Drobo and Storage


Last week, I took advantage of the Drobo storage robot promotion through COBA. The deadline has been extended to May 4, so if you’ve been sitting on the fence, you’ve got a little more time to decide.

Today, I went to the Fry’s Electronics to pick up some more hard drives. Though I’ve seen 500GB SATA drives selling for $120-140 online, I really wanted to get 750GB drives. Fry’s is selling 750GB drives for $220 apiece through May 1. I picked up four of them.

I’m still shocked at how my drives have multiplied over the years. My first computer was a Mac SE/30, and it had a 40-megabyte drive. Cavernous, I once thought! After today’s purchase, I have just a wee-bit over 6TB of storage broken out as follows:

  • Infrant ReadyNAS: 1TB (4x250GB)
  • Quad G5 PowerMac: 550GB (250GB and 300GB)
  • External FW Drives: 1.25TB (5x250GB)
  • SATA Drives: 3TB (4x750GB)
  • Miscellaneous Drives: 250GB

Who knows what this will look like in another ten years, let alone a lifetime!

Now comes the time-consuming part, rearranging my data across all of these drives and volumes. I have several goals that I want to accomplish:

  1. Consolidate External FireWire Drives: I want all the files on my external FireWire drives to be available from a single data-protected volume.
  2. Backup RAW Photos: Right now, my RAW images are stored on the Infrant, a RAID5 network attached storage device.
  3. Faster Access: The ReadyNAS isn’t as fast as an external hard drive, so having the photos available locally is desired.
  4. Automated Sync: I definitely don’t want to be syncing data manually.

My current plan of action involves:

  1. Put three 750GB drives into the Drobo
  2. Start copying data from the external FW drives onto the Drobo
  3. Move the contents of my 300GB internal drive onto the Drobo
  4. Replace the 300GB internal drive with a 750GB drive
  5. Duplicate the contents of my ReadyNAS onto the 750GB drive
  6. Set up an rsync job to sync changes between the ReadyNAS and the 750GB drive

I could also put all four 750GB drives into the Drobo and use that as my primary direct attached storage device. The 300GB internal hard drive could remain in my PowerMac until I buy another 750GB drive. Decisions, decisions! Whatever I end up doing, moving all of this data is going to take some time.

Drobo transferring the contents of one of my 250GB drives

Update 19:32: The Drobo has copied 90GB out of 229 GB in three hours. That’s about 8.3 MB/second, a far cry from USB2’s theoretical transfer rate of 480 Mbps, or 60 MB/second. Don’t know what’s causing things to be so slow, but it must be doing something. The Drobo’s fan is running full blast, making it louder than my already loud ReadyNas 600. Hopefully, it will quiet down when it’s not working full-time.

Disk Unreadable Error, but Drobo Works Normally

Update: Everytime I restart my computer, I get a Disk Unreadable error, even though the Drobo appears to mount properly on the desktop and the drive seems to be working properly. I’m running the latest version of Drobo Dashboard and the Drobo OS.

I think I know what’s happening with the disk unreadable error. USB mass storage volumes have a maximum size of 2TB. Because I put in four 750GB drives, the Drobo can have two potential volumes. One of the volumes is the first 2TB and the second is the remainder.

When I installed the drives yesterday, I did not set the jumpers on them to 3.0Gbps SATA II mode. The FAQ on the Drobo site says that it’s unnecessary, but I read a post on DroboSpace that says doing so improved performance up to 66% with Seagate drives. Since I have already copied 230GB of data, I wonder if I can pop out the drives one by one to set the jumpers. It’s early enough in the testing/copying phase that I can do this. I wouldn’t want to do it when I have a full 2TB volume!

Update: I tried removing the bottom drive in the hopes of setting the jumper, but the drive wouldn’t disengage. I had the same result with the third drive. The first drive, however, popped out just fine, and I removed the jumper, setting the drive to work at SATA II speeds. Hopefully, I’ll be able to remove the other ones and set their jumpers in order to boost performance. Right now, I’m waiting for the drives to reconfigure themselves.

Sunday Night Update: I’m currently copying another one of my 250GB hard drives over to the Drobo, after finishing a 300GB transfer earlier in the day. I ended up restarting from scratch using three 750GB SATA II-configured drives in the Drobo. I’m still experiencing some performance issues, but I’m in touch with the team from Drobo, and I hope to get those issues resolved soon. I’ll have a complete report of my experience on or shortly after the June 1st launch date for Drobo.

