Thinking of buying a Drobo...


#1

Hi all,



Decided I want a new NAS. I'm fed up of having multiple USB drives all over the place. It's a pain to manage and backup. Apple have made me very lazy, I want something as easy to setup and manage as possible - hence the Drobo - I really don't want to be an admin at home. I want to 'set it and forget it' (which rules out building my own server box). Things I'd like:



- Hot swappable drives (as I reach capacity I can just rip out a smaller drive and replace with a larger one)

- Ability to mix drive sizes and types

- Built in redundancy (one drive dies - just swap it out)

- Ethernet connection (plug it directly into the router)

- Reliable RAID recovery (if the RAID controller dies on a Drobo I heard you can pick up a new unit pop the drives in and you're good to go?)

- Currently need about 2TB of storage, with a growth rate of about 500GB a year (probably less)



I know the performance of the Drobo's is often pounced upon but it will only be streaming music and movies (Blu-Ray rips) to an Apple TV and iDevices in the household (one device at a time so not a heavy load) via Plex and XBMC (when Plex Media Server isn't running).



The Drobo I have my eye on is the FS.



Are there any competing products that will cover my wants from Synology, QNAP etc - which may prove to be cheaper and/or a better fit?



Thanks.


#2

I have an older on connected via Firewire and that works pretty resonably and I thin it will do what you want. I found that using the 7.2krpm drive failed after about 18 months and I have now dropped down to the slower drives.



At work we have a few of the Drobo iSCSI units and they had dreadful performance, until we swapped them out for Data Centre class Western Digital Drives (I think they call them 'black', only about £50 more than their Eco Green Series.


#3

If there is only one thing I can tell you, it is this. Do not buy a Drobo.



Take a look at this article over at Arstechnica.com for a good place to start with NAS research.



Also take a look at the threads here and here for more information on why not to buy a Drobo.


#4

I bought a Drobo FS about a year ago. I saw the negative commentary but I also saw the pluses. I bought Drobe so I could mix drive sizes. I use the slower green drives. I haven't had any issues. The proprietary raid scheme is supposed to take less space than a conventional raid. I have no history with conventional so I can't comment per say. My Drobe streams to my Plex client devices just fine. I have upgraded to larger drives by replacing smaller drives. I don't hot swap. I shut the thing down, replace and restart. The new drive is discovered and the Drobo begins the new drive rebuilding process to format and spread data out between all drives present in the box. This rebuilding process can take nearly a day. I've done this upgrade 2-3 times already (full compliment of 5 drives now) and no data has been lost of corrupted. The last firmware has made the Drobo quite stable.


#5

I've had a Drobo for 2 years now, and it does everything I need it to do as easily as possible. In the future I may look into other methods of storage, but if you want an easy setup IMO it is the way to go. I only use WD Green drives, they seem to be the go-to drive, and they can serve up all my media just fine. One drive failed a few months ago, it was just an easy swap to fix, as I had a spare hard drive. And it's great having the ability to expand the device in steps, I'm about to start upgrading to 4x3 TB drives, and I'll probably use my old 2 TB drives in a new Drobo.



The concerns people have over the Drobo spring from a very small (vocal) minority who have had problems with the device and customer support. All my experiences with both, and I'm outside warranty, have been pleasant and helpful. If you want something simple, buy a Drobo.



The important thing to remember with any of these is that they are NOT backups. They work great at protecting against hard drive failure, but if something happens, like a fire in your home... you're still shit out of luck.


#6

If everyone is telling you how amazing their Drobo is and claiming its a "very small (vocal) minority", you have to wonder why. Just why are all the "it works for me!" posters so quick to defend their Drobo?



Post-purchase rationalization? Maybe it is just a solid product that is unfairly criticized?



So, why not buy a Drobo?



Well, where to start. As an NAS, the Drobo fails because other competing brands have a rich third party software ecosystem such as Synology that lets you run Plex Media Server, Sickbeard, Couchpotato, SABnzbd, and many many more without using a Mac Mini. The last time I checked DroboApps were poorly written and even more poorly supported. Don't get me wrong, I have very high standards, but when you're spending this much money you should have them!



If you're buying a Drobo at 75% off, sure. Its great for that price. Full retail price? Not a chance.



My specific complaints about the Drobo:



1) Slow read/write speed. This is the biggest complaint I have compared to other RAID/NAS units. Let's say you want to use your Drobo to store all your media and set aside 100- 200GB of backup space for your PC. Writing data to the Drobo while reading data from it can be very touchy and cause video playback to freeze. This does not depend on the drive and it will never improve via firmware. It is a hardware limitation. Is 50MB/s write and 70MB/s read enough for you compared to double or triple those speeds with much, much better concurrent read/write operations support in competing devices?



