First Look: My Review of the Drobo FS

I have been using a Drobo since version 1 – the one that had only USB 2.0 connections and required that you install it to a computer, either Mac or Windows. I also have a version 2 that connects via Firewire 800, Firewire 400, or USB 2.0. The second version seems to run cooler with the internal fan kicking in much less often. Part of that too is that I switched to all Western Digital Green hard drives which supposedly use a smart energy technology that spins the drives slower thus generating less heat.

I decided that I wanted to consolidate all the various forms of NAS (network attached storage) devices I had such as PogoPlug, Windows Home Server, external drives attached to my Airport Extreme, etc). I had heard many good things about the fairly new Drobo FS device and I did some research of my own and found out that it behaved much like the Drobo unit I already owned and had good experiences with as well as support Time Machine backups for all of my Mac – allowing each share setup for Time Machine backups to control the size of them. After deliberating for about 2 months, I pulled the trigger and purchased one for my business.

Setup was pretty easy. I plugged the Drobo FS into my Time Capsule router which uses Gigabit Ethernet – also supported by the Drobo FS and important for fast data transfer rates. The first roadblock I ran into had nothing to do with the Drobo FS. My Time Capsule has 4 Gigabit Ethernet ports: 1 for the DSL modem, 1 for my Mac Mini, 1 for my Macbook Pro, and one for the LAN switch. That left nothing for the Drobo FS. The quick fix was to unplug the network cable for the Macbook Pro. I could plug the MBP into one of the wall jacks leading to the Network Switch but my 24-port D-Link Ethernet switch in my wiring closet was only 100 megabit. More about that in another post later!

The next step was to install the Drobo Dashboard software. I was currently running the Drobo Dashboard software on my Mac Mini (the computer the Drobo v.2 is connected to). Since the software was up-to-date, I assumed that I did not need to install any additional software. Sure enought, when I connected the Drobo FS to the network and power and switched it on, in a few moments, the Drobo Dashboard software on the Mac Mini recognized the Drobo FS and created a new tab for the FS along side another tab representing my existing Drobo (the tab was labeled “Disk Pack”). Drobo Dashboard then presented a dialog informing me that a firmware update was available and offering to download and install the firmware update, to which I chose “yes”. Once the update completed I took a look at the Drobo FS settings in the Dashboard software – the Drobo FS was there but it did not recognize the three hard disks that I had installed. At this point, I installed the Dashboard software that came with the Drobo FS on my MacBook Pro and once installed, it too saw the Drobo FS but not the drives. Within the settings, I selected the “Reset” button and after a little bit, viola – I recieved a message saying that Drobo FS was going to initialize the drives and was that ok – to which I answered “yes”.Now all was well and I began the long process of removing drives from the Drobo and putting them into the Drobo FS. I say long process because I had to do it one drive at a time. I removed a 2TB drive from the Drobo at which time it began the “relaying” process of rewriting the data across its remaining set of disks. That process seems to typically take one to two days to complete depending on how much remaining data is on the remaining disks. The 2TB drive I removed, however, could be immediately installed in the Drobo FS which takes only a little bit of time to add it to the drive array pool.At this point, I realize that I have done my best to verbosely describe my setup experience – what about the results? I am very pleased with the Drobo FS as a NAS with built in drive failute protection. The Drobo FS provides either one or two drive failure protection depending on what you choose in the settings. I selected one drive protection which gives me four drives of storage – 5 drive bays = 1 drive protection + 4 drives storage. The built in Time Machine support is wonderful. I still use my Time Capsule with its 1 TB drive to back up my Mac Mini, but the Drobo-FS provides the Time Machine storage for backing up our other four Macs. I create the TM Shares and determine how much storage space I want to allocate to each one for each Mac – perfect!The Drobo FS is not cheap. It runs about 650 from Amazon. However if you need NAS storage with a track record of drive failure protection (remember not if your drives will crash, but when your drives crash) and you want a system that can use the SATA drives you have now and grow with your needs, then the Drobo FS is a very smart solution.

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