In the meantime, I pulled my Quicksilver out of cold storage. I bought that PowerMac back in June, 2001, and it served me faithfully for over four years. At first, I wanted to put as many of those drives into the computer and turn it into a server. I soon learned, however, that the 2001 Quicksilver doesn’t have native BootRoom support for IDE drives larger than 128GB. That means my 250GB drives would only appear as 128GB drives. Boo hoo. The other problem is that I can only fit two ATA drives in the computer without resorting to PCI cards. Though there are a total of five drive bays in the PowerMac, two are designed for SCSI drives and the third — located below the SuperDrive — was originally designed to house a ZIP drive, not another hard drive. Sigh. I ended up striping two 120GB drives and reinstalling Mac OS X.

At the end of the day, I’m left with the following tasks:

  1. Move the 300GB SATA drive from my PowerMac into the Drobo. This will bring the total usable space up to around 1.6TB
  2. Finish copying 2x250GB drives onto the Drobo.
  3. Copy miscellaneous files from the Infrant to the Drobo. This will take up another 150GB, I suspect, leaving me with about 450GB free on the device
  4. Put the fourth 750GB SATA drive into my PowerMac
  5. Mirror my original RAW photos on the Infrant onto the 750GB drive in my PowerMac using rsyncx
  6. Rsync my Home Directory onto the Drobo, Infrant, or a spare 250GB hard drive. I’ve been neglecting to backup this important information for far too long.

12 thoughts on “Drobo and Storage

  1. Jennifer

    For online backup news, information and articles, there is an excellent website:


    This site lists more than 400 online backup companies and ranks the top 25 on a monthly basis.

    Any one can add their company in the directory. Just click on the “Search” button found at the top.


  2. I’m thinking hard about getting external attached storage with my next desktop purchase, and using it for my primary disk (symlink my home dir, etc.). I don’t see USB 2.0 being fast enough for that though.

  3. Dan

    They just dropped the MSRP on the Drobo to $499 – If you use the coupon code REFDANA before may 31, you can save another $25.

  4. That foxy little black Drobo cube is now much cheaper.

    Not only did Dobo’s manufacturers cut their price $200, but in in an unusual move, the company is offering a rebate to anyone who already bought a Drobo above $499.

    I have mine, and look forward to the $200 bucks!

    The details are here

  5. Dan

    FYI – the reference code REFDANA will still save you $25 until July 31!!

  6. Poohbee

    Just happen to see this review and updates on google and thought I’d drop a line to say thanks for the updates on your problems and your solutions. You can also find more info at the community site at http://www.drobospace.com. For those of you who are looking for a discount coupon try REFJAIME for for $25 off. Expires July 31 from what they told me.

  7. I’ve been very curious about the drobo — what are you using to stripe your drives with?

  8. I’m not striping the Drobo drives at all. Drobo takes care of partitioning. I did stripe the drives in my old G4 PowerMac, and I used the built-in Disk Utility program to accomplish this.

  9. Yes – thanks, I did know the drobo handled it automatically but wasn’t clear. You answered it — so just software level striping with Disk Utility.

    I have a MyBook 1TB in mirror mode. The plus is it’s FW400/800 and USB, the minus is it’s a closed case, you can only control it with the shipped RAID software, and experience around the web reveals recovery from failure may be troublesome.
    I use an internal SATA drive for Aperture to backup to, then rsync those files managed in place (sigh), and then rsync over to the MyBook.

    I’d be interested in a follow up to your drobo experiences …. thanks for sharing.
    And oh – I had no idea how much “product” of yours I have seen … Soybo, Newton miscellany, quite fun and way to go.

  10. Dan

    REFDANA will still save you $25 at drobo.com at least through september.

  11. I’ve been researching Drobo this morning, and it looks like The Thing I Need, but your comment about “USB mass storage volumes have a maximum size of 2TB.” is a bit worrying. I’ll probably start with something around 1TB, but that will grow within a year or so into something much bigger. Having a 2TB total limit on the thing is a bit of a worry. Have you discovered a workaround? Does it work anyway?

  12. Dan

    the 2TB limit is a usb volume limit – If you have more than 2TB in your drobo, it will just mount an additional drive on your desktop – there is no storage limit, just single volume limits.

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