmware, but today their tech support denied knowledge of any USB problems. (See below)
- After a period of time the drive would become inaccessible to Windows. I was never able to copy across a 1 TB directory of files without a disconnection interrupting the procedure.
Thankfully, the last, most serious problem was corrected in the last firmware release.
I really want to love this unit. I must say it is beautifully build, and conceptually it is beautifully designed. Yesterday, without turning it off, I pulled a 1TB drive out of it, and replaced it with a 2 TB drive. I did not need so much as a screwdriver to do this, and the Drobo automatically began rebuilding its redundancy without my having to doing anything else at all, and made additional storage space available automatically. This is the kind of ease of use that all products should strive for!
As I thought about sharing my experience I thought I'd give tech support a chance to tell me it was all going to get better soon. I described my various problems, and ended with these questions:
> I noticed that the USB2/3 issue is a known problem with this firmware. Can you tell me whether the other issues are also known to you, and how long you estimate it will be before you have fixes available?
After a couple back and forths the answer I received was that one of my drives seemed to be having difficulties and I should replace it. Note the complete lack of relationship between this answer and my questions. The drive in question was the one I pulled and replaced, and I assume that showed in the log as a drive failure and rebuild.
So I asked them to explain how this was in any way an answer to my questions about USB difficulties and heard back:
> I was not aware of any issues with USB connectivity for 5D units in windows 7. Are you able to replicate the issue on another windows 7 machine?
But of course their own release notes make it clear that they ARE aware of at least on serious USB issue with all operating systems.
Did I mention they have a cool feature that lets you set the brightness of the many LED indicator lights? That is the kind of attention to detail that makes you fall in love with a piece of hardware, if it all works reliably.
But it doesn't. And for the moment, my own experience with the Drobo 5D suggests it is to be avoided. I would be interested to hear from anyone else who has one, and is using the USB port.
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