2) Hardware reliability. I expect a lot from my hardware and I use it a lot for many different things. That being said, I would count the Drobo among the most troublesome devices I have ever used. When the first unit failed, it failed in a way that kept a reboot loop going causing the drives to cold start so many times they failed. When I called support, they just shrugged me off and told me to send in the unit for a replacement after the fourth hour long phone call. Nothing was said about all the data I lost due to the RAID failure, the drives that were ruined due to the bad Drobo hardware, or the reason the Drobo failed so quickly in a well ventilated spot.



3) I'm still suffering through the blasted thing.



I still use my Drobo several times per day every day. I am reminded of the limitations every time I connect to it over the network via the Mac Mini while watching Plex. Every time backups start right in the middle of Avatar. Every time any software tries to copy 8 - 10GB in the background while playing music videos. I'm still using it because it costs too much to replace.


#7

Thanks for all the feedback.



@eug7 - I'd definitely shutdown before swapping drives too - I think I just want the ability to rip and replace without having to mess with the RAID rather than actually 'hot swapping'.



@ LinPlex - I posted this same question on the Ars forums and was directed to that same DS412+ review. Thanks.



Synology seems to cover all my wants, mostly matching Drobo feature wise - with the added performance benefits. I also like the fact I'll be able to run PMS directly on NAS. Just a question of which one... The 412+ might be the one I go for.


#8

[quote name='Keane16' timestamp='1349096855' post='299740']


I also like the fact I'll be able to run PMS directly on NAS. Just a question of which one... The 412+ might be the one I go for.

[/quote]


Check this out if you haven't already -> http://forums.plexapp.com/index.php/topic/46100-using-a-nas-with-plex-media-server/


#9

The synology units look very good.



Can they handle multiple transcodes?


#10

[quote name='LinPlex' timestamp='1348956580' post='299405']


If everyone is telling you how amazing their Drobo is and claiming its a "very small (vocal) minority", you have to wonder why. Just why are all the "it works for me!" posters so quick to defend their Drobo?

[/quote]




The (vocal) was added because every time someone starts a Drobo thread, you are always here. This seems like a personal quest for you, and while you have every right to tell people about the negatives, I have just as much of a right to tell people I'm happy with the product. Is it perfect, of course not, but for my purposes it works very well and I know other users who have shared my opinion. The OP may have other needs than I do, in that case it may not be for him or her. You can call it post-purchase rationalization, or explain how you have higher standards than those that disagree with you... but I'm happy with my Drobo, I'm sorry if that makes you mad.


#11

[quote name='joecan' timestamp='1349214230' post='300130']


The (vocal) was added because every time someone starts a Drobo thread, you are always here. This seems like a personal quest for you, and while you have every right to tell people about the negatives, I have just as much of a right to tell people I'm happy with the product. Is it perfect, of course not, but for my purposes it works very well and I know other users who have shared my opinion. The OP may have other needs than I do, in that case it may not be for him or her. You can call it post-purchase rationalization, or explain how you have higher standards than those that disagree with you... but I'm happy with my Drobo, I'm sorry if that makes you mad.

[/quote]




I don't have a problem with anyone expressing an idea and I am definitely not mad. Remember, the first one to be silenced would be somebody like me so I will always agree that you should be able to express your ideas. With that said, I like seeing specifics and details rather than a general "If you want something simple, buy a Drobo." It is always important to provide context so someone knows why it is easy or simple.



When a competitor's device can best the Drobo's read/write speed by as much as 3X, the complaint about copy speed is very valid. Is it better to spend a little more now on a device that can handle it or is it better to be stuck with a device that almost meets your needs and costs too much to replace? That is up to the OP. I want to provide a balanced view of the topic because I see people positively reviewing Drobos when the tide is shifting to better performing competitors. I could very easily just ignore the topic and let them find out for themselves.



I'm not the only one that has problems with the slow Drobo speeds. Food for thought.


#12

[quote name='LinPlex' timestamp='1349216300' post='300142']


I don't have a problem with anyone expressing an idea and I am definitely not mad. Remember, the first one to be silenced would be somebody like me so I will always agree that you should be able to express your ideas. With that said, I like seeing specifics and details rather than a general "If you want something simple, buy a Drobo." It is always important to provide context so someone knows why it is easy or simple.



When a competitor's device can best the Drobo's read/write speed by as much as 3X, the complaint about copy speed is very valid. Is it better to spend a little more now on a device that can handle it or is it better to be stuck with a device that almost meets your needs and costs too much to replace? That is up to the OP. I want to provide a balanced view of the topic because I see people positively reviewing Drobos when the tide is shifting to better performing competitors. I could very easily just ignore the topic and let them find out for themselves.



I'm not the only one that has problems with the slow Drobo speeds. Food for thought.

[/quote]




Absolutely no idea what you're talking about when you say you'd be the first silenced in this scenario you suggest.



Anyway, you probably have a point about my posts being to general, and on second read through my setup comes no where near what the OP wants. However, I will explain how I use my Drobo.



My Drobo is barebones 4-bay unit, and it is used strictly for archiving shows & movies. Nothing is downloaded to the device, and it is not used to continuously back-up other items. Your complaints about write speed are perfectly valid. I would never want to use the Drobo as a drive that was being used in a manner where I was writing data to it on a daily basis. This is especially apparent once the drive gets low on space. Read speeds are a different matter, as far as using the device for playing media, I've never had an issue... even with large files. Any daily downloading is done on a regular WD external drive, which is archived on a monthly basis. So as a external storage device for my use case, it works very well. As I said, having read the OPs first post, my use case probably doesn't pertain to them.



Something I want to reiterate though, which I think is lost in these discussions is that these devices if used for storage and archiving, are not backups. They protect from hard drive failure, but your data still only exists in one place. If something catastrophic happens that corrupts multiple drives, your device is stolen, or your house burns down, your data is gone. If this is where you're keeping very important documents and/or irreplaceable family photos & movies, you still need to backup your data. If you have enough upload bandwidth online backups seem to have evolved enough to be worth it, or having an off site backup if the online option doesn't work for you.


#13

@Trudge - Thanks, saw that a few days back. Cracking resource. :)



@Novoco - Apart from the ridiculously expensive ones, no. See here for a list of NAS units and what they can do: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AhqU12yGv_OxdC1VYjYtMmRiSlVReVZhNVBLZ0JxSmc#gid=0



@LinPlex and Joecan - thank you both. Maybe I should clarify further...



- I only really want somewhere to store my videos (Blu-Ray rips, DVD rips, home movie stuff)

- Performance is a complete non issue, as long it can feed my clients with the rips I'm happy (and even a Drobo can do that)

- Ease of use and maintenance is a huge priority (I don't want to be fiddling constantly. Things like replacing dead drives, expanding the RAID size etc should be pain free)

- Any additional features to this would be purely a nice bonus, not a necessity



There are 4 units I could choose at this point (rough prices included for comparison):



- DS413J, £288

- DS412+, £507

- DS413, £413

- DroboFS, £369



As most of my library is decent bit rate 720p there is no point in splurging on the beefier Synology models to run PMS, as no Synology in my price bracket can transcode anything but low bitrate 720p (which rules out the DS412+). However, the unit needs to be black to suit the room furnishings I have or else the missus will moan (which rules out the white DS413J). So that narrows it down to the DroboFS and the DS413. With only a £40 difference it would make sense to get the increased performance and large number of additional features of the Synology. The drobo does have an extra drive bay but I really don't think I'll max out 4 bays filled with 4TB drives during the life of the product.


#14

[quote name='Keane16' timestamp='1349261876' post='300264']


@Trudge - Thanks, saw that a few days back. Cracking resource. :)@Novoco - Apart from the ridiculously expensive ones, no. See here for a list of NAS units and what they can do: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AhqU12yGv_OxdC1VYjYtMmRiSlVReVZhNVBLZ0JxSmc#gid=0@LinPlex and Joecan - thank you both. Maybe I should clarify further...- I only really want somewhere to store my videos (Blu-Ray rips, DVD rips, home movie stuff)- Performance is a complete non issue, as long it can feed my clients with the rips I'm happy (and even a Drobo can do that)- Ease of use and maintenance is a huge priority (I don't want to be fiddling constantly. Things like replacing dead drives, expanding the RAID size etc should be pain free)- Any additional features to this would be purely a nice bonus, not a necessityThere are 4 units I could choose at this point (rough prices included for comparison):- DS413J, £288- DS412+, £507- DS413, £413- DroboFS, £369As most of my library is decent bit rate 720p there is no point in splurging on the beefier Synology models to run PMS, as no Synology in my price bracket can transcode anything but low bitrate 720p (which rules out the DS412+). However, the unit needs to be black to suit the room furnishings I have or else the missus will moan (which rules out the white DS413J). So that narrows it down to the DroboFS and the DS413. With only a £40 difference it would make sense to get the increased performance and large number of additional features of the Synology. The drobo does have an extra drive bay but I really don't think I'll max out 4 bays filled with 4TB drives during the life of the product.

[/quote]




Thanks for the support doc, I think I'll stick with my Win7 machine.